ET IN ARCADIA EGO
Artist Charlotte Jarvis has collaborated with Prof. Hans Clevers and Dr Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute to grow her own tumour.
The tumour is gut cancer that is genetically 'Charlotte' - grown from her own cells in the lab and exhibited in installation. The project aims to examine mortality and create a dialogue with and about cancer.
The tumour was grown during the Matter of Life exhibition and then realised at the Body of Matter exhibition a year later at MU Eindhoven. Two chambers were built for the project connected by a long dark corridor. The first was a waiting room documenting the process of making the project, the second was a dark space filled with earth and containing the tumour housed in a mirrored box. These spaces were 'sets' in which the artist literally waited to meet and eventually confronted her tumour, but also a symbolic spaces in which the project was discussed, dissected, communicated and ultimately created.
Collecting samples by rectoscopy
Growing organoids in the lab
Body of Matter installation in Eindhoven - waiting room. Photos by James Read.
Later in the life of the project Charlotte will be investigating this material and what might be termed the "relics" of the piece (the physical remains of the tumour grown) in collaboration with Annick Bureaud with a view to creating an object at the intersection of publication and exhibition.
E-mails sent trying to find a doctor to conduct the needed biopsy
INTENTIONS AND REASONS FOR 'ET IN ARCADIA EGO'
The project is about materialising a confrontation with my body; with its bloody, biological mortality. It is also about recognising cancer as as much part of ourselves as tooth or eye; Meeting her, welcoming her into my personal space and confronting her. Cancer is often described as something we must “fight”; an unseen force to be battled with somewhere on the field of our own bodies. I am interested in actually seeing cancer 'in the flesh' - in making tangible something that is usually discussed in metaphors and in doing this exploring (evaluating?) the function of these metaphors when faced with the actual material.
Part of the process of making the project involves purposefully ‘violating’ a part of my body (although it will be external to me at this stage) to make it cancerous. This process I found deeply disturbing. When confronted with the tumour cells I felt that they were in some way mocking me. This was something I had not anticipated. In the end I found being in the installation an extremely unplesant experience.
I am interested in using the project to explore how stem cell technology will necessitate a change in our perceptions of ourselves and our bodies in the future. The guts grown are biologically and genetically 'Charlotte', yet they are also alien and other to me; never having been inside my body.
I see ET IN ARCADIA EGO as a partner to another stem cell piece I made previously called ERGO SUM. ERGO SUM used stem cell technology to create a kind of ‘back-up’ self with beating heart cells, firing neurones and flowing blood vessels. It explored the possibilities of personalised medicine and how we might extend our lives. ET IN ARCADIA EGO is an equal and opposite answer to this using similar technology to explore the mechanisms of mortality.
WHY GUT CANCER?
The project is about meeting cancer and recognising her. I want to meet her at her least apologetic.
We generally don’t like talking about our anuses, bowels and bodily functions - even that phrase ‘bodily functions’ is a way of avoiding saying piss and shit. So, it would perhaps be easier to grow a cancer that is more acceptable in public discussion. It would be less embarrassing. I suppose I did not want to afford myself that luxury. I wanted a cancer completely devoid of romance - mundane, and something that would be difficult to confront and talk about. A large part of the motivation behind the project comes from a desire to realise something that most of us perceive in metaphors. Some cancers are easier to perceive than others - they might be more external or originating in parts of our bodies we are more familiar with - I wanted to grow something harder to imagine; something internal and ‘hidden’.
There is a long tradition of artists engaging with the scatological. I think these pieces demonstrate a general human fascination with the mechanisms by which we are capable of making a material in our own bodies that repulses us. There is the obvious link here to cancer as something that comes naturally from our bodies but that we are offended by. Shit, and the guts that process it have an almost talismanic ability to revolt us, which is a reaction I think artists have long been interested in.
The first step was for me to have a rectoscopy to collect a biopsy from my bowel. The epithelial tissue collected includes a kind of stem cell specific to the bowels, which constantly regenerate.
Getting a rectoscopy for the project involved numerous practical and ethical hurdles. Many institutions were uncomfortable with performing any kind of procedure on a (hopefully) healthy individual, and in the end we have had to use a private clinic.
My rectal tissue was grown from the biopsy into ‘organdies’. This is essentially my bowels in a petri dish.
To make the tissue cancerous there were 4 mutations that needed to be carried out on the cells - these mutations represent the progression from a normal cell into a cancerous one - the cell needs to undergo all of these changes before it becomes cancer. The mutations target the cells ability to regulate its replication.
To check each mutation the cell DNA was sequenced.
After these steps were been carried out the cell culture "became" cancer.