Monday, 15 October 2012

The Wasted Works - An Interview with Artist Gina Czarnecki

      The Wasted Works is a controversial exhibition created by artist Gina Czarnecki. This striking collection of work, created from 'discarded body parts,' is available as part of Manchester Science Festival. As the Works opened at MOSI last week, we thought we'd grab a few minutes with the artist herself and see what she thinks about the issues involved.
     1) Should people be allowed to donate parts of their body to an artist? 
      Yes - as long as full consent is given by the donors and the artist endeavours to retain the integrity of the work in being mindful of the context that it will be exhibited. For example, if people donated fat to Canopé - I would consider it bad practice to then put the chairs in an exhibition about obesity…

2)  Is it right for galleries to exhibit artwork made of real human bones, teeth or fat?
At the moment, a licence is required from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) for the display of tissue from deceased donors. For tissue from living donors, the same bio-hazard protocols are in place, but a permit is not required (however this is new territory and the expansion of DIY biology and experimentation in this area may highlight the need for a similar license for tissue from living donors in the future). Keeping living tissue in a gallery context, such as SymbioticA have done, requires lab equipment (which is not cheap to hire, own, run or maintain). Crucially though, if it is art then galleries should, in my opinion, be able to show this. If it is 'right' or not comes down to personal values, the integrity of the work and taste.

3) Who owns our body parts when they are removed from us? 
If you lose your hand in a farming accident - on the farm - then you can do with the arm what you like. As soon as this is in a medical establishment, we do not 'own' parts of our body once removed. Once removed, the tissue becomes a possible bio-hazard and is treated accordingly.Technically, no one really owns this but it is the responsibility of the medical profession and we are not allowed to take bits home …but I wonder how Roald Dahl got his hip bone…there are certain bits we can take - stones. In some cases, the umbilical cord and placenta…I guess not too many people ask.

4) Does the use of human tissue in art serve any purpose, or is this just sensationalism?
This depends on the art. In Wasted, this was to draw attention to the grey areas of consent, ownership, donor participation,  etcetera - the Chapman Brothers source bones in their artworks from China. Gunther Von Hagen's first 'bodies' were given to medical research and not for display as art. The Wasted Works were not ultimately about the bones but the process of ethical approval, treatment of bio-hazardous materials and patient consent. I made these works because of living in Liverpool - and the shadow of the Alder Hey Organ Scandal as it has become known and the people who were personally affected by not being asked. My father was a concentration camp survivor and at 7, my visit to the Majdanek camp was shocking and has informed much of my art practice and position since. The basic agreement with medical research is not to cause harm, in any way but for the benefit of improving quality of life in some way...I think if the artwork can do this then it is not just sensationalism. We are also talking of a time when teenagers are having botox (and silicone breast implants have recently exposed bad practice of the use of builders' grade silicone). This just shows us how little people investigate what poison is going into them or the fact that this is the intentional disabling of the body when it is in the name of 'beauty' but those same people will be disgusted by sitting in a chair made of fat - human or otherwise…

5) Should this type of art require formal approval?

Currently, there is no formal body set up that can approve or not this sort of work - the HTA deals with tissue from dead donors and medical research. Universities have their own panels that can approve or not this sort of work. Through The Wasted Works, I have started the process for a national Art and Ethics Advisory Panel and with a significantly high level of people and institutions giving advice in relation to ethics, then this may develop a direct resource for people in the future to know public sentiment, sensitivities and legalities of individual projects. We are not a committee to approve or not the ideas/projects but are advisory only - and with the intention of developing the debate in a public participatory way.

6) Which piece is your favourite and why?
My favourite is The Wasted Works - they co-exist. The palace is the tip of the iceberg, all the pieces do different things and together do more than the sum of the parts and allow one another space - I wouldn't feel comfortable showing diagram for a summerhouse without the lightness of the palace…but the bits I enjoy most at the moment, are the drawings and stories coming in from the donors of the milk teeth. I like this because there is a response on a personal level, and its not the silence of an art audience or the feeling that your work is in a void, but that every one sent is helping to make The Palace grow.

The Wasted Works is available as part of our Art Meets Science programme. Visit our website for a full list of events. 
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