1. The Body is a Big Place


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    For more information please visit: Helen Pynor http://www.helenpynor.com/ Peta Clancy http://petaclancy.com/works/ Edit by Hugh Metcalf www.thesoundbox.co.uk No Animals were harmed during the making of this film.

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    • Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy ‘The Body is a Big Place’. Performance Space, Sydney, 4-26 November 2011, installation view. 5-c


      from Leonardo Electronic Almanac / Added

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      On two Sundays during October Peta screened the edited underwater video footage for the members of the Melbourne transplant community who had performed in or been connected to our video work, to give them an opportunity to view and comment on the work before it was aired in the public arena. We also wanted to show the performers footage of the reanimated pig hearts we’d worked with at Sydney College of the Arts so that they understood the full context in which the video would be aired at Performance Space. The performers all responded very positively to the underwater video and seemed to be able to relate to our interpretation of the emotional and psychological experience of organ transplantation, and our exploration of the interior body. Some described the video as eerie or moody. Some interesting points emerged from the dialogue around the beating hearts footage. We were curious to see how the performers would respond to the footage, we’d noticed before that people who have had experiences of organ transplantation seem to be more inured than the general community to the visceral reality of their bodies, perhaps because they’ve had to deal with this reality already. One of the attendees, whose husband had had a heart transplant, commented on the analogy between our process of procuring, transporting and perfusing the pig hearts and the medical process of organ transplantation. Another attendee was a heart transplant recipient who received her donated heart many years ago. She was fascinated by the footage of the beating pig heart, which induced a kind of identification between her experience of her own heart, which operates without a direct nervous system connection to her brain, and the ex vivo pig heart she was watching in the footage. A curious aspect of heart transplants is that during the transplant process the connection to the vagus nerve from the brain is lost. Normally the vagus nerve helps to regulate heart rate, increasing it at short notice when a person begins to exercise before hormonal responses in the form of adrenalin can augment the response. For an individual who has had a heart transplant this nerve response does not take place, so to avoid straining their heart when exercising, must do long, slow warm-ups to allow time for the adrenalin response to kick in. We were extremely grateful to this generous community for their stamina during the long and demanding shoot in the pool at the Melbourne City Baths in January 2011, and once more for their thoughtful and generous responses to the outcomes of the project. All images are the copyright of the artist and cannot be used "in any way" without their expressed consent.

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      • Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy ‘The Body is a Big Place’. Video footage of pig hearts perfusion performance, Monday 21 November


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        The first pig heart performance took place on Tuesday 8 November 2011. What follows are Helen’s reflections on the second pig heart performance which took place on Monday 21 November: “We arrive back from our trip to the abattoir somehow calmer and less tense than we’d been for the first performance. There is a waiting audience and Peta has been explaining the process to them, the intricacies of the perfusion device. John attaches the first heart to the perfusion device, we both expect this heart to be the healthier of the two as we were able to get the life preserving cardioplegia solution into it with little delay at the abattoir. As the heart warms up we’re disheartened to see that it’s not capable of much beating, only a small rhythmic twitching of its auricles. John attaches the second heart to the device. This was the heart we struggled with at the abattoir. In the mad rush to scrabble for hearts amidst a sea of guts in the impossibly noisy environment of the abattoir, the cannula wouldn’t go in easily and we lost precious time. As the heart slowly warms up to body temperature it takes us aback by lurching into life, resuming contractions so forcefully it’s as if it had only momentarily paused to draw breath. This tiny, strange muscle is beating so forcefully it’s spurting buffer fluid out of its right atrium in a wide arc that sails over the top of the collecting funnels and splashes across the floor. The spectre of rhythmically contracting flesh and spurting fluids is startling. It’s impossible not to see this little piece of flesh as an animate being with its own life force and intention, and yet we’re all aware it’s in its death throes. What really takes my breath away is the mood of respect and reverence inhabiting the room as we watch the rhythmic contractions of a tiny piece of flesh, obtained a couple of hours earlier from the killing floor of an abattoir. As Peta said later, it was like watching a birth or a death … we’re confronted by the absolute fragility of life, its visceral nakedness. We’re reminded that we have a heart that beats inside our own chests, is beating now, and that our lives depend upon it. It’s humbling, and at the same moment awakens a reverence for the unknown forces that keep our lives pulsing and ticking decade after decade, each moment of life dependent upon contractions and relaxations just like the ones we’re watching now in this disembodied pig heart.” All images are the copyright of the artist and cannot be used "in any way" without their expressed consent.

