How to read poetry to cancer cells
by: Sandra Lorenzi, Studiotopia artist in residence
Sandra Lorenzi and Jean-Christophe Marine are the residents of STUDIOTOPIA Art&Science Residency Programme hosted by BOZAR. Their common project is still in the development phase, but today they reveal the reasons that drive them to working together.
How to read poetry to cancer cells is a new Art&Science project co-developed by the French artist Sandra Lorenzi and the Belgian molecular cancer biologist Jean-Christophe Marine (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie). Together, they form the BOZAR-team in the Studiotopia Art&Science Residency Programme. Their common project aims to build a bridge between skin cancer patients and their illness.
In research on metastatic melanomas, once the biopsies have been carried out with the patient’s consent, the samples are sent for laboratory study and become the scientist’s ‘raw material’. At this stage, the patient no longer has access to this material and can ask legitimate questions: what kind of handling is it being subjected to? How and where is it stored? What happens to it?
"It is very rare that the patient fully understands the ins and outs
Although it is no longer part of the body, this material remains connected to its history. It has a present and a future and can be perceived as a potential not fully exploited through the patient-scientist relationship. Unlike the clinician in direct contact with the patient, the scientist-researcher doesn’t build a specific relationship with the patient him or herself, but with a part of his or her body. It is very rare that the patient fully understands the ins and outs of the scientific process in which he or she collaborates to. The researcher’s work could benefit from a new form of relationship growing in another territory of expression.
Here artistic action can compensate for this absence by setting up a new type of protocol, called the ‘protocol of mutual expression and attention’ or ProMEA. ProMEA proposes to extend our framework of perception and judgement, and considers each living body or living entity as a vehicle for its own expression.
"The protocol gives the patient the possibility to express his or her feelings,
What lives expresses itself, the living is expression. On a human scale, the patient and the scientist-researcher are expressions that engage in their own paths. On a cellular scale, a healthy cell or a tumour cell are also expressions that engage in their own paths. In this sense, the protocol of mutual expression and attention concerns both human and cellular expression. Its conduct involves bringing the two together. The tumour cells of interest here are expressed by a chromosomal aberration. Aberratio in Latin means ‘to deviate from’. By the use of this word, scientists suggest that the tumour entity has deviated from its usual trajectory. It branches off. Its intention is assimilated to an organism that spreads in a population capable of making its environment favourable to its development.
This population of cancer cells spreads until the death of its host. Its expression engages its non-expression, that is to say that life here is expressed by an intention of death. To the tumour cell expressing itself by aberration, we respond with another form of aberration, this time positive and life-bearing. It consists in physically placing the patient in front of his cancer cells using an avatar. Avatar or organoid technology makes the cancer cell grow on a body in vitro.
ProMEA exploits the tools developed by the researchers. The patient finds himself in front of his disease. Through the vector of a word, a poem, a song, the protocol gives the patient the possibility to express his feelings, his deep thoughts, his will to live in front of the cancerous cells. From one body to another, from an interiority to an exteriority, the ProMEA allows the continuity of expression thanks to the joint effort of art and science.
Find out more about Sandra Lorenzi's work.
Photo: © BOZAR
Bozar (Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels) interviewed Sandra Lorenzi and Jean-Christophe Marine and asked them a few questions about their residency.
Can art change the way we look at cancer treatment? French artist Sandra Lorenzi and Belgian molecular biologist Jean-Christophe Marine are preparing a compelling project on this subject. At the crossroads of art and science, they will present it at BOZAR in 2022, at the end of their Studiotopia residency at BOZAR LAB. It seems quite a challenge to bring together an artist and a scientist specialised in medical research around the subject of cancer treatment...
Read the full interview 'Cancer and its double : an artistic and scientific project'.
This work is part of the STUDIOTOPIA project supported by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.