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Close-up illustration of an anatomical heart.

The Heart of the Matter: The Heart as Experimental Art Bomb


An interdisciplinary project between artists and heart-disease patients delivers impressive works and tales.

The heart is the body’s motor. It’s also the place that we imagine our emotions are contained. Phrases like “to speak from the heart” or “to learn something by heart,” (even in French, to “apprendre par coeur”) are but small examples that, beyond the linguistic and disciplinary barriers, the heart is always at the center of everything.

Thus, an interdisciplinary project adopted the name, The Heart of the Matter. The project involves a group of artists and patients realized a series of works to reflect both the conditions of their respective treatments, and the ideas and concepts each hold about the heart, and in which, a spectator might be reflected.

Giovanni Biglino, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Bristol, explained that the project emerged through creative workshops in which patients explored “the medical and metaphorical dimensions of the heart, including key elements of cardiovascular function and patient experience.”

For example, a work titled Flow is a collaborative video installation by artist Sofie Layton, digital animator Babis Alexiadis, and composer Jules Maxwell. From the time when we’re very young, we learn that blood flows within all living beings, and the flow of that blood produces a pulse, and this is among the first vital signs to be measured when one is in mortal danger.

In the installation, blood flow is translated into a flow of stories, and the flow of life itself is captured through advanced techniques of 4D magnetic resonance imagery. This allowed for the capture of blood flow in real time. Elements of patients’ own stories were incorporated through animations. The pumping heart became an animal, like a bird or a whale, and the blood flow is represented as a grove of trees.

A central element of The Heart of the Matter is this overlap between art and science. A sculpture titled “The Bud” represents through a precise three-dimensional impression an exact scale model of a heart with congenital disease.

The work began as a way to interweave the narratives of patients who saw their own hearts as plant organisms: plants, herbs, trees, and roots, along with the medical language which refers to the “aortic root” and the “pulmonary trunk.”

In the history of medicine, patients have often been relegated to a secondary status; the doctor and the doctor’s knowledge are responsible for the return to health, while the patient “patiently” waits. In a project like The Heart of the Matter, patients have the opportunity to tell their own stories, the stories of their bodies, the moments of their illnesses, and their respective rebirths after delicate surgeries, or chronic conditions, with which some have lived since birth. The heart is an organ the size of a closed fist, and it begins to beat even before someone is born. Its final beat marks the end of life. It’s a force which drives and inspires, quite literally, every step we take.

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