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        • Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy, 'The Body Is a Big Place'. Performance, 8 November 2011 (Performance Space, Sydney).


          from Leonardo Electronic Almanac / Added

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          What follows are some reflections from Peta on the second performance held on Monday 21 November: “Each day we go through the process I awake excited, yet with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. A multitude of thoughts race through my brain: Will the process of procuring the hearts be straightforward? Will the hearts have the capacity to respond when we hook them up to the system? Memories of the intensity of the experience of being at the abattoir rise to the surface of my conscious mind. All the time I am deeply aware of the deaths of the pigs. All these factors contribute authenticity to the project. Layers of uncertainty mirror the organ transplantation process itself. This was the fourth time we were to go through the process. We had expected that the hearts obtained quickly and prepared perfectly would respond more dutifully when hooked up to the system. We were proved wrong! We had an incredible heart. Expectant anticipation was thick and sticky in the air. Seconds turned to minutes, which turned into what seemed like ages. Strangely, time seemed to stand still. I held my breath. A few times I remember saying to the audience: ‘The hearts should be here any minute.’ I felt relief when I first saw John and Helen entering the space wheeling the aqua blue Eski containing what I hoped were two or three healthy hearts. I knew it wouldn’t be long now until the whole process would unfold in the space. The first heart hooked up to the system. As buffer was flushed through the cells, the heart warmed up. The cells remembered their job, the heart struck a beat, it pulsated and revealed signs of life, doing what it was formed to do. We expected this heart to perform well as it was perfectly prepared. The second heart was obtained under compromised conditions, yet it performed despite our efforts. During the performance: Hearts were gradually unveiled from bags of blood. Large clanging glass funnels, tolling like church bells. A pulsating heart, external from a body, yet the architectural space seemed like a strange body. Buffer spurting, dripping, drenching, spraying. Many people maintaining the system: connecting hearts, pouring fluids, holding funnels, tipping jugs, watching in amazement, in disbelief, fascinated in an unexplainable and incomprehensible way. Neither grotesque nor macabre. A beautiful, profound and moving experience. Like being in the room when somebody is born or dies. A group of people surrounded the hearts, each experiencing their interiority. Someone exclaimed: ‘Isn’t that the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?’ The heart stood in for each of our hearts bravely beating in our chests, unnoticed for our entire lives, until something goes wrong. Resilient heart. Beautiful heart. The pounding and beating and restlessness not wanting to stop, beating in fits and starts. It responded to my warm touch. It’s cells remembering and not wanting to forget. We turned off the buffer, yet the heart kept beating. A brave little beast. My heart went out to it and connected. Suspended from tubing and seemingly floating, it was an organism fighting for survival, miraculously clinging to its strange semblance of life.” All images are the copyright of the artist and cannot be used "in any way" without their expressed consent.

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          • Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy, ‘The Body Is A Big Place’.


            from Leonardo Electronic Almanac / Added

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            ‘The Body is a Big Place’ is a collaborative research project exploring organ transplantation that we initiated toward the end of 2007 and have pursued more intensively for the past two years. The development of the project has taken place through a series of residencies at The Lung Transplant Service, The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne; Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University, Melbourne; SymbioticA, The University of Western Australia, Perth; Performance Space, Sydney; and Sydney College of the Arts. Research has also taken place at Griffith University in Queensland and Kings College London. The culmination of this project are exhibitions at Performance Space in Sydney from Thursday November 3 until Saturday, November 26 and this virtual exhibition on the Leonardo Electronic Almanac. What will follow over the coming month is a journey through the developmental stages of the project. Each day in November aspects of the development process of the project will unfold. This narrative will include thoughts and reflections, as well as ethical and creative limitations and possibilities that have surfaced throughout the process. This discussion will include insights into the artistic connections and resonances of the collaboration. You as audience will have the opportunity to enter into the dialogue during the final ten days of this Leonardo Electronic Almanac exhibition. All images are the copyright of the artist and cannot be used "in any way" without their expressed consent.

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