Executive Editor | Pocono Zhao Yu
Translator | Hu Ye
Blueness Recycler is a biotechnology design project completed by Chen Yiyun in 2013 in collaboration with the scientists of synthetic biology at Imperial College London. It researches the manufacturing of formulation prototypes that are derived from the human body in the context of modern western medicine.
Chen Yiyun made a home medical kit, using saliva to detect the degree of depression and customizing it into a placebo. Saliva can act as a diagnostic medium to test one’s physical fitness, and its composition is affected by their mental status. For example, the saliva of depressed patients could have higher cortisol levels. Studies have shown that saliva can be used to build experimental models for mental status examination. Also, saliva composition can affect mental status in reverse. In medical treatments, the human body provides important indicators of physical conditions, and that making medicines from substances that humans excrete has a long history in China and the West. It is not only a product of the body but also has an effect on the body, which constitutes the circulation and self-interaction within the body.
Whether it is the confrontations between the body and the society, the disease and the individual, or the emotion and the body, in this project, Chen Yiyun uses her practices and body to pay attention to the various "maladjustments" in society. While raising questions, she tries to find solutions in the same way as confrontation.
In the work Sick Better, she visited the nursing home in her hometown and made video documentation. Combining her internship experience in the hospital and the stories of patients, she made up a fictional nursing home that "not be ashamed of illness,” where the symptoms of incurable diseases are transformed into certain values. This work presents the situations in different rooms of the nursing home and discusses various methods of "leveraging diseases.” For example, the kinetic energy from body trembling caused by Parkinson’s syndrome is converted into electrical energy, which becomes part of the patient’s incomes and pensions and subsidizes their living expenses; The airflows generated by continuous coughing is used to glass blowing, and these crafts are marked with price tags for sale in the store — in this way, the sickness is absurdly commercialized or made into art; Or, the sound of coughing is recorded as soundtracks for lullabies in a music box, becoming a memento for the family members.
In 2018, Chen Yiyun collaborated with metabolism scientists Patrick Schrauwen and Vera Schrauwen and their team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands on the project Long Live the Bedridden, which focuses on people who retreat from society, live at home, and be sick abed and their bodies. They made a bed that can rise so that the lying body can stretch upwards. Chen Yiyun lay in the bed and stayed in the room for more than a month without going out. The team of scientists monitored her physical condition and compared her before and after statuses.
The thinking and exploration of the body run through Chen Yiyun's creation and are presented in the interdisciplinary fields of medicine, art, science, and philosophy. This is closely related to her experiences. The internship experiences in the hospital and in studying critical and speculative design in the United Kingdom enabled her to focus on the various aspects of life in the hospital and the physical status of the illness. She shifted her research direction to a fusion of science and art, investing the cutting-edge biotechnologies from mainstream, Western, and scientific laboratories. She pointed out that the development of science and technology in the laboratory has uplifted the development of the human body, because, in the medical and philosophical sense, humans have become new humans.
As an interdisciplinary practitioner, have you ever encountered contradictions and obstacles among these disciplines? You once pointed out in an interview that "scientists' participation would ultimately become pure technical and theoretical." What are your thoughts and expectations in terms of such a phenomenon?
Long Live the Bedridden was created in 2018, but it seems to be worth mentioning again in 2020. Do you have any new thoughts on this work? How has 2020 been influencing your life and creation?
What is your current working model? In your life and work, how do you balance the relationships among design, humanities, and medicine?