BLOOD took us by surprise. In developing this exhibition, we’ve been amazed by the diversity of ways that blood can captivate. From artists to surgeons, designers to scientists — in any two contexts blood has an entirely different meaning. It can be a life-saving donation, or an obsession with the undead, a taboo or a commodity. Sometimes its symbolism is treated ironically, while other times it is grotesque, mythical or medical.
Our human preoccupation with blood runs deep, and as a species we’ve had plenty of time to prod and poke, paint and proselytise about blood. So what remains? What mystery persists about blood, and how does this exhibition probe it? Why are we still interested in blood?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that blood continues to turn up — its presence is ubiquitous, yet varied. It is deeply rooted in the practice of art and science over millennia. It appears in turns of phrase, in cuttingedge medical treatments, in paintings, phobias and myths. It has inspired great medical advancements, spurred on notions of race and ‘difference’, driven some of our greatest discoveries and successes, and been instrumental to our darkest superstitions.
Indeed, in developing this exhibition we purposely wanted to explore all aspects of blood, to take this broad human theme and explore it through the work of artists, surgeons, medics, feminists, designers, engineers, scholars and architects. The result is a blood-rich show, provocative, grown-up and challenging. BLOOD propels you into the minds and creations of an eclectic mix of people and disciplines laying bare the myriad ways that we have used this marvellous liquid as a research tool, biological fluid, artistic medium, identifier and symbol. Works in the exhibition explore the gruesome and the gothic, the humorous and the poetic, the medical and scientific. Hermann Nitsch’s piece, 138th Action, presents a perspective utterly different than the inter-species uncanniness of Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoît Mangin’s May the Horse Live in Me !.
But blood can be humorous — a good drink and the company of a friend can warm your blood. Chella Quint’s STAINSTM laughs at our society’s obsession (or repression) around menstrual blood, imagining a near future where taboo is rendered trendy. John O’Shea’s Black Market Pudding reinvents what may be our most common interaction with non-human blood by producing a blood sausage made with blood from a living pig.
BLOOD is central to cultural obsessions with ethnicity, family, vampires and passion, but it isn’t all myths, prejudices and fright. Blood is physiologically linked to our emotions. You really can die from ‘broken heart syndrome’, better known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Well-known feelings of ‘seeing red’, or to have your ‘blood run cold’ were idioms long before a modern medical understanding of simple diagnostics like blood pressure or blood sugar, and many pieces in this show walk the line between the colloquial and the clinical. Charlie Murphy’s sculptures transform medical-grade glassware into emotionally charged sculptures that contrast scientific utility with evocative anatomical imagery. Works by Denis Roche and Shaun McCann examine the revolutionary procedure of stem cell transplants and the human side of medical isolation due to compromised immune systems, of which blood is a critical component. MyType asks our visitors to give their own blood donation. A quick pinprick and they can leave behind a sample, adding their own contribution to BLOOD.
This common bodily fluid is something special — both medically and metaphorically, and no two works present this organic material in the same light. Just as each story is different, whether sinister or sincere, seductive or surprising, no good story is complete without a bit of blood.