A New Project Weaves Patient Stories Into Art

A bioengineer collaborates with artists, clinicians and patients to come up with an art exhibition with heart

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When working with people in other disciplines – whether surgeons, fellow engineers, nurses or cardiologists – it can sometimes seem like everyone is speaking a different language. But collaboration between disciplines is crucial for coming up with new ideas.

I first became fascinated with the workings of the heart years ago, during a summer research project on the aortic valve. And as a bioengineer, I recently worked with an artist, a psychologist, a producer, a literature scholar and a whole interdisciplinary team to understand even more about the heart, its function and its symbolism. We began to see the heart in completely different ways. The project, The Heart of the Matter, also involved something that is often missing from discussions purely centred around research: stories from the patients themselves.

The Heart of the Matter originally came out of artist Sofie Layton’s residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London a couple of years ago, before the project grew into a wider collaborative effort. For the project, patient groups were engaged in creative workshops that explored how they viewed their hearts. Stories that emerged from these sessions were then translated into a series of original artworks that allow us to reflect on the medical and metaphorical dimensions of the heart, including key elements of cardiovascular function and patient experience.

Below are some of the artworks that emerged from this process and what they tell us about the heart, blood flow, and cardiac surgery and its complexity.

Contours of the heart

The heart is the pump, the engine room, of our bodies. In The Landscape of Heart Disease, one of the artworks that came out of the project, MRI scans of different hearts are used to produce lines that are interwoven with words. These include key terms that sum up essential elements of the journey of patients born with congenital heart disease – anatomy, conditions, medications, diagnostic techniques and medical devices – and also with narrative snippets from conversations that took place on the hospital wards.

Other lines are presented in different artworks, as maps and architectural drawings, such as in the Blueprints series, where Layton plays with the structural and architectural quality of the organ.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. The Conversation

Giovanni Biglino, Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics, University of Bristol

"The Heart of the Matter" exhibition will be at the Copeland Gallery in London from November 1-11, 2018.

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