IRB# G10-02-066-01 is a participatory installation that opens up the decision-making process of Institutional Review Boards and raises questions about their role in the development of artistic research. The project consists of an IRB application for a study entitled Social Interaction as a Function of Voluntary Engagement with a Shock Machine, letters of correspondence with the IRB, two chairs flanking a small table that holds a shock machine, and a sign that explains the guidelines for participation. Viewers are invited to use the shock machine, which has two electrode leads and two handheld push buttons to allow for two people to shock each other simultaneously.
In my IRB application, I contextualized the experiment in terms of psychological and artistic precedents. The IRB rejected the study on the grounds that it was unethical, unsafe, may incite coercion, and would not produce meaningful information. Over the course of five correspondences, I discussed with the IRB whether or not I was producing meaningful information, whether or not the machine was safe, whether or not I was qualified to conduct the research, and whether or not I was infringing upon participant autonomy. The IRB was not accustomed to defending their judgment or debating with a researcher. They were incapable, or unwilling, to consider my work in terms of artistic criteria. They decided that my open-ended, participatory installation would lead to coercive social behaviors, but refused to discuss whether restricting my artwork was itself a form of coercion. Ultimately, the IRB maintained their disapproval of my installation, insisting that “future displays restrict individuals from using the device in any manner,” but I have chosen to allow the piece to remain participatory.