Between July and November 2017, I was fortunate enough to work as a Mediator for Science Gallery London’s pop-up season, ‘BLOOD’. The role involved engaging the visitors in conversation about the artwork, events, workshops and performances. These were primarily collaborative endeavours between artists and scientists.
The creative interpretations on the topic of blood were diverse and wide-ranging, including: Casey Jenkin’s piece, Bad Blood, focussing on social taboos concerning the menstrual cycle; Elaine Whittaker’s, The Swarm, exploring the battle against blood-borne tropical diseases like malaria; and Jordan Eagles’ activist piece, Blood Equality, concerning the debate on blood donation from sexually active gay, bisexual or transgender people.
I am going to discuss a few creative processes that have inspired me during the season.
The first is VR (‘virtual reality’), the medium for a piece called Waves of Grace(2015) by Gabo Arora & Chris Milk. It is a video chronicling the experiences of Decontee Davis, an Ebola survivor who uses her immunity to care for orphaned children in her Liberian village. This was my first VR experience. At first it was disorientating, but after a minute or so I became immersed in Decontee’s narration and the vivid scenes in Liberia. After 10 minutes, I was on the verge of tears and completely absorbed in the VR world.
I decided to look into the VR process, as the headset did not look too complicated – merely requiring a Samsung phone and headphones. I discovered that Waves of Gracewas filmed using a 360ocamera, which stiches several perspectives together. This inspired my piece for a later exhibition, titled Eyes of a Tree (2017).
The second is an immersive performance, inspired by historical events, used for a piece called Take this for it is my body (2017), by indigenous Australian artist, S.J Norman. This initially appealed to me when someone mentioned that there were tea and scones involved. There was quite a twist when we were silently greeted by three performers that ushered us to our seats; we were then informed, through an introductory paragraph disguised in a menu that we would be taking part in the typically British colonial ritual of afternoon tea; however, the scones would have some blood in them. Yes, blood.
The ritual had been appropriated and re-inscribed by the performers, evoking the actions of the artist’s great grandmother. She worked in the kitchen as a maid for a British settler and every day when it was time to make scones, she would knead the dough until her knuckles bled. So, the scones served to the British settlers literally had a hint of indigenous blood.
I found the whole experience fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The immersive, yet silent and eerie atmosphere, as our group of four were encouraged to take a seat and subsequently served the tea and scones; followed by the tense moment of decision regarding whether we would eat the bloody scones or leave them.
The multi-sensory, interactive experience with an underlying narrative influenced me to look into and experiment with performance as a medium. Consequently, the pieces Introverted | Extraverted(2018) and Salutations(2018) involve a narrative structure and collaborative element with the audience.
The third process involves the use of physiological measurements to create the artwork. Cardiomorph(2017) is a collaboration between Dr Manasi Nandi, senior lecturer in Integrative Pharmacology at King’s College London, Professor Philip Aston (Mathematics, University of Surrey) and composer, Imran Ahmad. The participant listens to Ahmad’s Halloween inspired composition with a heart-rate monitor attached to their finger, which monitors how the participant’s heart and blood vessels adapt to changes in activity, posture and emotional state. A mathematical algorithm then converts the measurements into visuals on a screen.
It was interesting to view how my physiological mechanisms were responding in real-time to the music. This ability to visualise often intangible processes through bio-technological feedback loops has inspired me to experiment with heart rate and galvanic skin response (sweat production) monitors using an Arduino circuit for my degree show installation.
Link to programme for SGL BLOOD season: https://melbourne.sciencegallery.com/blood/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/171024_SGLBLOODLifeUncutSeasonBrochure_APPROVED.pdf