Artist Statement -- Images

"This Isn't All the Hearts I Have"

The works arise out of a project with a heart transplant team. This was a trans-disciplinary medical team, PITH (the Process of Incorporating a Transplanted Heart), at the University of Toronto Transplant unit. They studied the emotional and psychological effects of heart transplantation and discovered high levels of distress and identity issues in successfully transplanted patients who were well recovered physically. This team invited artists, 2 Canadian / 2 UK to be part of their project. I accepted since the influence of technology on our sense of our borders and notion of ‘ourselves’ has been central to my work. Here, it is technology that makes it possible to avert death by taking another’s heart and this transplant project brings this issue directly into the flesh.

In the office of the cardiologist I was startled by the sight of piles of small hearts in stone, plastic, glass, fabric. These ‘knick-knacks’ were everywhere. They are patients’ gifts and sentimental offerings to the cardiologist. She can identify each one, recall each story and cannot part with them as they pile up on all surfaces in her office. The artwork Still Lives 1 includes her quote, “Why do you give this to me / I’m afraid to ask”. Even after patients recover they repeatedly return to clinic year after year to give her these small token gifts. While a living heart is beyond price, these gifts are materially of little worth and at first appear inconsequential. But this betrays their power. The patients are setting out to bridge the unfathomable: the new heart was never ‘dead’ but was alive/dead; a stranger died for them to live by having their heart; if their own immune system defends them, the intruder heart dies and as will the patient.

It is these unusually spellbinding gifts that appear in the artworks. I’ve looked for ways to point to the enthralling power of these objects that goes beyond their appearance. They begin to occupy a perplexing space, hanging somewhere between life and death where inexplicably two beings may beat as one. Such an almost impenetrable ‘other’ space is close to medical imaging when we can see inside something where normally we cannot see with the naked eye. The art works are in black and white, often in negative, with a change of scale. They and are compelling to view in both 2D and 3D, and can appear to move in 3D stereographs.

For more information on this work, please see: Shivering Web Site

Copyright © Catherine Richards. All Rights Reserved.