Blood infections explored through art in The Mending Project

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Image from the Mending Project

An exhibition of artwork inspired by the blood system will be shown at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School between Ist October and 4th November at the Vitreum, the school’s art gallery. The Mending Project is the result of a talk given by Professor Cheng-Hock Toh, a haematologist at the Institute of Infection and Global Health and Royal Liverpool University Hospital (RLUH), about his work on blood clotting.

Professor Toh visited Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School (MTGS) in Crosby, and talked to Year 11 pupils studying for GCSE Art about his research. “Blood is my speciality and particularly clotting. A fine balance of proteins is needed to retain the harmony between the blood cells,” he explains.

“If the balance between clotting and not clotting tips, harm in the form of strokes, heart attacks or deep vein thrombosis can occur. So I talked about keeping that harmony and left it to them to develop their responses ideas creatively.”

After the exhibition at the Vitreum, some of the artwork will become part of the permanent exhibition at the Roald Dahl Centre, a new department within RLUH where Professor Toh is director. The centre supports patients with a variety of inherited bleeding and thrombotic disorders from haemophilia to venous thromboembolism during pregnancy.

“Professor Toh wasn’t necessarily looking for a traditional outcome, such as the seductive but well-trodden path of cellular drawings,” says Mick Gill, Director of Art at MTGS. “But it was important that we envisaged the final output going into that medical environment, that the journey of our project would end in the Roald Dahl Centre. It is a fantastic space, and we tried to respond in a creative, imaginative and personal way, because our project pieces will be joining some amazing artwork already installed there.”

The Mending Project - named to reflect the hopeful healing qualities of the artwork - was played out over ten weeks and in different media including performance and games, sculptures, photography, digital media, mixed media drawings and lino-cut prints. Between 15 and 20 girls attended weekly one-hour workshops, taking time outside of their hectic GCSE coursework and revision schedule. A blog and a book have also been created from the project.

Colette Whittington, a printmaker based in Liverpool, was brought in to lead the project. “The talk was fascinating,” she says, “but what was even more distinctive was the way Professor Toh went about the research with his colleagues, and what they added to it.”

Mick Gill believes there have been benefits all round. “From the students’ point of view, it was fascinating to see how a scientific brief was visually interpreted. It’s opened their eyes to how we can say things about one discipline using another, how we can play with images and use metaphor.”

“There were so many different uses of formal elements and visual language, and I hope it leads to thinking about treatment in a new way. It’s scary being in a waiting room, but the fact that the format of the art was very open means that people viewing it in the Roald Dahl Centre will find it accessible and enjoyable on different levels.”

Ist October – 4th November 2013 at the Vitreum, Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School, Liverpool Road, Liverpool L23 5SP.