Panel: (Re)volting data
Blood is a substance burdened with impedimenta– simultaneously a vital fluid, one’s heritage, identity, a common bond, and a symbol of salvation. Medical practitioners from the ancient to the modern have studied the therapeutic potency of blood. As Ancient Egyptians believed bathing in blood was a source of rejuvenation, so too do contemporary physicians seek live-restoring therapies through mesenchymal stem cells and blood transfused from the young to heal patients with Alzheimers. Owing to its rich symbolic associations, in addition to its biological significance, blood naturally draws controversy when used to create works of art. A number of contemporary artists have defied cultural taboos to dissect the complexities of our modern relationship with our blood. In 1997, Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennett created the “phlebot”–a robot that provides its human symbiote with dextrose in exchange for the oxygen it needs to sustain a visible flame–for their event A Positive to explore the “emerging forms of human / machine interface…[through the production of new creatures and organic devices that populate our postorganic pantheon, be they biological (cloning), bio-synthetic (genetic engineering), inorganic (android epistemology), algorithmic (a-life), or biobotic (robotics).” Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy produced The Body is a Big Place which explored the cryptic boundaries between life and death through the sustenance of a pig’s heart ex vivo within a gallery setting. Mark Quinn has explored a diversity of ways in which to produce a self portrait using his own biological material, including his DNA, feces, and blood. Beginning in 1991, he produced a series of self portraits from nine pints of his blood poured into a mold of his head made in a block of ice. The result, he claims, is a complete “self portrait-ness” that also represents the “impossibility of immortality.” Then, there are artists who use their own blood in performance to indicate fragility, vulnerability, such as Kira O’Reilly and Franko B. Yet, these works tend to extend the current narrative of the blood as a token of identity and vitality, and exploit its capacity to ellicit a strong visceral response as the basis of provocation. My research diverges from these previous works as the aim is not to simply utilise my blood talis qualis, but rather its metamorphic potential. Moreover, it subverts the status of one’s blood as a substance standing in reserve for medical purposes, only to be handled by those qualified to study its objective properties. This research unpacks the biopolitics of our corporeal matter, using the material transformation of blood into artwork by and for the artist herself as a case study. Through the use of DIY phlebotomy and microscopy, the artist isolates and transforms the material state of their own blood purely for creative, rather than biomedical, purposes. Her work proffers the body as terrain for exploration and exploitation, pushing the aesthetic limits of blood as a creative medium.
- Jaden J. A. Hastings, University of Melbourne, AU
Full text (PDF) p. 391-394