The Heart of the Matter Exhibition 14 July – 19 August RWA and Centrespace Gallery, Bristol

The Heart of the Matter exhibition brings together art and medicine to reflect on the human heart

"I feel like I am holding snow in my hands"
Mother of a 3-month old baby on seeing her child’s heart as a 3D model

Through artworks inspired by patients born with heart conditions, their families and clinicians, the exhibition invites the public to discover the extraordinary nature of this complex organ. It's a collaboration between British artist Sofie Layton, bioengineer Giovanni Biglino (Lecturer Cardiovascular Bioinformatics & Medical Statistics, Bristol Heart Institute) and health psychologist Jo Wray (Senior Research Fellow in the Cardiorespiratory Division and in the Centre for Outcomes and Experience Research in Children’s Health, Illness and Disability at Great Ormond Street Hospital). The exhibition will run at the Great North Museum in Newcastle until 6 May 2018 before continuing its tour to Bristol across summer 2018 and finally to London in late 2018.

The exhibition was first conceived by Sofie Layton and Giovanni Biglino in 2015 and has since brought together patients with heart conditions from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, the Bristol Heart Institute, and the Adult Congenital & Paediatric Heart Unit of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, to explore the heart in workshops together with scientists, artists, students, clinicians and nurses. Conversations and stories arising from these workshops in turn inspired artworks that offer insight into the heart’s beauty, fragility and resilience, using scientific and artistic methods.

"The work with the artist allowed me to actually reflect on what my condition meant to me and how it impacted me growing up. This was a good way to mark the transition into being an adult patient." A patient who took part in the workshop process

The viewer travels through three sections, as if walking through three chambers of the heart. The first, Medical Models and Language, represents heart and blood vessel anatomy and the medical language used to describe and treat congenital heart disorders. Through 3D printed models, printed textiles, and sound, these works depict how the heart can change in the presence of disease, the complexity of the medical terminology used to navigate heart conditions, and the interventions used in their treatment.

In the second section, Technology Abstracted, a large-scale animation reveals patients' narratives as they appear within blood flow scans captured by advanced medical imaging. Inside a curtained booth, an animated soldier - one patient's image of resilience - transforms and is contained within a medical heart model, completing the transition from medical to symbolic interpretations.

The third and final section of the exhibition, Narrative and Symbol, houses richly allegorical and immersive artworks, which move away from overt medical references. Installations, sculptural forms and 2D pieces reflect on concepts of (self-) protection and care, the sacredness of the surgical theatre, the complexity and constant movement of a defective heart, and how personal, unique and precious everybody’s heart is to them.

Sofie Layton, lead artist says, The Heart of the Matter has been the most extraordinary personal and artistic journey. Working with patients, parents, scientists and clinicians in a workshop setting, I have listened to people’s metaphorical stories of their heart and in some circumstances, I have watched them discover what their own or their child’s heart looks like.”

“We gathered together the heart narratives of dozens of people, patients, parents, artists, clinicians and scientists,” continues Sofie, “all of whom have participated in a series of day-long creative workshops which explored the medical and metaphorical heart. The images, ideas and stories that emerged from these workshops are extraordinary, beautiful and thought-provoking.”

Giovanni Biglino, Lecturer Cardiovascular Bioinformatics & Medical Statistics, Bristol Heart Institute says, “Being able to take part in creative workshops and listening to other people’s stories, meeting their families and creating something together, gives a complete different connotation to scientific research – it adds an absolutely necessary dimension of humanity.”

“Technology and art can be absolutely complementary in representing the human body,” Giovanni continues. “Today we can describe in exquisite detail the path of blood flow in an artery, but we can also start to unravel the stories that are carried within it, and listen to them.”

The Heart of the Matter is produced by Susannah Hall (GOSH Arts), Nicky Petto and Anna Ledgard in association with Artsadmin, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, Above & Beyond, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. With thanks to RapidformRCA and 3D Life Print.

"To literally hold your own heart model in your hands, to discover its form and size, is transformative" Artist Sofie Layton



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