Ahead of the last research and theory lesson we were asked to choose to bring in an article which reflected our research interests. Upon reflection, the article I chose is about technoscience, but was not necessarily computational as such. I chose, ‘ET IN ARCADIA EGO: ADDRESSING CANCER, DEATH AND IMMORTALITY USING SCIENCE’. The article describes the making of an installation by artist Charlotte Jarvis in collaboration with Hans Clevers and colleagues, molecular geneticists from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The work involves Jarvis collecting and growing her own malignant cancer cells, which are then are set and displayed as part of a larger work.
In my own practice I have struggled with being able to adequately describe the experience of having had cancer through my artwork, or represent cancer itself. It would be legitimate to ask why I dwell on this experience, and the truth is I very rarely do think about it. However, a feeling of having been betrayed by your own cells is profoundly strange and I think, interesting. The poet Anne Boyer has compared her experience of breast cancer to that of pregnancyi, and this rings true to me – you are, in both cases, growing something.
Apart from the technical process of making the installation, Et in Arcadia Ego, I found the repulsion Jarvis expressed in relation to the cells interesting. Despite knowing that the cells are preserved in ethanol and cannot inflict any harm or infect Jarvis in any way, she found they held a ‘talismanic’ power over her:
‘these parts of me remain incomprehensibly terrible’
I don’t think I would find this the case if I were confronted by my own cancer cells. I have, through my practice, attempted to conjure them into being. It wasn’t the cancer I felt betrayed by, it was the body (my body) which created it who I was angry with. And of course, it’s natural I should want to meet my offspring.
Using our research interests as a loose framework we have formed a group. We will, as a group, attempt a piece of practice-based research. After having kicked far too many key words about [fig 1.], we have settled on the idea of researching ‘Cells’. Frankly, we’re not sure what form this is going to take as yet but we are discussing cultures of cells as metaphors for the world/environment. I’m slightly trepidatious about the project – not because of the topic or the group in whom I have great confidence, but rather I’m worried I won’t have and good ideas/anything new to say.
i Boyer, A. (n.d.). The undying.