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The Crack Magazine


Donate Yourself

Donate Yourself is a new work - an Augmented Reality experience created by design researcher Dr Stacey Pitsillides with body>data>space, an interactive design collective. It blends sound and 3D visuals to spark debates about our organs, tissue and body data and is accessed by the public through augmented reality via QR codes.

The AR sound and visual objects that are encountered on the walk, examine diverse perspectives on what donating parts of yourself mean to different people. See lungs breathing posthumous digital data, view eyes blooming up above us and neurons radiating from a petri dish, hear the unfolding audio stories as you walk, imposed on the real world around you. The art work questions:

What role can our bodies play in scientific discovery?

Could we see ourselves as a collection of cells?

Does donating organs or tissue make you immortal?

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

From May 2020, England shifted to an opt out system for organ donation, moving the decision closer to a socially normalised practice. However, body donation, or the donation of tissue and body data after death for education, scientific and medical research, has been less widely discussed within public forums.

Donate Yourself is part of the One Cell at a Time Public Engagement project, a place where art and science come together in an online exhibition: https://www.onecellatatime.org/. Commissioned artists and groups have created a range of artworks, public experiences and a creative learning programme for school children that respond to the Human Cell Atlas project, an initiative involving 2,000 experts, from over 1,000 institutes across 75 countries, aiming to map every cell type in the human body.

Gathered from a range of communities Dr Stacey Pitsillides and body>data>space have created this Augmented Reality experience to help us all consider the legacy of our bodies in this digital age. This sci-art project shares artistic interpretations of scientific imagery with the audience by weaving interviews with experts from the Human Cell Atlas research initiative and visual/written data from a series of artists workshops into this unique digital experience. These workshops used a bespoke post kit to explore ideas, from what people ‘think about donating their body after death’ to ‘what data would they be willing to share; medical records after death, data from health tracking apps or genomic data?’

Different views were shared in the workshops and these views combined to form the Augmented Reality experience. For example one participant commented “when I was younger I said I would donate everything but my eyes” while another replied “I’m the opposite. When I was younger I wouldn’t sign anything, but now I'm fine with it” More complex issues were also raised like how people felt about donating reproductive cells which could be used “to make another Human”?

Scientists and experts from the Human Cell Atlas were also interviewed about their attitudes and stories surrounding the tissue and data they work with, Melanie Dunstan, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford expressed how people considering donating their tissue “need to know the value of the research it’s not just curiosity, its finding ways of treating these awful diseases… and these tissues are invaluable we can’t do that just by taking blood… we do remember that this is part of someone’s loved family member” while Susan Lindsay, Emerita Professor, Newcastle University commented on how open data principles could help us think about tissue donation in new ways: “it’s a bit like creative commons I could be happy with it as long as any data being generated was then available to everybody in an anonymised fashion [and] … same as creative commons if I make a donation I expect the outcome of that to be donated as well.”

Donate Yourself can be encountered in several ways. It is being premiered as a walking tour around the Ouseburn Valley area of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK (29th October - 30th November). There, on this trail of five locations, you will find the Donate Yourself signage and, by scanning the QR codes with your mobile phone the digital objects will appear imposed on the landscapes behind and, with the audio in your ears, stories of care, trust, immortality, consent and futures will unfold, exploring the important role our bodies play in scientific discovery.

Each experience questions how we see our body after death; as a collective source of knowledge for humanity, as a material to explore our biological make up, or even as a way of immortalising ourselves in cells.

You can walk this trail yourself or sign up here for a guided tour on November 21st of this through the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle https://www.eventbrite.com/e/donate-yourself-an-augmented-reality-artists-tour-tickets-181655094277

Donate Yourself is also available at specific locations in London, Cambridge and Oxford throughout November where you will be able to interact with AR experience.


Donate Yourself - Commissioned by One Cell at a Time, a public engagement project with the Human Cell Atlas research initiative that is mapping every cell type in the human body has been designed and creatively directed by Dr Stacey Pitsillides in collaboration with the interaction design collective body>data>space. Funded by Wellcome, One Cell at a Time is led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, with collaborations across Cambridge, London, Newcastle and Oxford.