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DIY in the Lab with Quimera Rosa

Quimera Rosa is a transfeminist performance group from Spain invested in breaking down distinctions between humans, machines, animals, and nature. For the next month, Quimera Rosa will be in residence at UC Davis to conduct the “TransPlant: My Disease is an Artistic Creation” workshop. In preparation for their photodynamic therapy workshop, Quimera Rosa led a critical pedagogy lab on Wednesday, February 7, where attendees discussed disease, nature, and cyborgs.

Quimera Rosa’s “TransPlant” workshop is an interdisciplinary project that brings together biomedical research, art, community health, and self-experimentation. The workshop’s central case study is the use of a chlorophyll-based photodynamic therapy (PDT) to treat human papillomavirus (HPV). Their work investigates how plants and humans may productively have a symbiotic relationship. Rather than asking how humans can modify and control plants to serve their bodies, Quimera Rosa wants to know how plants cooperate with humans to redefine the healthy body.

Throughout the workshop, participants will also be thinking about what it means to define a body as diseased and deconstruct the social and medical taboos that surround a body defined as “diseased.” To Quimera Rosa, disease appears as a natural result of living: “a body is always a diseased body, and disease is inherent in life.”

To close the workshop, Quimera Rosa and workshop participants will co-create an installation of the work done and ideas explored in the workshop. The installation runs from February 22-25 in the Della Davidson studio and will close with a performance on February 25 at 6 pm; both are open to the public.

Quimera Rosa’s projects often use their own bodies as subjects, and experiment with “hybrid, flexible, and changing identities to be able to blur frontiers,” according to their website. In TransPlant, begun in 2016, Quimera Rosa explores models of identity that aren’t anthropocentric but are instead based on relationships between the human and natural world.

These non-anthropocentric models break down the binaries we so often divide the world into. When we declare something to be “nature,” we are marking it as a non-human object for us to colonize and use. “The nature/culture binary structures an almost infinite list of other binaries in modern Western thought,” says Quimera Rosa. This list includes, but is not limited to, “man/woman, white/non-white, straight/queer, science/witchcraft, adult/child, normal/abnormal,” with the second term in every binary “associated with nature and therefore subjected to the same regime of violence,” they note.

Instead of this dominant model, Quimera Rosa finds inspiration in models like Donna Haraway’s “cyborg”: a fusion of human-animal and machine that erases distinctions and hierarchies between living beings and the physical world. Being a cyborg means forming alliances based on affinity rather than identity, whether one has affinity with microchips or plants.

In Quimera Rosa’s case, plants and humans work together in the same body to heal. One of Quimera Rosa’s members is living with HPV, and they have been experimenting with PDT therapies in their body. Photodynamic therapy is a minimally invasive technique that uses light-sensitive molecules to cause cell death, and it has been used successfully on localized cancers and skin diseases.  The PDT technique is still exclusive to private clinics and a few hospitals, however, and gathering the materials can prove expensive and time-consuming. Quimera Rosa hopes to apply it to symptoms of HPV, and will develop a self-experimentation protocol to test PDT’s effectiveness on a common infection.

By collaboratively researching and replicating laboratory protocols and biomedical research into PDT, workshop participants will make their experimental knowledge accessible. An open and accessible medical treatment has significant implications for community health. For example, HPV is prevalent in countries in the global south, yet many of those with HPV cannot access treatment. Quimera Rosa’s collaborative biohacking could make PDT available to global populations. TransPlant will demonstrate that non-hierarchical collaborations between humans, plants, and technology can offer new perspectives on science and medicine.

This project is sponsored by HATCH: the Feminist Arts & Science Shop – a Mellon Research Initiative in the Humanities; UC Davis Global Affairs, Performance Studies; Science and Technology Studies; Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies; the Functional Diversity series; Spanish and Portuguese; Theater and Dance; Cultural Studies; and the Feminist Research Institute’s Radical Mycology Working Group.

–Samantha Snively, DHI Humanities Correspondent and PhD candidate in English literature

This page was last updated: July 26, 2018



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