Marc Quinn uses blood in his installation to draw attention to the refugee crisis

British artist Marc Quinn employs frozen blood of refugees and celebrities to address the issue of immigration in Our Blood, scheduled for unveiling in 2021.

by Georgina Maddox Published on : Dec 30, 2019

Well-known British artist Marc Quinn, famed for working with human blood and other references to the body, is currently involved in a project titled Our Blood. For this unique project, Quinn has sourced around 2,000 litres of frozen human blood drawn from 10,000 resettled refugees, celebrities, and other participants. The proposal is to display this collection of blood samples in and as an installation that will be encased in a transparent pavilion on the steps of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building in 2021.  

At present, the artist is sharing videos of his work in progress. Our Blood is made with refugees and to help refugees: it is created to heighten awareness of the global refugee crisis and to raise millions of dollars for those who are affected by it. “To me, the refugee crisis is one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies we have ever seen. I feel compelled to make an artwork about it and, by doing so, help the people involved," writes Quinn. He has, reportedly, said that it was the visceral, primordial images of people crammed in boats and crossing the sea that compelled him to create the works, though at the time he wasn’t sure what he would create. 

The proposed site for Our Blood by Marc Quinn that will be hosted at the public library at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building in New York in 2021 | Our Blood | Marc Quinn | STIRworld
The proposed site for Our Blood by Marc Quinn that will be hosted at the public library at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building in New York in 2021 Image Credit: Courtesy of Marc Quinn studio; and The Norman Foster Foundation

However, over time it emerged to Quinn that working with human blood would be the most significant way to approach the topic. “No one’s blood or biology is better than anyone else’s, and once you start thinking like that it’s much more difficult to make someone else ‘the other’,” writes Quinn. Quinn has been working with blood with since 1991. He began by using his own blood to create an installation titled Self, where each of the sculptures created by the artist is a self-portrait that uses 10 pints of Quinn’s own blood, which has then been frozen and used to coat the sculptural form of his head. This is his first project created with the blood of others.

Marc Quinn, Self (1991) | Our Blood | Marc Quinn| STIRworld
Marc Quinn, Self (1991) Image Credit: Courtesy of Marc Quinn studio

The project expands to address the issue of immigration in different economic groups, and this is how it drew support from prominent refugees such as Angok Mayen and George Okeny, besides other celebrities such as Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Paul McCartney and others who have agreed to donate blood. They have also agreed to appear in videos speaking about the ‘existential nature’ of Quinn’s project and the refugee crisis. The videos will be shown across New York when the artwork would be on view. Quinn chose to work with high-profile figures to invoke “how some humans are over-celebrated, and others unvalued.”

Portrait of Marc Quinn in London, Somerset House, with his installations Frozen Wave and Broken Sublime | Our Blood | Marc Quinn | STIRworld
Portrait of Marc Quinn in London, Somerset House, with his installations Frozen Wave and Broken Sublime Image Credit: Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images; courtesy of Marc Quinn studio

The blood donation process has now been taken online at ourblood.org and a refugee, celebrity or any other participant can volunteer to donate their blood online. The website allows those interested to sign up for donation and then visit the clinics approved by them. Importantly, the online form informs us, “Donation of blood for this project is voluntary and you are not under any pressure or obligation to do so,” and it goes on to list out all the medical conditions required to be able to donate blood.

Quinn, and the organisation he is working with, clearly intend to keep things transparent and fair. All profits generated from this project will be donated to relief organisations that directly help people affected by the refugee crisis.

Most of Quinn’s work explores the deep yearning within humans to understand their bodies and roots. He moves his work beyond the contemplative, often positioning his art as a public project that is intended to raise awareness and, in this instance, funding.

Quinn is currently one of the leading artists of his generation. His sculptures, paintings and drawings explore the relationships between art and science; humankind and nature; and the human body and the perception of beauty.

His sculpture of Canada-born Rick Genest, Self-Conscious Gene (popularly known as the Zombie Boy), was recently unveiled at the Science Museum in London. Genest is known for covering his whole body with tattoos of his complete skeleton, following a period of illness. The 3.5-metre tall sculpture welcomes visitors to the GSK and Vitabiotics Vitamins-funded galleries with a landmark £24 million project that will create a magnificent new home for the Museum’s world-renowned medical collection. Based on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum, the Medicine Galleries will celebrate one of the largest and most significant medical collections in the world.

Artist Marc Quinn’s monumental sculpture of Self-Conscious Gene for Science Museum | Our Blood | Marc Quinn | STIRworld
Artist Marc Quinn’s monumental sculpture of Self-Conscious Gene for Science Museum Image Credit: Courtesy of Marc Quinn studio

Art audiences have indeed begun to look at Quinn as an artist who brings together several disciplines and allows them to converse in a lucid and accessible manner. From art and popular culture to science and human intervention upon the human body, his work has been anchored in the deep exploration of the human psyche and anatomy.

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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