Review: It’s always got to be blood

Art can be many things, an escape, a refuge, a comforting but stimulating vision of  what is immanent and transcendent, or a reflection on the human condition, or a combination of these, or something else entirely.

For Science Week, the Science Gallery in the Frank Tate Building of the University of Melbourne opened. It’s first exhibition is BLOOD: Attract & Repel.

Lots of heart

May I say now, at the outset,  this display does what it says on the box: it is attractive (and interactive) and repellent.  The gallery has lofty aims to celebrate scientific achievements and knowledge through artistic interpretation. For this, and for basically existing, it is to be commended in these straitened times.

They say it loud but the actual gallery is not in that building #justsaying

Beyond existing, this exhibit could set the future tone for the gallery. It is creative, engaging, weird, disturbing, interesting, sobering, beautiful and macabre.

It was also a bit fun. Adventuring in the dark with a torch to see a room covered in luminol felt like I was in an episode of CSI, while another installation enabled me (and about 10,000 others) to become part of the work, using a picture of our fingerprints as pulses are taken, one at a time.

My fingerprint pulse. Another personal artistic milestone I never knew I had

But all this is just what I felt.

Making scents of blood

However, a display provided actual evidence for my reactions. It invites attendees into a zone to sniff a device that looks like a speaker, which emits the scent of blood. Software then reads the reaction to interpret it. I thought I was feeling quizzical, but science says:

Diagnosis: blue

….well the screen went blue, and that translates as sad. The scent of blood makes me sad. I am yet to decide what this means, or even if I agree. But that’s the art of science: the results won’t change, but your mind can.

Fun with Luminol

Vein of truth

I can’t talk about an exhibition on blood without thinking about recent events. I mean in Charlottesville, but I also mean in Melbourne too. Schools here were postered by local hate groups advocating, amongst other things, murder. Nazis think they know what they are talking about on race and identity, but science sees it differently. It says our blood is basically the same: as humans we are all related. Blood tells us we are but subtly different; it says we are complex and beautiful. Mosquitoes agree – they don’t care what you look like.

Mosquito art

When I hear blood and soil being chanted I think no Nazi has the right to use that phrase. Others have suffered more, and for longer, than some angry dudes upset about statues. They want to stake out a victim-hood that isn’t theirs from people who have done them no wrong. History and now art, demonstrates the truth of this in Australia, with powerful and moving displays, including about language.

Word for blood from language of the First Nations people where I grew up

However, the most striking work was one of historical documents denying the right to vote for First Nations individuals in Queensland. From a distance the blood stains look like maps, and I suppose they are. They tell us the direction and shape of the land Australia’s constitutional writers called Terra Nullius: our history of genocide, frontier wars, broken hearts, freedoms denied, and humanity unrecognised, and most of all, survival despite this.

Blood mapped discrimination 

Blood Type

Alongside the displays about how blood was used to ‘define’ ‘race’, there are also exhibits about how blood has been used to identify traits and individuals. Like here:

Repetition of identity

And here with a close up:

Try telling the blood bank this.

As you can see even from these examples, the notion of blood is laden with significance. Even if science debunks our assumptions, and can estimate our reactions, it can’t remove visceral responses.

Art using the blood of gay, trans or HIV positive men

One film about a human being injected with horse blood to foster an equine connection had me wondering if we can do the same with people. This is because right now connection seems hard to come by.

We need more heart

Whether blood ideas are used by racists, or whether blood becomes a tool of fear regarding health and society, it can unite and divide us. But this gallery shows even our differences can become complementary. In a kinetic work representing the blue blood of crabs balanced with red human blood, glass alembic-like chambers move so the two ‘bloods’ flow in response to each other.

Behold blood brothers in balance

And here is a closer look:

Transfixed by this

As this work demonstrates, even our differences can be overcome to find balance. It also symbolises what this new gallery does – finds the happy medium between art and science. It shows us we have choices. We can choose to become educated or choose to work out why we react with anger or fear. Of course, once upon a time anger and fear would have been seen as a result of an imbalance in the four humours and blood would have been let to fix it. Let’s not do that any more. Furthermore, let’s not have the need to.



2 thoughts on “Review: It’s always got to be blood

  1. I am fascinated with your article here about blood. Although, I must admit it’s not so much about the study of blood as it is about the way my friend Bec processes all the information and knowledge she’s gained.
    While working as a Paramedic, blood – and lots of it – became both frightening and irritating. Frightening because of the degree of injury, and irritating because it’s difficult to assess the degree of injury when there’s so much blood. I took home many disturbing memories, but the physical constant that was forever at the forefront was actually the smell of blood. It would linger for days…like a dozen wet pennies shoved up your nose.
    Blood: My blood (B-neg) tried to kill my own child while it was cradled in my womb.
    But the most heartbreaking exposure to blood I’ve ever witnessed came not from the wound of a gun, nor the beating of a man by local skinheads. It came, instead, in the most unexpected way.
    My little 3 year old granddaughter loves kittens almost to a fault. Although we tried to explain indoor kittens and outdoor kittens, she couldn’t connect the danger of a ferel cat to her love of fluffy, purring kitties.
    One warm fall day she discovered a mama cat, with her litter of 3 babies, hiding under an old tarp in the back yard. (Farm life often surprises us with gifts like this, but I was not yet aware of them.) Before I could warn her, she raced with Glee and laughter to that old tarp, her little hand holding an array of goodies. Mama cat immediately lashed out to protect her young, and in seconds my little one reached for me, blood dripping off her tiny chin. She didn’t scream or cry, but instead looked at me with heartbreaking confusion. I spoke quietly to her for several minutes until she asked me if she could see it. (There were 3 long gashes on the side of her face, thankfully just missing her eye.)
    I stood her up on the bathroom counter in front of a large mirror and through my tears I watched her process what had just happened. She gazed at her face for the longest time, then tears finally began to fall. I know she was wondering why a sweet kitty would hurt her, but the only thing she ask of me was to put her blood back where it belonged. The one thing I could not do. The art of blood can be beautiful…and painful…and teachable…all at the same time.
    Khyla is 11 years old now, and still thinks she must save every kitten she sees.
    I think she might just be your kindred spirit. 💜💜

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment – I have been pondering your experiences for days. And Khyla does sound like a kindred spirit to me:) I can’t imagine doing the work you have done as a paramedic. I admire it, it is amazing and important work, but not for me. When I in my twenties I could barely visit a hospital (to see friends) without feeling woozy. At least now I’m over that. But thanks again for your comment, and your support of my musings here. It is truly appreciated.

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