Speculative Obstetric Models : material remakings of historical anatomical models and contemporary epigenetic agency

Download files
Access & Terms of Use
open access
Copyright: Nicholson, Clare
My practice-based research project remakes historical obstetric and gestational developmental models using contemporary materials and feminist materialist methods. Extending standardised representations of the anatomical body, I (re)conceptualise somatic-environment entanglements to account for new epigenetic findings in the life sciences. Epigenetic inquiry understands bodies and environments as interdependent and permeable. Epigenetic mechanisms alter gene expression, triggering acquired characteristics. These are transmissible across several generations, and, when transferred by mothers, referred to as maternal-foetal programming. By employing critical material practices, and using historical medical modelling tropes, my artwork refigures maternal body-environment relations. I draw on the feminist and new materialist theories of Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, Stacy Alaimo, Susan Hekman, and history and philosophy of science scholarship by Margaret Lock and Hannah Landecker. Each artwork represents the agential mattering , as Barad puts it, of bodies in response to issues of concern to epigenetics: low maternal socioeconomic capital, toxicant exposure, diet and obesity, stress and trauma. This thesis presents a body of practice and a dissertation that carefully consider epigenetic findings, questioning the epigenetic focus placed on the individual mother and mother-blaming cultural and visual iterations. The maternal body has been medically positioned as causal to offspring adversity across time. Despite an understanding of epigenetic heritability between body-environment relations, denigrating visual representations and discourse persist within clinical texts and across popular media. Even in the relatively new field of epigenetics, mothers are construed as responsible for inducing detrimental foetal changes, with an onus placed on mothers to manage and control aetiological environmental influences. My practice models a more expansive understanding of the way environments impinge upon bodies within obstetric and developmental representations. The obstetric medical models presented develop life and environmental circumstances as agents in maternal-foetal mattering, shifting the focus from the individual mother s responsibilities to wider societal problems. My work updates the tradition of anatomical models to materially show how epigenetic discourse might be interpreted socially, culturally and aesthetically.
Persistent link to this record
Link to Publisher Version
Link to Open Access Version
Additional Link
Nicholson, Clare
Kelley, Lindsay
Munster, Anna
Conference Proceedings Editor(s)
Other Contributor(s)
Corporate/Industry Contributor(s)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Degree Type
PhD Doctorate
download public version.docx 206.77 MB Microsoft Word XML
Related dataset(s)