A sculptural installation from ART/DATA/HEALTH and Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with RISE

Commissioned by the ART/DATA/HEALTH project and in collaboration with the Brighton-based domestic violence charity RISE, internationally renowned bioartist Anna Dumitriu has created a sculptural installation, exploring the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on women facing domestic abuse, and the paradoxical meaning of home as shelter.

The virtual exhibition of SHIELDING: A sculptural installation by internationally renowned artist Anna Dumitriu, in collaboration with the domestic abuse charity RISE, was launched at the Brighton Fringe Festival  on 4 October 2020. 

Watch the video of the exhibition, filmed at the Regency Townhouse in Hove, where the artist Anna Dumitriu discusses with Dr Aristea Fotopoulou about the production of the artwork, about how art can help create meaning from complex health data and uncover hidden narratives, and about the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on women facing domestic abuse.

News stories around the world have highlighted the significant upsurge in domestic abuse cases, and the need for increased support for victims of abuse from both governments and the charity sector – at a time when support has been much harder to access because of infection control measures and reduced capacity (see also here).

The ART/DATA/HEALTH-commissioned artwork initially aimed to represent and creatively explore data of domestic abuse, but we had to find solutions to adapt, because of the limitations to the participatory aspects of the project due to the pandemic. As Anna said in an interview for Sensorium: “Another important aspect is to let this situation inspire work and I am relieved that I have been able to adapt one current art commission to explore the impact of self-isolation and quarantine due to the COVID-19 Pandemic on the issue of domestic abuse and violence from a global perspective.” (Listen to the Interview for Sensorium, Festival of digital arts and culture, 28—30. 8. 2020, Bratislava)

The installation combines crafts that were traditionally used by women, such as sewing, embroidery and natural dyeing with healing plants (such as turmeric), with 3D printing based on digital reconstructions of hospital beds from the first temporary hospitals in Wuhan. With their rows of identical beds, often with a bizarre jumble of colourful makeshift bedding sourced at speed from nearby factories, the beds look uncanny. The artist invites us to rethink ideas of public and private, and especially in relation to these temporary hospitals that were set up for the pandemic, in China and elsewhere in the world. The doll sized beds also remind us of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” (1879) which deals with the fate of a married woman in a male dominated world.

“Shielding” has been impregnated with actual SARS-CoV-2 RNA (coronavirus DNA) from a plasmid construct. This is a safe, non-infectious reagent for SARS-CoV-2 research (NIBSC 19/304), obtained from the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, UK. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was supplied by researchers Dr Ines Moura and Dr Jane Freeman at the University of Leeds who are working with the SARS-CoV-2 primers and the RNA construct in the development and use of a RT-PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 detection in faeces.

It is a frequent theme in Dumitriu’s work to incorporate actual genetic material or other materials from the laboratory process in her artworks, such as in her “Plague Dress“. The presence of these bio-materials, even in this safe non-infectious form, allows us to confront some of our feelings about the pandemic, whilst the artwork itself becomes an authentic secular relic of the sublime laboratory and research processes that we are all pinning our hopes on.

Anna Dumitriu was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book called “A Room of one’s Own”, and the idea that women need their own space in order to create; she thought of this in relation to how during the pandemic a lot of women are confined at home, some of them with abusive partners. Since the creative workshops planned by the ART/DATA/HEALTH project were cancelled due to C19, Anna prepared an art kit for the participants instead (staff members of the domestic abuse charity RISE), which they could access online. The creative activity prompts them to imagine what a room of their own would look like.

An exhibit at The Regency Town House

Anna Dumitriu was due to premiere the ART/DATA/HEALTH commission in the enigmatic the Regency Townhouse kitchen space in May 2020 but the show has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime the Regency Townhouse is hosting an online exhibition of works entitled “Art & Infection: The BioArt of Anna Dumitriu“. Anna Dumitriu has been making art about infectious diseases for over 20 years. Her BioArt works not only explore diseases like the plague, MRSA and tuberculosis, but actually incorporate killed bacteria and DNA of those organisms. She has worked with the viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages, and created works using CRISPR DNA modification. See also here.

Find out more:

ART & INFECTION: The BioArt of Anna Dumitriu