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About the Project | Blood Wars

About the Project

Blood Wars is an ongoing experiment that looks at encounters between immune blood cells, and the biopolitics of blood, immunity and bioscience. How do we think about blood? What does this material mean to us?

Project Description

This is the website for the ongoing Blood Wars project. Blood Wars is an interdisciplinary art + science experiment being conducted in different locations around the world by artist/researcher Kathy High. Blood Wars is also a tournament between different people’s white blood cells as they vie for dominance in a petri dish. Using human blood samples, drawn by professional phlebotomists, Blood Wars creates series of battles, where the cellular ‘winner’ of each match will go on to fight the next participant. Blood Wars engages in blood duels—and the resulting data and histories about the cell winners will be collected and posted on this website. What the results add up to is to be determined over time.

On this website you will find everything from my blood love philosophy, to the science protocol for how the labs are being conducted, to videos and the results of the actual tournaments and matches. There is also a section called ‘Blood Stories” which has ‘back’ stories, weird histories of how people have engaged with blood, and various theories of our shifting perception of blood.

So this is a combination of science research, philosophy and history to create a broad view of the medium of blood—and in particular the human immune system, and the ways we think about the biopolitics of the body’s ‘defenses’.

While looking into the processes of immune cell engagement, cell staining, time-lapse microscopy and laboratory protocol, Blood Wars proposes a unique platform for the understanding of the physiological functioning of the circulatory and immune systems, in states of both health and disease. Nonetheless, by conducting different blood dueling, the Blood Wars project is an artistic attempt to question some traditional ideas of racial superiority, kinship, blood-letting, competition, dominance and the very tropes used in linking blood to sacrifice, vampires and blue bloods. For us, Blood Wars is an effort to demystify irrational and discriminative notions associated with blood. This uncommon encounter between two human cells is, above all, an effort to think about blood.

Process

The blood samples are drawn by a professional phlebotomist in a laboratory. As with standard clinical procedures for drawing blood, there may be some minor pain experienced with this procedure, as a needle will be used under the skin into a vein to draw the blood. There may also be some minor bruising caused by the procedure.

  • The blood sample will be stored for 24 hours while prepared for use in Blood Wars.
  • Each participant’s white blood cells will be separated out from their other blood cells.
  • Each person’s cells will be stained for identification.
  • The white blood cells from two different participants will be combined together in a petri dish for a ‘duel.’
  • The ensuing ‘battle’ will be photographed under a microscopic lens using time lapse to witness the cellular changes over time.

To protect the identity and rights of participants, each blood sample will be given a number. A matching number will be given to the participant’s questionnaire. The questionnaire provided to participants asks questions about the identity of the participant. The participant may chose to answer any question, or not, as they see fit. This information will be gathered to create the fictional character of their ‘blood type’. We will not collect their name, or any other identifying information and will include a privacy disclosure. A privacy disclosure will also be included with a place for a signature, where the participant will agree to submit their blood sample for the Blood Wars project.

What traits are inherited through blood? What can we know about ourselves from these immune first acquaintances? How do cells exchange fluids? Who has the ‘strongest’ blood? These are some of the questions we ask in Blood Wars.

Artist Statement

In the last ten years I have become interested in working with living systems, biology and art. Working with “live” materials raises ethic and aesthetic questions that I had not considered while working with electronic media. My work has changed from single channel video works, to creating environments and using space/sculpture/performance to engage with life science.

In 2009 and 2010 as part of a 2010 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, I spent a total of 5 months in artist residency with SymbioticA at the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia. From their website: “SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement of the life sciences. SymbioticA is the first research laboratory of its kind, in that it enables artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department.”

This research has lead me to consider materiality much more than previously in my work. As it is the physical matter before us that we will react to – not an image or reproduction of it. This vitalism is exhibited with past pieces like Embracing Animal where I exhibited live transgenic rats. With Blood Wars the act of taking blood and working with that medium is critical to understanding how precious a fluid it really is. To me these are the most successful parts of the works because of the actuality of the living material on site. These materials act as a trigger to the viewer.

Kathy in the Lab

Acknowledgements

Kathy High is deeply indebted to the following people for their assistance to develop this project:

SymbioticA - Centre for Biological Excellence

Oron Catts
Jane Coakley
Ionat Zurr
Luis Filgueira
Guy Ben-Ary
Stuart Hodgetts
Cynthia White
Diane Bertolo
Judy Yu
Glenn Monastersky
Chris Bjørnsson
Paula Gaetano Adi
Soyo Lee
Boo Chapple
Adam Zaretsky
Bill Jones
Red Gilmore
Jesse Stiles and Melissa St. Pierre
Micron Optical Co, Ltd. (Ireland)
The Science Gallery (Dublin, Ireland)

And all the Blood Wars blood donors

Artist Bio

KATHY HIGH is a visual/media artist from New York working in the intersections of art and biology. She produces videos, sculptures and installations posing queer and feminist questions into areas of medicine/bio-science, science fiction, and animal/interspecies collaborations. Her art works have been screened in galleries and museums nationally and internationally. In 2010 she was awarded a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. Kathy High is an Associate Professor of Video and New Media in the Department of Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, a department specializing in integrated electronic arts practices.

She started the BioArts Initiative at Rensselaer in 2007, a collaboration between the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, with Robert J. Linhardt, Acting Director of CBIS (PI), Kathy High, Head/Arts (Co-I), Rich Pell, Faculty/Arts (Co-I), This BioArts Initiative promotes exhibitions and artist residencies that encourage exchange and dialogue between the areas of art and biotechnology.

Web links:
BioArts Initiative at Rensselaer
Kathy High
Embracing Animal
Vampire Study Group

Contact: kittyhigh [at] earthlink [dot] net