Co Create

Donate my Body, Bequeath my Data

Funder: Research Enrichment Grant, Wellcome Trust (Wellcome Sanger Institute)


Team: Stacey Pitsillides


Timeframe: 2020-2021

The future of death is entangled in uncertainty with technologies and human nature shifting in ways that are only just becoming apparent to us. In the UK we are living in an increasingly diverse society with complex beliefs1 and multiple identities2, but what defines a normal approach to death or post-death practices? As formalised religion becomes less dominant in shaping funeral practices, people look to create rituals that match the character, personality and spiritual needs of their loved ones. This may include the enactment of social and political beliefs like sustainability or scientific advancement. Although there are many established and innovative rituals at the end-of-life, body donation offers an opportunity for our ending to also be a beginning, and for us to become part of a new collective whole. However there may be tensions between the medicalised approach to donating your body to science and movements that are intrinsically embodied, like the natural burial movement, which has created a new vocabulary to talk about how bodies may be gifted to the earth3. Donations are also bound up in questions of identity, family members are reported to leave notes on donated bodies to be found by medical students which give a sense of who the person was. Balancing an individual’s identity in relation to their data can provide new insights and give people a sense of continuing bonds after death4. How much we consider the body to matter in these rituals may affect our perception of self-donation, while notions of the body as a set of building blocks that can uncover the mysteries of humanity, may provide alternative narratives and rituals for the end-of-life. This artistic enquiry questions the role that the bodies of the dead may serve in society and how ideas of normality may shift with new practices. By moving from the personal to the collective, this approach will use the R&D stage to design prototypes that allow the public to co-create a data visualisation – working with the concept that our cells are building blocks and our bodies an open source library of knowledge.

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Exhibition that will tour across four sites: Newcastle, Cambridge, Oxford and London

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