In Search of Chemozoa (2020)

Trailer for ‘In Search of Chemozoa’ (2020): Three channel HD moving image installation.

In this award winning moving image artwork new perspectives are explored in response to the first study of cancer across species. boredomresearch presents a poetic rendering of an in silico model organism, called Chemozoa, created in collaboration with Arizona Cancer Evolution Center, the artwork responds to mythical creatures documented in scientific literature to reveal tensions and interconnections between human and planetary health. Combining computer animation, filmed environments and scientific speculation, boredomresearch weave a poetic narrative that introduces new ideas emerging from cancer research.

When in residence at the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center, boredomresearch witnessed the beauty of the Placozoan being studied by Dr. Angelo Fortunato who is developing novel model organisms to understand cancer across species. It was the complex web of ideas radiating from this simple organism that inspired boredomresearch’s imaginary Chemozoa; a fictional organism that experiences the same disease process that touches so many lives. With the dynamics of cancer programmed into their cells Chemozoa are designed to survive in toxic environments that act as an analogue for chemotherapy. The artwork responds to new therapeutic approaches centered on managing rather than curing cancer. The artificial physiology of Chemozoa does not differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells and therefore no clear distinction can be made between cancer and body. As such the Chemozoan escape the existential crisis of experiencing an internal conflict between healthy and unhealthy, self and other, characteristics of cancer. The Chemozoa allow us to reflect on our own relationship with conflict, foregrounding the benefits of balance in the management of singular identities made of conflicting parts. A philosophy that extends beyond the health of the individual to encompass the health of our societies and our sustaining natural environment.

In Search of Chemozoa offers us an opportunity to consider the increasing importance of ecological perspective in areas of research relating to human health where we are encouraged to acknowledge that  to live long health lives we first need to accept a fragile balance that plays out at the level of the cell. New insights benefit from acknowledging that the conflict between cells in the body, as seen in cancer, is the same as the conflict in ecosystems made from beings whose interests are not always aligned. In doing so we move from an aggressive ‘war on cancer’ dialogue to one that prioritises values of peace and stability. Nature has shown cancer researchers how to preserve health in the body. Can cancer research offer us a vision for how we can return health to a world that is becoming increasingly hostile and inhospitable?

In Search of Chemozoa was commissioned and funded by the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University (USA) through an award from the National Institute of Health/National Cancer Institute, developed in partnership with Aspex and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.  The artwork production has been created with thanks to: Athena Aktipis and the Cooperation and Conflict Lab; Aspex and the PONToon Project; Cristina Baciu, Finance Manager; John Crozier, Film Location Coordinator; Angelo Fortunato, Featured Scientist; Carlo Maley and the Cancer and Evolution Lab; Lara Parmiani, Narrator and with our warmest thanks to Pamela Winfrey, Curator & Film Producer without whose support this project would not have been possible.

VISIONS COME TRUE, Chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai (2023);
In Search of Chemozoa, Online Exhibition – VideoClub (30 June – 31 August 2021);
In Search of Chemozoa, Solo Exhibition – Aspex Gallery (19 May – 25 July 2021);
Restless Balance, Solo Exhibition – ASU Art Museum, Arizona (5 December 2020 – 30 May 2021).

Arizona Cancer Evolution (ACE) Center
Computer Art Society talk on the project