Infertility and Unpregnancy: Strategies for Transdisciplinary Practice in Art and Medicine, May 2022

Wednesday 18th May, 4pm to 5.30pm BST / 11am to 12.30 pm EDT. 


A dialogue between art historian Tamar Tembeck and artist Heidi Barkun, and a response from Isabel Davis, followed by a collective discussion.

The work of contemporary Canadian artist Heidi Barkun explores constructions of identity through a transdisciplinary feminist practice in site-oriented installation, using voice, text, objects and place as means of resistance against normative definitions. Her art is informed by a history of multiple medical interventions due to chronic illness. In addition to this personal experience, her degree in Anatomy & Cell Biology is the basis for a deep understanding of the body. Following four years of unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF), Barkun’s most recent artworks focus on infertility, challenging notions of the failed body, failed womanhood, and the science that promises to circumvent these failures. 

In a dialogical exchange with art historian Tamar Tembeck, Barkun will introduce three of her recent art projects, and reflect on the tensions and gaps that must be navigated in straddling the worlds of art and medicine. Questions to be addressed in their exchange include: which art communities are open to receiving medically-informed works? What are the expectations towards (and limitations of) art in medical contexts? Are there representational taboos on either side, and what strategies are used to respond to them? In what ways can art practice shed light on the limitations of medical culture, and conversely, how does medical subject matter reveal certain closures in the art world? Finally, as artists and cultural workers, what strategies might be adopted to circulate nimbly across these fields? 

Isabel Davis, co-collaborator on Conceiving Histories and expert on the long culture history of trying to conceive, will respond to Tembeck and Barkun’s presentation. 

About the speakers: 

Heidi Barkun’s feminist transdisciplinary practice is articulated around questions of identity, illness, and failure using voice, text, objects and place as means of resistance against normative definitions. Inspired equally by theoretical as artistic research, she seeks to create spaces of conversation about taboo subjects. Heidi has a Master of Arts in Visual and Media Arts and Feminist Studies (UQAM, 2020), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Concordia, 1999) and a Bachelor of Science (McGill, 1995). She is the 2020 laureate of the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art. Her artworks have been shown in Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, and she has presented her research at academic conferences in Paris, New York, Aalborg, Montreal. She is currently an artist in residence at the McConnell- Université de Montréal Research-Creation Chair on the Reappropriation of Maternity. Heidi Barkun lives in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. 

Tamar Tembeck is an art historian, curator and writer. Her research engages with visual cultures of illness and medicine, hospital art practices, as well as performance and media studies. She holds a PhD in Art History from McGill University and has a professional background in the performing arts and physical theatre. Her interest in the body – its experience, its representations and the constructions of its cultural significations – thus links theory to practice. Tamar is currently the artistic director of the artist-run centre OBORO in Montreal. 

Isabel Davis is a Reader in Medieval Literature and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London. She is currently working on a book for a general readership on the cultural history of trying to conceive and the in-between state of ‘unpregnancy’. She has a long-standing collaboration with artist and illustrator Anna Burel, with whom she held a well-received exhibition in 2017 called Conceiving Histories, at Birkbeck’s Peltz Gallery.

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