7-screen video + 6-channel audio installation in collaboration with Tim Wainwright

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, London, 2007

John Wynne

Still from one of 7 videos in the installation

Flow is a multi-screen, surround-sound installation commissioned by curator Claire Staunton for Inheritance Projects.  It was made specifically for the Herb Garret, in the roof of St Thomas' Church near London Bridge, where medicinal herbs were stored and cured, starting in the early 18th century. Next door, also above the church, is Europe's oldest surviving operating theatre, where, in the 19th century, operations such as amputations were performed without anaesthetic.

The installation uses materials recorded by the artists during a particularly complex open-heart operation at Harefield Hospital.  Pre-operatively, the patient's heart was being supported by 2 external pumps, or Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs).  During the operation, one of these was replaced by a small internal VAD known as the Heartmate II: the hope was that both sides of the heart might be able to function without assistance, but it was found that one of the external pumps was still required. There was so much tubing criss-crossing in and around the patient that at one point the surgeon looked up at us and, with conscious irony and a touch of welcome humour, said “It’s all just plumbing.”


Installation view

The visual imagery in this installation concentrates on the flow of blood to and from the patient, its mesmerising movement suggesting a kind of abstract beauty in the juxtaposition of the mechanical and the human.

The immersive sound environment of Flow is not meant to be a realistic recreation of the soundscape of the operating theatre:  it focuses on sounds of the machinery involved, including the sound of the Heartmate II, temporally compressing and distilling the sonic environment and distorting aural perspective in a composition which undulates between documentation and abstraction.