Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society

Visualising Bodies

Reflections from the 2020 Being Human Festival

What does it mean to see, imagine and reimagine bodies? How does biomedicine and technology shape what we think of as the human body? How might this change in the future?

This November we put on a series of events and online activities exploring these questions as part of the Being Human Festival 2020. Like everything this year it was a little different to previous festivals, but we found that creating online events and additional content was a great way to reach more people and to try out new formats.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow David Lawrence, ran ‘Costumed Visions’, which explored how bodies and future bodies appear on film, especially in relation to superheroes. We hosted this with ScotSci Edinburgh who have been running events online throughout lockdown and who made this a feature in their Super November series. David’s research in bioethics and biotechnological law has largely focussed on human enhancement technologies and the ways in which they are likely to affect both society and what it means to be human. He discussed how bodies appear in comics and films and what the future of bodies may be in real life and on screen.

Sonja Erikainen, Giulia De Tongi, Andrea Ford, all Postdoctoral Research Fellows at the Centre, ran ‘Bodies of the Future’ in collaboration with collage artist Deborah Manson. Deborah led everyone through a number of creative exercises to help them design collages about bodies. Human, robotic, mechanical, and animal bodies are being made and re-combined through new technologies and changing societies. Since collage is also about recombining materials it was a great way to explore these ideas.

As our events had an artistic element, we reached out to our colleague Beverley Hood, Reader in Technological Embodiment and Creative Practice in Edinburgh College of Art, and we were able to include an online exhibition and event run by her in our programme. Beverley worked with Design Informatics and Inspace to run ‘We began as part of the body’. She presented a film and Augmented Reality app influenced by her time as a resident artist at a dermatology laboratory in Dundee. She also ran a discussion between herself and Sarah Brown from the lab in Dundee, where they both shared their insights of the artistic residency.

Last but by no means least Ingrid Young, Chancellor’s Fellow ran an online photography exhibition and discussion about using photography to engage with chronic illness. She runs the project ‘Capturing chronic illness’ with, Donna McCormack, University of Surrey, who works on transplants in the arts. Ingrid’s research focuses broadly on HIV and how communities are affected by and respond to HIV. Recently, she’s been exploring activism within HIV and she comments “There’s a long history of arts-based practice in HIV activism, using visual materials and especially iconic images. I’ve been exploring their use and the tools activists use to effect change – sometimes people respond to images more than words. As a result, I’ve increasingly begun to explore imagery or arts-based methods in my research.”

To link all the activities together we commissioned artist Fionnuala Doran to create a zine. For such artistic events it was fitting to illustrate them in this way and we have all been inspired to use more arts-based methods in the future. We are in the process of recruiting our first Artistic Fellow to spend time with the Centre and we look forward to seeing where this takes us in the future.

image of a collage created showing bodies of the future
Collage created during 'Bodies of the Future' event