Research Point: Collaboration between science and textiles

Blood on Silk was a three year collaboration between two scientists, Dr Peter Domachuk, School of Physics University of Sydney and Dr Lee- Ann Hall, UTS and an artist Fiona Davies.

Davies’ father died in 2001 after ten and a half months spent in hospitals. She considered this time and the rituals of hospital life, predominantly the daily taking of blood. Blood on Silk is a series of site specific works created as a response to this time.

Dr Domachuk researched the development of implantable silk microchips which could provide a platform within the blood stream to allow the properties of blood to be read in real time while the blood is still within the body. Dr Domachuk’s research formed the beginnings of ideas and discussions for Fiona Davies’ art and the writing of Dr Lee Ann Hall.

The work explores silk and it’s historical trade along the silk route. The original silk route now intersects a new globalised route for the trade, both legally and illegally, in body parts, blood and medical tourism in Istanbul.

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There were a series of exhibitions each exploring these themes. I managed to visit the exhibition at UCA Farnham which consisted of immersive, enveloping shrouds of hand made silk paper from floor to ceiling that channeled the viewer through the room in an eerie otherworldly setting. The paper reminds us of funereal shrouds but also of connective tissue within the body, cobwebby. The whole room has a sadness to it almost of mourning.

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A series of three videos with associated soundtracks were placed in different spaces within the room encouraging the viewer to move within the space. The videos were taken from three different locations within Istanbul over 3 days. The daily comings and goings of people in and out of hospitals, workers, patients and visitors.

An excerpt from the catalogue essay by Ann Finnegan;

“Fiona Davies’ funereal shrouds of cobwebby, white, hand-beaten silk cloth, hanging in uneven shards, is such a veil, shielding and protecting from this horror of the dead (Blood on Silk/ Death 3, 2012). The corpse in its winding sheet; the hospital curtains, the sheet pulled up: already the body is far from us, even in this liminal proximity, tainted with dread, with mourning. Davies has no need to present us with a literal corpse. The winding sheet is already enough. Death makes us trade in signs. The body tarted up by the mortician, in an open cask, has already become a sign.

But there’s something else in Davies’ funereal drapes, a ghostliness, a presencing as if there were a something more behind the veil. The same cloths, which separate and protect, like Turin’s famous shroud, seem to carry the imprint of a trembling liveness, an uneasy promise of contact. It seems that through those drapes we mediate a kind of relationship with the dead, somewhat akin to the proximate distance of gloved hands. We will never quite touch again what lies on the other side of the veil, and yet, the shroud, paradoxically seems to keep death close, tabooed at close quarters.

Davies understands the trade in signifiers, however subtle, and how the marks of strands of silk beaten unevenly into a matted submission in her cloth, seems to correspond to material, earthly struggles. Her shrouds stand in for, and displace, the dead in a mediated relationship, in which a chain of substitutes – clothes, and wrappings – protect us, proximately, whilst placing us in a zone of near communication. Were the dead to whisper we would hear them through these shrouds of silk.”

In January 2013 Dr Peter Domachuk sadly died after a short illness. He was 33 years old.

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