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The Heart Of The Matter

##Sofie Layton & Giovanni Biglino

A selection of artworks from an exhibition that brings together art and medicine to reflect on the human heart

The Heart of the Matter is an arts-and-science collaboration initiated by artist Sofie Layton and bioengineer Dr Giovanni Biglino in 2015 when Sofie was artist in residence at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) and Giovanni was working with the Cardiac Engineering Team at GOSH. Since then the project has grown into a multifaceted, interdisciplinary collaboration, including health psychologist Dr Jo Wray, music composer Jules Maxwell, digital animator Babis Alexiadis, several other artists and makers, but also nurses, cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, and importantly cardiac patients and their families. In 2018, the project culminated in an exhibition, envisioned, created and curated by Sofie Layton and produced by Susie Hall (GOSH Arts), Nicky Petto and Anna Ledgard (Artsadmin). The exhibition has been shown at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle (24 March – 6 May 2018) and at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) and Centrespace Gallery in Bristol (14 July – 19 August 2018). Now a selection of artworks is presented as part of the DDW. The whole exhibition to come to London in November.

The Heart of the Matter explored different dimensions of the heart – its form, its size, its language, as well as the stories that each of us carry within it. At the very core of the work is a workshop process led by Sofie Layton that allows participants to explore imagery relating to their heart, alongside with one-to-one workshops carried out on the hospital wards. These stories, these metaphors, these visual prompts constituted the starting point for the artmaking process and have been distilled in a series of original artworks.

Technology and digital processes play a key role in translating some of these narratives and, technically, in representing the complexity of heart disease and cardiovascular anatomy. In other words, as one of the installations titles, technology allows Making the invisible visible. This is achieved mainly by means of 3D printing, based on medical imaging. Routinely acquired medical data (such as MRI or CT scans) can in fact be processed to reconstruct 3D surfaces and 3D volumes of the heart and vessels and in turn these can be 3D-printed using different materials.

Three key pieces from The Heart of the Matter are presented as part of DDW.

The Bud is a 3D models of the heart, vasculature and kidneys derived from MRI data, which shows cardiovascular anatomy in the presence of congenital heart disease. The anatomical model, presented under a bell jar and growing out of soil, re-presents a narrative that emerged during the workshops and was shared by different individuals. People see their hearts as plants, buds, flowers, living organisms – which echoes not only the sense of movement that we associate with the engine room of our body, but also the tree-like structure of the vascular network. We talk of an arterial tree, a pulmonary trunk, an aortic root… Words and images mix and The Bud, lit from within, glows in its small biosphere.

Sofie Layton, The Bud, 2018. Photo: Stephen King

Home is Where the Heart is a sculpture which also makes use of 3D printing technology. It symbolises the role of the family in caring and supporting patients born with congenital heart disease, as they grow from children into teenagers and then young adults. Not always an easy journey, the support and love from the family is physically represented by chains holding and sustaining a golden heart. The heart, scaled from an anatomical model and purposely reduced in size to transform it into a precious jewel, is cast in bronze and gold-plated, representing the preciousness of the organ. Designed as a locket, the model shows the chambers, the cockles of the heart. The stylised house, representing the domestic environment, is also produced using 3D printing.

Rubik’s Heart I and Rubik’s Heart II are two complementary artworks, two iterations of the same narrative. Here the complexity of the heart in the presence of congenital defects and following surgical repair is re-presented as a Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle, somewhat a mystery. This particular Rubik’s Cube cannot be put back together again. In its first iteration, the heart is still anatomical, although the 3D form has been digitally manipulated and some of the facets of a Rubik’s Cube start to emerge from the ventricle, in tones of red, blue and purple, representing oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. In its second iteration, the heart is abstracted and now is a cube, a kinetic sculpture that constantly moves in search of its repaired configuration, but that it is never fully resolved. The ticking of the cube moving somewhat echoes the ticking of a mechanical heart valve.

Other themes explored within The Heart of the Matter in some of the other artworks and installations include blood flow, medical imaging, the space of the surgical theatre, the mapping of the structure of the heart and its lines, and the stories within the heart, like the pages of a book.

The cross-fertilisation between the arts and medical technology, between creative workshops and bioengineering, rooted in a narrative framework, allows us to bring together the medical and the metaphorical dimensions of this most symbolic of organs.

The Heart of the Matter was conceived by artist Sofie Layton and bioengineer Giovanni Biglino and developed with health psychologist Jo Wray. It was inspired by workshops, encounters and collaborations with patients and scientists, artists and clinicians in London, Bristol and Newcastle. It is produced by GOSH Arts in association with Artsadmin and is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, Above & Beyond, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol and using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Image credits: ** **Sofie Layton, The Bud, 2018. Photo: Stephen King