This blog post is by Dr Alex Mermikides, Senior Lecturer in Drama at Kingston University. Alex Mermikides is the Principle Investigator for AHRC Science in Culture Research Network, The Chimera Network. Her creative practice takes the form of dramaturgy, performance writing and directing. She has published on the subject of devising and is editor, with Jackie Smart, of Devising in Process (Palgrave Macmillan 2010).
This is a recording of Bloodlines, a performance that forms part of the Chimera Network’s exploration of how arts practitioners and scientists might collaborate in the creation of new performance and music works, and of how scientific data, understandings and perspectives might inspire novel forms of representation. We want to question a model of science-arts collaboration that assumes that the point of the arts is to ‘humanise’ cold, fact-based and ‘objective’ science. And we’re interested in scientists whose role in the creation of new work goes beyond that of the fact-checker or ‘adviser’.
In our case, the collaborating scientist is a medical practitioner, Dr Ann Van de Velde from University Hospital Antwerp. You’ll see that she takes centre stage in the opening section of the performance, a lecture on the formation of blood which will be unexpectedly disrupted (around 7 minutes into this recording). Ann’s involvement in the project is discussed in my recent article in Nature Immunology ‘The Scientist Centre Stage’. This article asks how scientists and theatre artists might collaborate to produce theatre that serves science as much as art.
Ann’s expertise is in the treatment of blood disorders such as leukaemia and lymphomas and she has helped us learn about the genetic mutations that trigger such diseases, the cataclysmic effect they have within the body, and about their diagnosis and treatment. She has also spoken very movingly about the relationships she forms with her patients and their loved ones as they face serious disease and, in some cases, death.
Our science relates to the treatment of such diseases through haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (also known as bone marrow transplant), a high-risk treatment reserved for aggressive diseases.
This choice of subject matter is inspired by personal experience, the project’s Co-Investigator and composer of the soundtrack, Milton Mermikides, underwent a transplant in 2005 for Leukaemia. I was his donor (I’m the Principle Investigator, director of the performance and Milton’s sister). While the performance is not autobiographical, the fact that Ann, Milton and I have a personal investment in the subject matter (and that, as the artists, we have acquired a level of understanding beyond that of the average non-expert or patient) is the first step to questioning the assumption that science is ‘objective’.
Spoiler alert: this is a recording of the entire performance (30 minutes long). You may not want to watch it if you intend to come to another performance. Bloodlines will play at: The Rose Theatre Kingston on the 6th November 2013 [booking at bloodlineskingston.eventbrite.co.uk) and Central School of Speech and Drama on the 7th January 2014 (booking information coming soon on chimeranetwork.org)
The doctor: Ann van de Velde
Choreography/dance: Adam Kirkham
Sound design/composition: Milton Mermikides
Videography: Anna Tanczos
Dramaturgy: Rebecca Seymour
Direction: Alex Mermikides
This performance of Bloodlines was filmed at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre on 18 July 2013 by Anna Tanczos.
This is one of a series of guest blog posts written by AHRC Science in Culture award holders. The Science in Culture Theme is a key area of AHRC funding and supports projects committed to developing reciprocal relationships between scientists and arts and humanities researchers. More information about ‘The Chimera Network’ Research Network can be found here.
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