“In 2006 I was admitted to hospital in Birmingham, UK with pneumonia and the early onset of septicemia. At about 1am, as I lay in A&E, a young doctor rushed into the ward carrying three large syringes, his face was ashen: “Lie back please and give me your arm,” he said breathlessly. “The doctors are worried the infection has reached your brain.” It was Christmas Eve. I was subsequently in hospital for 14 days in a critical observation ward as an antibiotic drip broke down an abscess in my lung the size of a tennis ball. (Necrotizing pneumonia, as it is clinically described, is often called lung gangrene).
6 years later alone in an apartment in New York I began coughing up rancid blood deposits. Unbeknownst to me, the scar tissue from the original infection had become inflamed seeping putrefied blood into my left lung. Finally, in April 2013, I had a lower-left lobectomy at Royal Melbourne Hospital to remove half of my left lung and scrape the scar tissue away from my rib cage and diaphragm.”
During this period, I documented my experience through notes, interviews, X-rays, sound recordings and personal photography. This work is an attempt to map the respiratory and circulatory systems both in terms of function and aesthetics while communicating the environment and atmosphere of my convalescence. The duality of blood will be explored as a part of an integrated system that acts as a warning sign when that system is in peril.
“My recovery took place in the tropics of North Queensland along a strip of foreshore that is lined by large banyan trees – trunks like twisted arteries, leaves like tear drops of blood – the only visible sign of the imminent onset of winter. Every day I walked along this stretch of foreshore – sometimes swimming in the Tobruk pool – rebuilding my strength as the red leaves fell at the water’s edge.”
The work will primarily use a series of smaller screens flanking one large screen (or projection) to depict a layered visual experience utilizing the image archive of blood sputum, chest x-rays and the leaves of the banyan tree. These image constructions will be non-linear and experiential, each component assembled as relational video loops representing the various elements of the project:
- the changing constitution of blood, oxygen and infection;
- the persistence and metamorphosis of a hidden illness;
- the fear that this induces;
- the administrative apparatus of hospitalisation;
- the meditative journey to full recovery.
Complimented by layered audio the experience will be at once meditative and visceral. The outcome will have a subtle interactive component so that the leaves on the smaller screens slowly rotate back-and-forth in 3-dimensional space and the sound of the artist struggling to breath intensifies in the presence of the viewer. The main screen will depict the physiological links between the human respiratory system and that of the natural world as governed by the circulation of blood. Ultimately the goal of the work is an aesthetic one that asks the viewer to consider the nature of blood as a metaphor for change, growth and renewal.