Helen Pynor

93% Human

»93% Human« by Helen Pynor. You can see a dark room. On the right is a rounded screen. This shows two people blowing into glass mouthpieces. These glass mouthpieces are attached to a glass tube.
Helen Pynor
93% Human
Medium / Material / Technic
Video sound installation, 10:20 min., polyphonic choral sound work: 8-channel sound composition, 20:09 min., scientific glassware objects

Helen Pynor’s installation »93% Human« explores the multispecies nature of being human, the promiscuity of DNA, and DNA data as a generative tool, through an investigation of DNA we exhale in our breath and inhale from others.

A performance video depicts Helen Pynor and genomics scientist Jimmy Breen breathing into a scientific glassware condenser device, which converts their gaseous breath into liquid, rendering what is normally imperceptible into visible form. DNA from this shared breath sample was sequenced and analyzed in Breen’s laboratory, and found to comprise 93% human DNA with the remaining 7% belonging to around 6700 identified microbial species. These genomic traces provide forensic-like evidence of a presence, giving form to these usually unseen microbial cohabiters. Pynor and Breen’s performative actions highlight the intimacy of our unnoticed exchanges with human and non-human others, and “contamination” as a necessary condition of being.

Using the taxonomic names of the human and 6700 microbial species whose DNA was present in the breath sample, composer Amanda Cole has created a polyphonic, microtonal choral score for eight classically-trained singers, who use their own respiratory tracts to sing and whisper this multispecies community, presented as an eight-channel sound work. A panoramic video presents abstracted forms of the human and microbial DNA nucleotide data generated in 93% Human. A scientific glassware object offers metaphoric breathing organs, referencing Pynor and Breen’s original breath collection performance.

In collaboration with: Jimmy Breen (Bioinformatician, Geneticist, Chief Data Scientist, Black Ochre Data Labs at Telethon Kids and the Australian National University), Carolyn Johnston (Legal Scholar and Bioethicist, University of Tasmania), Amanda Cole (Composer), Jessica O’Donoghue, Anna Fraser, Andrew O’Connor, Louis Hurley (Singers), Boris Bagattini (Coding, Data Visualization); supported by: The Australian Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body; produced in cooperation with: ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology), Curiocity Brisbane for the World Science Festival, and ZKM | Karlsruhe; thanks to Kent Buchanan, Custom Blown Glass.