The Body is a Big Place

Bio-art explores organ transplantation and the gift of life.

  • Investigators

  • Funded by

    • The Australia Council for the Arts
    • Performance Space
    • Leonardo Electronic Almanac
    • Besen Family Foundation
    • The Editors
    • SymbioticA, University of Western Australia
    • Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney
    • Arts NSW
    • National Association of the Visual Arts
    • The Alfred Hospital
    • Transplant Australia – Victoria branch
    • Australian Network for Art and Technology
    • NSW Government through Trade and Investment - Arts NSW
    • St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney
    • St Vincent’s Clinical School, University of New South Wales
    • Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute
    • King’s College London

Peta Clancy and Helen Pynor, ‘The Body is a Big Place’, 2011. 5-channel video projection, heart perfusion device, single video screen, soundscape by Gail Priest. Installation view. First exhibited at Performance Space, Nov 2011. Photo: Geordie Cargill

The Body is a Big Place creates a space in which it is possible to imagine the phenomenological and emotional breadth of experience inherent in organ transplantation, from the intertwined perspectives of donors, recipients, family members, medical practitioners and scientists.

Bec Dean, Endings and Beginnings, November 2011

The Body is a Big Place installation symbolically and practically explored the discourse around human organ transplant surgery. It considered the blurring of personal identity inherent to organ transplantation, the ambiguous frontier between life and death, and the complex experiences reported by organ transplant recipients. The Body is a Big Place incorporated live (biological) art, a 5-channel video projection and soundscape. Performers in the video work were all individuals who have had experiences of organ transplantation. The installation included a fully functioning heart perfusion device used to reanimate to a beating state a pair of pig hearts during live performances. The performances presented viewers with a poignant yet uncanny event, enacting some of the ambiguous boundaries between living and non-living that are manifest in organ transplant processes.

The Body is a Big Place was first exhibited at Performance Space, Sydney, November 2011. The project was subsequently presented at Prix Ars Electronica, Linz in 2012 where it was awarded an Honorary Mention, and in 2013 at Science Gallery Dublin; Galerija Kapelica, Ljubljana, Slovenia; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; and National Centre for Contemporary Arts (Baltic Branch), Russia.

Performance Space installation
Curation: Bec Dean
Sound: Gail Priest
Consultant scientists: Professor John Headrick and Dr Jason Peart, Heart Foundation Research Centre, Griffith University, Queensland

Underwater video footage
Director of Photography: Rob Hunter
Videographer: Pete West
Editor: Peter Barton
Colourist: Trish Cahill
Stills: Chris Hamilton

Pig hearts performance documentation
Videographer: Sam James
Editor: Peter Barton
Stills: Geordie Cargill

The underwater video work was developed in consultation with Transplant Australia.