Books of Blood
A cross-disciplinary investigation into blood as representation, symbol, and text in modern culture
‘All humans are books of blood—wherever you open us, we’re red’ (Clive Barker)
If our bodies are books of blood, then they can be read. This festival of events invites such readings and contributions, where blood is the signifier. We are also interested in the representation of the literal presence of blood in our culture, in the importance of the actual material substance of life itself. A number of themes will be addressed such as circulation, blood groups, transfusion, donation, diabetes, haemophilia, AIDS, blood sucking/vampirism, blood as gift, blood ritual and sacrifice, bloodlines, blood and the body politic, blood as ink, blue blood, bad blood. The aim of the project will be to juxtapose a chronological history of blood from the biomedical sciences (represented by objects and artefacts from the Wellcome Institute), with a cultural representation of blood produced by scholars and practitioners in the arts (through performance, fine art, poetry, photography, folklore and fairy tale etc.). Our purpose is to develop new cross disciplinary ways of thinking about blood (which will mark an important shift) and stimulate interest, and debate about blood in biomedical science through the arts (and vice versa). Three strands have emerged that have meaning in both medical and arts practices: narrative, lore and instrumentation. These will act as the main sites of dialogue between the two fields.
A number of related activities are planned such as workshops, confessionals, talks and performances, these will interrogate the power of blood as both a personally and a socially vital substance. There will also be an artist or writer in residence at each venue who will facilitate interaction, and respond creatively to the performances and objects (whilst being in a public space).
As a project ‘Books of Blood’ constitutes a whole festival of events, including a series of talks, a poetry slam, a Limerick writing competition on the theme of blood, a performance artist, workshops on patient narratives and a creative writer or artist in residence at each venue. There will also be a confessional for sufferers of blood disease of various kinds and a forum of responses to the work on display from students, nurses and writers in the community. Contributors to the events include (but are not limited to) Dr Stephen Curtis, ‘Blood Read: Blood as Ink in the Early Modern Stage’; Prof. Graham Holderness, ‘William Harvey and Blood Circulation: ‘the plenty of things and the dearth of words’; Dr Sören Fröhlich, ‘Blood on Swords and in Syringes: Sovereign Power and the Rise of Biopolitics’; Dr Tracy Fahey, ‘Sweet as Blood: identity, medical gothic and Patient narratives’; Dr Tracy Olversen, ‘There will be Blood: Primogeniture, Inheritance and Blood Sacrifice in the History Plays of Michael Field’; Polly Atkin (poet), ‘Leeches, Vampires and Bad, Bad Blood: Living with Haemochromatosis’; Philip Lee, (performance artist), ‘The Body as Book of Blood’; Dr Kurt Bullock, ‘My Blood, Ireland’s Blood, Christ’s Blood: Joe Plunkett and the Poetic Call to Sacrifice’; Dr Sam George, ‘Re(a)d Riding Hoods: Fairy Tale Histories of Blood’; Prof. Roger Luckhurst, ‘Ebola: Why Read Bram Stoker’s Dracula?’.
The exhibition will be hosted at Limerick School of Art (the gallery space has been confirmed) and tour to other venues focusing on the midlands and in the South East where regional health organisations will be involved. We have already received a Small Impact Award from the University of Hertfordshire (1,000) and a seed corn fund (1,500). We are seeking funding from the Wellcome Trust’s Small Art Fund (40,000) and Arts Council England as well as support in kind from the host institutions.
The festival will be curated Dr John Rimmer, Dr Tracy Fahey and Dr Sam George. Between them they represent the related fields of fine art, literature and science, gothic studies and medical humanities. Tracy and John suffer from type 1 diabetes and have an interest in self-managed or invisible illnesses. Sam is a leading scholar in the field of vampirism and folklore, she is also a botanist with an interest in folk medicine, herbalism and plant lore. They are all hybrid in their fields of research and thrive on the cross fertilisation of ideas and practices as demonstrated below.
Dr Sam George is Senior Lecturer in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research areas include eighteenth-century literature (scientific dialogue), women and science (botany, entomology, herbalism, plant lore), and gothic studies (vampirism, folklore and young adult gothic fiction). She is the author of Botany. Sexuality and Women’s Writing: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant 1760-1830 (MUP 2007) and the co-editor of Botanising Women: Transmission, Translation and European Exchange (2011). She has written a cultural history of the tulip and contributed to ‘Poetic Botany’, a digital exhibition hosted by New York Botanical Gardens http://www.nyborg/poetic-botany/contributors/.
On the gothic front, she is the Convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds research project the activities of which have been widely reported in the media. She has been prominent in the national and international press, following a trilogy of high profile events (on vampirism, shapeshifters and magical beings). Her interviews have appeared in newspapers from The Guardian, The Times, THES, and The Independent to The Wall Street Journal, Russia today and South China Post). Her publications in this area include: Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the present day (MUP, 2012), a special edition of Gothic Studies on vampires (15.1 (2012)) and Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Feral Humans is (forthcoming, MUP), co-edited with William Hughes. She has articles forthcoming on wolf children, folklore and undead fiction and the history of the literary vampire. A monograph, Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic is underway for completion in 2018.
Dr Tracy Fahey is Head of Department of Fine Art and Head of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies in Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD). Her primary research area is medical humanities with special reference to the gothic, visual arts and folklore. She is the convenor of the Death Salon which merges patient narratives and fine art practice to create a dialogic space. In 2013 she established the LSAD research centre ACADEMY where she also acts as principal investigator. She also founded the art collaborative, Gothicise, which creates site-specific performances that interrogate the relationship between site and narrative. She has published widely on medical Gothic, contemporary art, transgressive art, and pedagogy and has chapters in The Gothic Compass (Routledge) and The Gothic and the Everyday: Living Gothic (Palgrave) with essays forthcoming in collections with Manchester University Press, Cork University Press etc. She is currently working on a monograph on Contemporary Irish Folk Gothic for University of Wales press. Her short fiction has been published in thirteen anthologies, and her debut collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was published in 2016.
Dr John Rimmer is a practising artist, Senior Lecturer, and Academic Coordinator in Art at Bishop Grosseteste University. His current body of work is inspired by his experiences of type 1 diabetes, with themes around self managed illness, repetition or ritual, reliance on medical intervention and the prospect of transhumanism. Elsewhere his research interrogates the future of painting and embraces hybrid or mixed media, such as video and collage. He is engaged with both practical and curatorial work, combining old and new technologies. His exploration of different media coheres with his interest in mind and body transformations or malfunctions via specific technological, medical, and social situations.
John has exhibited and curated nationally and internationally for over twenty years. His work has appeared twice at the John Moore’s Open Painting and at The Collection (Lincoln), H-Space Gallery (Bangkok), GoCart Gallery (Sweden), Sekler National Museum (Romania), Ikon Touring Programme (Various venues), Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester), Cornerhouse (Manchester), Bluecoat Gallery (Liverpool). His curational work has shaped a number of inspirational group exhibitions and their related publications. Digitalis (2008-10) appeared at 3 venues in Europe and the UK and most recently Misdirect Movies (2013-2014). The latter explores the possibilities of collage, through the artists’ use of cinematic imagery (4 UK venues). The book Misdirect Movies was edited by John Rimmer and Andrew Bracey and published by Cornerhouse in 2014.