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The Body is a Big Place

Online exhibition exploring the 2-year development of The Body is a Big Place through a series of staged residencies Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Curated by Vince Dziekan, written by the artists, project participants and collaborators, Nov 2011

Bec Dean, Endings and Beginnings, catalogue essay Performance Space Sydney, Nov 2011

Doris McIlwain, Transplanting Life: The Distributed Media of Embodied Selves Artlink Dec 2011 vol. 31, no. 4, p. 54-57

Ella Mudie, Art-Science: The Cerebral & The Sensory RealTime Feb-Mar 2012, issue 107, p. 47


The Body is a Big Place is a collaborative installation work by Peta Clancy and Helen Pynor exploring organ transplantation and the ambiguous thresholds between life and death. The work’s title refers to the capacity for parts of the human body to traverse vast geographic, temporal and interpersonal distances during organ transplantation processes.

The project was research based and as such began with science, medicine and philosophy, extended to the laboratory and clinic, involved community, and ended with public and personal conversations and performances around an exhibited installation.

The installation was an immersive bio-art work comprising a five-channel video projection, a fully functioning bio-sculptural heart perfusion system used in two live performances to reanimate fresh pig hearts, an undulating aqueous soundscape by Gail Priest, and a single channel screen-based video work.

The development and realisation of The Body is a Big Place depended upon engagement with members of the organ transplant community in Melbourne who were performers in the work’s underwater video sequences. These were individuals who have traversed extraordinary experiences in the form of receiving, donating, or standing closely by loved ones as they receive or posthumously donate human organs.

The reanimation of fresh pig hearts in two performances highlighted the process of death as an extended moment, rather than an event that occurs in a single moment in time. Rather than sensationalising these actions the artists sought to encourage ‘empathic’ responses from viewers by appealing to their somatic senses and fostering identification with the hearts they were

watching. This opened up the possibility of a deeper awareness of viewers’ own interiors. Pig hearts for the performances were obtained from an abattoir during its normal operations, no pigs were harmed for the direct purposes of the performances.

The project was underscored by risk and uncertainty, mirroring the uncertainties lying at the heart of organ transplantation itself. Collaborative research within and between the new media arts and life sciences informed the work’s development, which would not have been possible without large acts of generosity and leaps of faith on the part of all parties involved.

The Body is a Big Place was first exhibited at Performance Space, Sydney, November 2011. Curation: Bec Dean. Sound: Gail Priest. Collaborating cardiac physiologists: Professor John Headrick and Dr Jason Peart, Heart Foundation Research Centre, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. Underwater video footage - Director of Photography: Rob Hunter; Videographer: Pete West; Editor: Peter Barton; Colourist: Trish Cahill; Stills: Chris Hamilton. Pig hearts performance documentation - Videographer and Editor: Sam James; Stills: Geordie Cargill. Exhibition on Leonardo Electronic Almanac – Curation: Vince Dziekan. The underwater video work was developed in consultation with Transplant Australia.

The artists acknowledge the support of the Australia Council for the Arts; Performance Space; Leonardo Electronic Almanac; Besen Family Foundation; The Editors; Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, Monash University; SymbioticA, University of Western Australia; Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney; Arts NSW; National Association of the Visual Arts; The Alfred Hospital; Transplant Australia – Victoria branch.