Holding my Heart: Documentary and portraiture to advance the appreciation of 3D medical technologies.

What role can 3d medical technologies play in exploring one’s identity? What are patients’ perceptions of 3D medical models and the emotional implications that these can carry? This research aims to explore these questions through the lens of congenital heart disease.

What did the project involve? 

This research sought to explore patient perceptions of 3D models and the emotional implications these carry through the lens of congenital heart disease, where 3D heart models have been shown to play important roles in the clinical care of and communication with patients. This was also a context in which arguably the emotional significance of the models is heightened by the fact that patients are born with their heart defect and therefore this plays a huge role in their identity – it is always present but never visible, and 3D technologies today enable patients to view and to hold their hearts.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Giovanni Biglino (Bristol Medical School) is a biomedical engineer of 3D heart modeling, leads the Grand Appeal 3D Bio-Printing Lab (UoB/UHBW) and published extensively on medical 3D printing exploring its technical and creative uses.
  • Paola Di Bella’s (freelance photographer at Paoladibella.com) work focuses on capturing scientific developments and documenting technological and scientific activity in several countries.
  • James Marshall-Baquedano’s (Able Model Management) work aims to highlight social contemporary issues and unite people to celebrate their individuality regardless of gender, race or class. James has congenital heart disease and collaborates as a patient co researcher.
  • Maria Fannin’s (School of Geographical Sciences) research interests include feminist theoretical approaches to health and new medical technologies and empirical research on the ‘tissue economies’ of health and medicine.
  • Ana Baeza-Ruiz (Department of History of Art) is interested in radical approaches to teaching and works across feminism and decoloniality. Ana brings her expertise as a curator and will be involved in the workshops, exploring concepts such as ‘portraiture’ and ‘curation’ with participants.
  • Anna Farthing (University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust) is an award-winning producer and consultant curating engaging projects traversing the heritage, creative and cultural sectors.

What were the results?

A photographic documentary of the journey of a heart model was created, exploring different facets of this technology and its features – from the medical imaging data to the bioengineer rendering the images in 3D, from the 3D printing process and the making of the model to the surgeon handling it. This was used as an engagement stimuli.

Patients were then invited to a workshop exploring the link between our hearts and our identity. The photographic documentary was used to frame the workshop and explain the origin of the heart models. Patients were invited to reflect on the link between their heart and their identity and to consider, alongside 3D modelling technology, portraiture as a very ancient way of recording individuals’ appearances and personalities with different media. Ultimately patients were invited to explore how they could co-curate and co-create their own portraits and whether they would incorporate their heart in it and if so how. This phase culminated with the making of the co-created portraits.

The team hope to be able to co-create an exhibition of these materials.