Hybrid Bodies: Incorporating the Heart
Few organs are as charged as the human heart.
Seen as both the seat of human identity and the archetypal symbol of love, it is an organ that has been ascribed qualities and associations far beyond its anatomical functions. Since the first heart transplant in 1967, the technical aspects of the operation have been streamlined and now heart transplantation is the accepted therapy for end-stage heart failure.
Four internationally exhibiting artists, Alexa Wright (UK), Catherine Richards (Canada), Andrew Carnie (UK), and Ingrid Bachmann (Canada), have had access to an innovative research study exploring the process of incorporating a transplanted heart. This interdisciplinary study was conducted by a leading research team based at the University Health Network in Toronto. The team consists of Dr. Heather Ross, a cardiologist and Director of the Cardiac Transplant Program at the University Health Network (Toronto); Dr. Patricia McKeever, a health sociologist (U of T) ; Dr. Susan Abbey, a transplant psychiatrist (University Health Network); Dr. Jennifer Poole, a health scientist (Ryerson University, Toronto); and Dr. Margrit Shildrick, a philosopher (Linkoping University, Sweden).
While significant research has been conducted in transplantation using the bio-medical model, few researchers have explicitly connected organ recipients’ experiences and cultural views about transplantation to the notion of embodiment.
The aim of this project is to further explore the complexity of organ transplantation in a novel way which makes it accessible to the public by providing context to discuss and explore these ideas. We hope the artworks will provide a tangible focus for discussions.
PITH: the process of incorporating
a transplanted heart
Heart failure is an epidemic in Canada. There are about one million people in the country suffering from heart failure right now, and about fifty thousand new cases are diagnosed each year.
The PITH project began in 2002 when Patricia McKeever received a multi-year STIHR (Strategic Training Initiatives in Health Research) program grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. This grant funded graduate students from a range of disciplines, and a series of annual interdisciplinary workshops and courses based on the program’s four nodes, one of which was The Body. Heather Ross, Catherine Richards, Susan Abbey, Jennifer Poole and Margrit Shildrick were faculty mentors in this program. McKeever paired speakers who were known to be intradisciplinary thinkers to ensure that workshops would generate interesting dialogue, exchange and ideas rather than an entrenchment of established positions. She paired Heather Ross, Director of the Toronto Cardiac Transplant Program and an accomplished musician, with U.K. philosopher of embodiment Margrit Shildrick. McKeever knew Shildrick through her seminal work Leaky Bodies and Boundaries (Routledge, 1997). Soon after the workshop, Ross, Shildrick and McKeever initiated the PITH project.
PITH’s primary source of data was videotaped interviews that had been conducted with transplant recipients. These private, semi-structured, open-ended conversations included questions such as: “What has life actually been like for you since you received the transplant?” “How do you think/feel about your heart?” and “Would you be comfortable talking about how you picture/think about your donor?” The interviews were conducted by two team members Advance Practice nurses Enza De Luca and Oliver Mauthner. Initially, the research team focused on analyzing interviewees’ words and bodily gestures. The data collected during the interviews was illuminating—what recipients insisted on verbally was often at odds with what their bodies communicated gesturally. This led the researchers to wonder if the essence of heart recipients’ experience “was beyond words.” It became apparent that using audiovisual research methods allowed the team to uncover much that had previously been masked. The team felt it needed to seek innovative ways to try to get this information out into the public domain—and thus the relationship between the artists and the PITH team was born. They hoped that the inclusion of the artists in the project would provide rich alternative avenues for new understandings, knowledge translation and outreach.
In 2007 four artists; Ingrid Bachmann, Andrew Carnie, Catherine Richards and Alexa Wright were invited to collaborate with an ongoing interdisciplinary study regarding the emotional and psychological effects of heart transplantation. This study —The Process of Incorporating a Transplanted Heart (PITH)— was instigated by Cardiologist Dr. Heather Ross, philosopher Dr. Margrit Shildrick and sociologist Dr. Patricia McKeever, and included transplant psychiatrist Dr. Susan Abbey and health researcher Dr. Jennifer Poole. The artists collaborated with the PITH research team based at Toronto General Hospital University Health Network, drawing from their research data to create artworks that explored themes such as inter- corporeality, community, mythology and symbolism surrounding the heart. These art works were created for public dissemination, to raise awareness and to provoke discussion.