Transplant and Life in context
Transplant and Life is a new body of work by the artists Tim Wainwright and John Wynne that explores the patient experience in organ transplantation. It will be part of Transplant and Life, a wider programme of events taking place at the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons from 22 November 2016 – 20 May 2017. Through the use of sound with still and moving image, the artists will bring the voice of the patient into the museum exhibition space, making visible the physical and emotional impact of organ transplantation amidst the museum’s sublime but lifeless collection of medical objects and specimens. Tim and John have been working closely with the teams at the Royal Free and Harefield Hospitals and alongside those at the Hunterian Museum – meeting, photographing and recording patients who have had or are about to undergo an organ transplant. Throughout this process they have also engaged with the wider support network by also documenting and recording with patients’ families, care-givers and the medical community.
This is the third collaborative project by photographer Tim Wainwright and sound artist John Wynne whose partnership through social practice enables and facilitates subjectivity in areas of science and medicine where this is often missing or hidden from public view. The focus moves away from a singular heroic narrative of the great surgeons who pioneered techniques and technologies in medical history to the manifold, local stories of the people and the emotional and physical journey through illness, pain and recovery. In their 2008 project, Transplant, which began with a year-long residency at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, Tim and John worked with heart and lung transplant patients over a sustained period of time and developed portraits of their experiences through sound and image, culminating in a 24-channel installation and publication. Transplant and Life, the exhibition and associated digital platform mark both a continuation and a development of this process within the context of - and in response to - the medical museum and its collection. The artists have broadened the reach of their work by collaborating with two hospital trusts and working with both cardiothoracic (heart, lung) and abdominal (kidney, liver, pancreas) transplant recipients and “live donors”. There has also been the opportunity to re-visit some of the participants from their work a decade ago, which adds another temporal dimension to the collaboration while providing unique insights into the diverse challenges of organ transplantation.
Together with the immersive experiential outcome in the museum exhibition space, the project has resulted in this multi-authored digital platform that provides an alternative point of access and mode of engaging with Tim and John’s process and practice that is both an extension of the physical exhibition and an independent development. Portraits and documentation from interviews with patients, families and those in positions of care are brought together with histories of transplantation, information about the Hunterian’s collection of transplantation objects and multiple curatorial perspectives that is part guide and part work-in-progress that will evolve throughout the duration of the exhibition and beyond. The platform creates a virtual site for multiple voices and perspectives beyond the spatial and temporal constraints of the museum and an opportunity to delve further into Tim and John’s working process.
When I was approached to be an external curator for this project, I was drawn to the nature of Tim and John’s empathetic approach to social practice that brings together two forms of representation: aural and visual. In my own research I am interested in the networks of exchange and the concept and ethics of care as a working method, using these notions as a basis to research contemporary art practice and small arts institutions in the 1980s and 1990s that also becomes the core of my curatorial practice. In Tim and John’s collaborative work, we can see this caring position together with the representation of the structures of care and support. Their approach to sound and image, which is cohesively fragmented, enables a distinct voice through disembodiment that is a subtly powerful method of representation that I was excited and challenged to see manifested within the iconic and spectacular architecture of the Hunterian Museum’s Crystal Gallery, with its floor to ceiling glass cabinets of curiosities and context-less bodies. I am keen to consider how artists’ interventions can transform perspectives of museum objects and allow museums to continually re-evaluate the historical and contemporary impact of their work, something the Hunterian Museum generously facilitates through its exhibition and events programme that has enabled the development of this extraordinary body of work. I will expand upon each of these ideas through an essay that will also reside on this platform in the weeks leading up to the opening of the exhibition in November 2016.