Blood on Silk - The overall project is a three year minimum, cross disciplinary collaboration between the late Dr Peter Domachuk, ARC Postdoctoral fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney, Dr Lee Anne Hall, UTS, a writer, cultural theory and museum studies expert and myself a visual artist.
The cross-disciplinary collaboration arose from an accidental intersection when I undertook an installation in the foyer of the School of Physics in September–October 2010. That work was titled Memorial / Double Pump Laplace II, and was the second in a series of three, site-specific installations, loosely based on narratives of the dying and death of my father, in 2001. From the eleven and a half months my father was in hospital, one early memory is that I think I was told by a nurse on an overnight shift that the nurse had given my father twenty-three units of blood which he had bled out into his stomach cavity.
While I was developing this work from that narrative, combined with the iconic museum type cases in the small museum in the foyer, I became aware of Domachuk's research project. Lee- Anne Hall was also working at the University of Sydney at that stage as Acting Director of the Museum Studies unit and also became closely involved in the discussion. Domachuk's research project adds new layers through the study of silk implantable microchips to allow real time measurement of the properties of blood while that blood is still circulating within the body. These silk microchips are refined, transparent and dissolvable therefore disposable - a biophotonic chip.
My thinking behind the work in the foyer of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, is that within the body's circulatory system relatively impermeable membranes are often selectively permeable; objects make their own way where they choose and in their own time. The materials used in the work also function as membranes that separate, allowing some things to pass and some to be caught or retained. The silk cover on the display case made from refined silk is translucent rather than perfectly transparent as in the microchips and so limits the amount of visual information that is allowed to pass. This functions to reference the clouded communication of the original story from the nurse, as I was never sure afterwards if that was what I was actually told or if I misheard or if I somehow merged different unrelated bits of information or if, perhaps, I made it up.
From that initial accidental meeting of all three parties, a strong interest in collaborating developed primarily to explore a whole range of scientific, cultural, economic, technological and aesthetic intersections and exchanges.
The group's thinking on where to start includes
- the materiality of silk as a 'natural' protein fibre, 'green', 'sustainable', produced by an insect as the cocoon of the silkworm, triangular cross section, non allergenic.
- the cultural history of silk; 'silk routes' pathways of commercial, cultural and technological exchange Early industrial espionage (Byzantine period) associated with stealing technological information about methods of making silk yarn form the cocoons, Islamic teachings against the wearing of silk by men
- The materiality of the refined silk / fibrion; Its characteristics - transparent, castable or mouldable, conformable to flat or patterned surfaces, cast or spin coat; water content and method of drying drives dissolvability and disposability
- The mechanism of reading blood characteristics in the array; patterning and organisation
- The concepts of liveness of internal feedback , reading the body in real time; the possibility of self monitoring; instead of the sample being removed from the body to be read, it remains part of the body. The testing process is internalised rather than an external process.
- The medical ethics debate and the cost of health care.
- The relationship between humans and other animals. There are reports of an animal rights movement that disapproves of the death of silkworms in the process of obtaining silk. It is possible to get silk from what is called pierced cocoons, ones that the moth has left naturally. Prior to commercial use the testing of implantable chips in animals/humans? Ethics regarding the use of insects in research.
- Human rights issues arising from other uses of implantable chips; issues of surveillance or monitoring.
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