Tagny Duff

Tagny Duff is a sessional instructor and is currently completing a PhD through the Humanities Program at Concordia University.


Tagny Duff is an artist-researcher and independent curator based in Montreal, Canada.

Many of Duff’s intervention performances, performance lectures, video, net and mobile works have been exhibited in galleries, festivals and university lecture series across North America, United Kingdom, Finland, Germany and Cuba.

Research project

A research-creation art project

Books traditionally convey ideas, information and document human knowledge with the skin of trees (paper) and animals (leather).

Similarly, contemporary biotechnology can be perceived as utilising tissues, cells and skins as ‘pages’; of information through wet laboratory practices and bioinformatic archiving systems. The conservation and preservation of these tissues requires methods to prevent contamination through freezing, cooling and isolating books and specimens.

The Cryobook Archives was an interdisciplinary art project exploring how viral transfection and contamination might be re-imagined as producing living experiences and documentation forms using bookmaking and biotech processes. Specifically, the interrelation between humans and viruses was explored as a necessarily symbiotic one – albeit one full of apprehension.

During her residency Duff created handmade biological art books. The ‘cryobooks’ were generated from human and pig skin, medical sutures, custom-designed leather bookbinding stamps, immunohistochemical stains and biological Lentivirus (a non-pathogenic derivative of HIV Strain 1).

The use of viral host cells and immunohistostaining protocols developed for The Living Viral Tattoos (2008) were developed further to render designs on human-animal skin. Guest artists were also invited to contribute designs that re-imagined the symbolic rendering of the HIV virus. These designs were imprinted with Lentivirus onto the pages of human and animal skin, and bound with surgical sutures.

The books were conserved through cryogenic preservation and suspended in 80 degrees. The books were integrated into a performance installation that introduced public visitors to the fleshy viral books.

Funding and collaboration

Thanks to the Fremantle Arts Centre, Laetitia, Jo Pickup, Bevan Honey and Joshua Schwebel. My gratitude also goes to Dr Stuart Hodgetts and Greg Cozens for their input into the development of the laboratory work and the generous staff at SymbioticA.

Period of research

March – July 2009

2007 residency

During this 11 month residency, Duff explored how researchers in molecular and cellular microbiology use retroviruses as vectors to regenerate the memory of damaged cells through transduction. Scientific processes and biotechnologies for documenting the ‘performance’ of viruses and tissue culture were considered from the perspective of both practice and critique.

Duff’s practical training in tissue culture engineering practices with the supervision of Ionat Zurr, retroviral transduction methods with the support of Dr Stuart Hodgetts and his research team, and training on the Zeiss scanning electron microscope with support of the staff from the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis, formed the basis for Moist Media Archives, a series of new performance-based works and writings.

The intention was to explore and provoke a rethinking of current practices of taxonomic and documentation strategies used in art and science to remember performance of ‘liveness’ – raising pressing questions regarding the political and philosophical implication of surveillance, data collection and storage to render the liveness of human / animal and microscopic bodies.

Funding and assistance

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture, and Le centre interuniversitaire des arts médiatiques (CIAM) provided travel assistance.

Special thanks to Ionat Zurr for supervision of tissue culture practices in the laboratory, Dr Stuart Hodgetts and research team, Dr Erin Manning, SymbioticA, School of Anatomy and Human Biology and Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis / Biomedical Image and Analysis Facility.

Period of research

July 2007 – June 2008.