The Body is a Big Place explores organ transplantation and the ambiguous thresholds between life and death, revealing the process of death as an extended durational moment, rather than an event that occurs at a single moment in time. This bio-art work is a large-scale immersive installation comprising a five-channel video projection, a fully functioning bio-sculptural heart-perfusion system, an undulating aqueous soundscape and a single-channel video work.
The Body is a Big Place re-enacted certain defining aspects of the human heart-transplant process. In two performances staged during the exhibition the heart perfusion device was used to reanimate a pair of fresh pig hearts to a beating state. Rather than sensationalizing these performative events, the artists sought to encourage empathic responses from viewers, activating the bodies of viewers by appealing to their somatic senses and fostering their identification with the hearts they were watching. This opened up the possibility of a deeper awareness and connection with viewers’ own interiors. The work’s realization depended on engagement with the organ transplant community in Melbourne, who were performers in the work’s underwater video sequences. These were individuals who have gone through extraordinary experiences in the form of receiving, donating or standing closely by loved ones as they receive or posthumously donated human organs.
The work’s title refers to the capacity for parts of the body to traverse vast geographic, temporal and interpersonal distances during organ transplantation processes. The project was underscored by risk and uncertainty, mirroring the uncertainties at the heart of organ transplantation itself. Collaborative research within and between the new media arts and life sciences, by artists and scientists, informed the work’s development, which would not have been possible without great acts of generosity and leaps of faith on the part of all involved.
Installation - Sound: Gail Priest www.gailpriest.net; Collaborating Cardiac Physiologists: Professor John Headrick and Dr Jason Peart, Heart Foundation Research Centre, Griffith University, Australia; Curator: Bec Dean, Co-Director, Performance Space, Sydney. Underwater footage - Director of Photography: Rob Hunter; Videographer: Pete West; Editor: Peter Barton; Colourist: Trish Cahill; Stills: Chris Hamilton. Pig hearts performance documentation - Videographer & Editor: Sam James; Sound: Gail Priest; Stills: Geordie Cargill.
Supported by the Australia Council for the Arts; Performance Space; SymbioticA, University of Western Australia; Leonardo Electronic Almanac; Besen Family Foundation; The Editors; Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, Monash University; Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney; Arts NSW; National Association of the Visual Arts; The Alfred Hospital; Transplant Australia–Victoria branch.