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Interactive exhibition will explore impact of organ donation

9th February 2021

Two Northumbria University academics are to collaborate on a unique exhibition which will explore perceptions around end-of-life choices, and in particular body donation after death.

Although an emotive issue, becoming an organ donor can have a long-lasting impact, whether that is by saving the lives of others or supporting medical research to find cures for diseases.

From May last year the UK shifted to an opt out system for organ donation – moving it closer to a socially normalised practice. However, body donation, or the donation of tissue after death for education, scientific and medical research, has been less widely discussed within public forums. This project aims to explore organ donation as a part of death ritual.

The role that individuals can play in supporting the collective fight against disease has recently been highlighted with the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. And at a time when more of us are sadly being impacted by death and dying, it is hoped the exhibition will provide a space to explore and reflect on the choices we make regarding our own death.

The exhibition is part of the One Cell at a Time Public Engagement project for the global Human Cell Atlas research project, which is mapping every cell type in the human body. Designer Dr Stacey Pitsillides and medical sociologist Dr Holly Standing, have been commissioned to create the exhibition, entitled Embodying Normality: Donate my Body, Bequeath my Data.

The pair will undertake interviews and workshops with scientists, medics, organ donors and medical students to understand the impact that organ and tissue donation can make. They will then invite the public to explore their own feelings around donation by creating an interactive avatar during the exhibition.

Caption:Dr Stacey PitsillidesAs Dr Pitsillides explains: “Through this exhibition we want to explore ways in which death can provide new meaning. Much of my research is around the choices people are making regarding their own death and the reasons behind this. The concept of giving something back to society after death is becoming more prevalent, and organ and tissue donation is one way this can be achieved. However, we recognise these are big, emotive and often difficult ideas to discuss and so the aim of the exhibition is to support people to explore these concepts in an interactive and educational way.”

The exhibition is one of four commissioned by the One Cell at a Time project, which asked artists across different artforms to explore two questions: “What is it to be normal?” and “What influences peoples’ value and trust in research involving tissue donation and open access data?”

Dr Suzy O’Hara, One Cell at a Time project curator, said: “The Human Cell Atlas project is a revolutionary global research initiative that could transform the lives of every single one of us. With One Cell at a Time, we want to connect the public with the enormity and wonder of that. By creating a place where art and science intersect, we can also encourage a new way of thinking about the human body and our health and wellbeing.”

As well as exploring how tissue and organ donation can become a gift to the next generation, the Embodying Normality: Donate my Body, Bequeath my Data exhibition will also examine how the digital age has presented new opportunities and challenges when it comes to our personal data after death.

As Dr Pitsillides explains: “We live in a world where our data is not our own. Sensitive body-data is collected in numerous ways, often by third parties via health tracking apps or digital tools, without a great deal of public scrutiny. However this body-data could also be used to help society if people were willing to consider bequeathing their data after death.”

In addition to Dr Pitsillides and Dr Standing’s exhibition, commissioned pieces for One Cell at a Time will also be developed in Cambridge, London and Oxford. All the new commissions will form part of a touring exhibition appearing in each city in mid-2021.

One Cell at a Time is funded by Wellcome. Find out more about the commissions here.

You can take part in the project by sharing your views on body, tissue and date - to find out more about how to get involved please click here.


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