Country of origin
AustraliaCircles of Fire, UHD 2160p video still, 2017.
John A Douglas is a multi-disciplinary working across video, performance, photomedia, sound, objects and installation. His current practice investigates through scientific and collaborative, immersive performative approaches, his ongoing experience of chronic illness and treatment. He offers a unique and personal perspective as both artist & patient that intersects with biomedical science, clinical treatment and his own human and emotional experience as a renal patient. In 2004 he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure & continued to make and exhibit work, receiving an MFA in 2008 from COFA, UNSW. In 2011 he began to incorporate his daily dialysis treatment into his own practice & in 2012 he initiated a residency at The Museum of Human Disease & School of Media Arts, UNSW for the development and production of work responding to dialysis & chronic renal disease funded by the Australia Council. His live medical performance installation Body Fluid, conducted while connected to a peritoneal dialysis machine, was shown at Performance Space, Carriageworks as a part of ISEA 2013.
In April 2014 Douglas received a kidney transplant and while recovering from surgery he put together a team of local and international artists and was awarded a Creative Australia Development grant. He commenced an ongoing residency at Symbiotica Lab investigating the effects of anti-rejection drugs on his body and established a creative research partnership with Ingrid Bachmann at Concordia University in Montreal. In 2016, collaborating with a team of artists, he produced a series of works first exhibited at Galleries UNSW in the group exhibition titled The Patient: The Medical Subject in Contemporary Art curated by Bec Dean. The exhibition is currently on tour in Australia from 2017/18 and also features Symbiotica Lab artist/researchers Guy Ben-Ary and Helen Pynor.
John A Douglas identifies as an artist with disability. johnadouglas.com.au
“I am a hybrid denatured human – a bi-product of the corporate matrix of bio-medical industries. My death has been postponed until further notice.”
For many organ transplant recipients a lifetime of immuno-suppressant drugs, a disrupted sense of identity and the reality of living with a medically altered hybrid body, present a far more challenging and complex set of circumstances far beyond the expectations of the patient. For Douglas the challenges he and many transplant patients experience is a double-edged sword fraught with many obstacles that need to be overcome in order for the transplant to succeed. Compliance to a rigorous program of medications, diet and fitness is essential for maintaining physically and mental health. It is as French philosopher and heart transplant recipient Jean Luc Nancy stated the receiving of a dead stranger(l’intrus), where Cartesian medical science triumphantly holds mastery over life and death and the patient is no longer sure of who they are. The transplant recipient, altered with the DNA and living tissue of an unknown person, loses ones sense of self and becomes the other. This fractured and altered identity is further complicated by a supressed immune system from a lifetime of potentially lethal neurotoxic immune-suppressant drugs. The body no longer wholly belongs to the self as it becomes a product of 21st century bio-medical technology- a hybrid post-human body that lives in a constant state of deferred death.
Circles of Fire is an ongoing project of research, development and production of a series of multi disciplinary works that attempt to articulate the artist’s lived experience of renal organ transplant. The research interrogates the relationship the artist has with the immuno-suppressant drug Cyclosporine and an altered immune ‘signature’. Cyclosporine is a neuro-toxic fungus found in soil and is parasitic to the scarab beetle larvae. The drug acts as a Calcineurin inhibitor in T-cells to prevent organ rejection. Douglas’ research at Symbiotica Lab began by examining the neurotoxic effects of cyclosporine, it’s natural form found in nature as well as the social, philosophical and psychological concerns of organ transplantation and immune-supression. Douglas was then trained in wet-lab techniques including tissue culture and extracted his own T-cells (leukocytes) for moving and still image microscopy. These images were then digitally altered and composited as a video animation sequence in the two channel video Circles of Fire(variations). Douglas is continuing his ongoing research with brain data collection of sleep tests at the RPA hospital and FMRI imaging at Neura in Sydney.