On the 28th of February, Science Gallery London at Guy’s Campus opened its doors to reveal a fascinating array of installations that blend art and science.
Spare Parts offers an exploration into the relationship between a person and their body, particularly when its constituent parts are removed, replaced or altered. Is who we are inherent within us from birth or are our flesh and blood only arbitrary within the context of our greater being?
The fundamental question of what makes an individual– our mind or every part of us – on entry and sight of the first piece, ‘Monument to Immortality’, developed by Svenja Kratz, Bill Hart and Dietmar W. Hutmacher. In a cylinder, stem-cell grown, white artificial organs sit as if waiting for future animation and use. This eerie beginning is an apt allusion to the “rethinking human repair” theme.
The idea that we can remotely grow organs to replace failing models is the first of the major ‘what if?’ questions posed. Also on this theme is Michael Bianco’s ‘Hivecubator 2.0’, a beehive thats health (judged by CO2 levels and temperature) determines the development of the human cells it supports. This piece emphasises human reliance on the founding blocks of the natural world, especially in a time when bees and other insects’ dwindling numbers threaten global ecosystems.
‘Crafting the Body’ offered yet another intriguing insight into future repair. KCL’s own Amy Congdon is responsible for the piece that uses traditional textile and embroidery methods on human tissue. Imagine sewing a living thread through a muscle or organ with certain thicknesses to promote custom repair. It was enough to blow my mind, at least.
Ideas that transcended reality, perhaps overwhelmingly so.
At times, however, the revolutionary ideas on display, perhaps due to their abstract and innovative nature, were difficult to fully express through visual and physical stimulus. Despite this, there were several practical and entertaining activities on offer.
These included standing in a sound-proofed corner with bubble-augmented headphones that could amplify internal bodily sounds, making you hear your own heartbeat in startling detail. Also, there are stations where gallery mediators 3D print small-scale organs, and others where museum-goers can electronically alter a rendered image of a heart through various methods that correlate to circumstantial organ divergence.
A personal highlight was ‘New Organs of Creation’, where artist Burton Nitta had constructed a series of human larynxes, some modified to incorporate other mammalian traits. Having discovered that low frequencies can promote stem cell differentiation into bone cells, Nitta presents voiceboxes altered to be able to produce these low frequencies similar to a cat’s purr.
John A. Douglas’ Circles of Fire is a double-screened video installation documenting his own journey through receiving a kidney transplant. In one image in the film, he places a normally dressed woman massaging red jelly around a table. Juxtaposed with this is a spinning figure, dressed in futuristic silver, blinded and gagged but clearly feeling something.
This, for me, summed up the whole purpose of the exhibition: how the future will shape how we view our bodies. Will we continue, as now and in the past, to shove around our weak, flawed but real bodies? Or will we find alternative paradigms of existence whereby we experience life as remote, even virtual consciousness away from our bodies entirely?
The exhibition contains some remarkable ideas that are sure to stimulate a wide range of interests. But really, anyone who has ever contemplated the nature of their own consciousness would enjoy Spare Parts.