Shaping Destiny is a public engagement project from co-Principal Investigators Prof Shankar Srinivas (Institute for Developmental and Regenerative Medicine, Dept of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford,) and Prof Wes Williams (the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities). They are exploring different perspectives on the shape of the human body by uniting their research in molecular genetics and the arts. The project is led by Dr Tomoko Watanabe (Srinivas Group, DPAG/IDRM).
When we develop as an embryo in the womb, the fate of cells and the form of the body are in a very real sense determined by the activity of our genes. However, there are obvious limits to the role of genes in determining, for example, our capabilities, place in society, relationships, sense of self, and our destiny. There is a tension between genetic determination of our physical form and the manifest ability of individuals to overcome what’s determined by biology and constraints set by society. Historically, society has explained deviations and variations from accepted norm in terms of the ‘monstrous’, brought about either by devilish intervention, or by the actions or thoughts during pregnancy of the mother to be.
The aim of this project is to explore different, changing, understandings of the key concepts of destiny and embodiment, in collaboration with partners with different perspectives.
Kostas developed new technology to scan young people without motion capture suits so that people with different abilities will be able to comfortably move.
In 2020, young disabled and non-disabled dancers from Oxford’s Parasol Projects created a Digital Body film (https://www.alexanderwhitley.com/digital-body-2021) with Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Filmed remotely during the COVID pandemic, these short choreographies, inspired by conversations with scientists from the University of Oxford Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics explored how movement is coordinated within living beings. Real-world dance movements were captured and edited together with 3D motion graphics by artists Robin Ashurst and Abel Enklaar at Flat 12 and features music by Rival Consoles.
Communication and community
It was “really important that we all felt like we were communicating with one another and I think that's something that was a real success of this project… really nice kind of way for some a local artist in Oxford to feel connected to the university.” EmJ Greig, Body Politic.