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27th September 2018

Artefact of the Week: Make Blood Cancer Visible installation

Bella Jewell discovers how a travelling exhibition of human figures are being used to raise awareness about Blood Cancer, the third most deadly form of cancer
Artefact of the Week: Make Blood Cancer Visible installation
Photo: Isabella Jewell

Whilst walking towards Piccadilly gardens last weekend, I suddenly came face-to-face with a life-size, glowing, Gormley-esque statue. After stepping back, I saw a crowd of 10 transparent human figures arranged upon the edge of the lawn.

On closer inspection, these ethereal characters stand on red plinths, upon which one reads ‘#makebloodcancervisible’ underneath a digital panel. As passers-by stop to read the information on the plinths, they are encouraged to press a red button, so to add another ‘view’ to the digital count.

The aim of this travelling installation is to raise awareness of blood cancer, a devastating illness which currently afflicts 240,000 people living in the UK.

The semi-invisible nature of the sculptures, which match the exact heights of real life cancer-sufferers, highlights the way in which blood cancer is an unseen disease, despite being the third most deadly form of cancer.

Commencing in Westfield Stratford City in London on the 4th September, the installation is touring the UK as part of Blood Cancer Awareness month. Having paused in Manchester from Monday 17th to Saturday 22nd of September, the sculptures have now made their way up to Edinburgh, where they shall be on display in Waverly Mall until the end of the month.

Quite strikingly, each sculpture is modelled on a real blood cancer sufferer, who narrate an audio recounting their story. The intense personalisation of these motion-activated bodies has a truly emotive impact; they are not merely invisible statues, but a shell projecting the experiences of real people who are suffering.

On the Bloodwise website, you can read the stories of blood cancer patients, such as that of Bloodwise ambassador Brett Grist, who is undergoing treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. He describes his struggle through three rounds of chemotherapy, and the emotional impact such a disease can have upon family life.

Grist is just one of the many narratives one uncovers from this moving exhibition: an installation designed to bring a largely unnoticed disease into public discourse. The official ambassador of the campaign, Dame Kelly Holmes, underlines the unfamiliar nature of blood cancer, having experienced the loss of her mother to myeloma last year.

On the website she describes how “it’s so important that more people know about the various blood cancers, and of their symptoms” as a greater awareness of the disease would provide the opportunity for early diagnosis. In this way the unofficial mantra of the installation ought to be: ‘knowledge is power’.

With the support of charities Anthony Nolan, Bloodwise, CLL Support Association, CML Support, Leukaemia CARE, Lymphoma Action, MDS UK, Myeloma UK, and Waldenstrom (WM) UK, this installation is an example of how art can be employed as a force for good. These life-sized figures are sparking a nation-wide discourse and changing public perceptions, whilst providing potentially life-saving information.

To read more about the campaign, visit this site.

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