IAM: Dance of the Molecules, 2020
Dance of the Molecules is the first of 4 acts of IAM, a Covid story told through dance and light. Each act takes place at different scale of material reality, from micro to macro. Created as an immersive performance installation, and shot as a short film for release during pandemic times, this first act tells the story of human and viral enmeshment in the molecular realm. The dancers play molecular characters, viral and human. In reality, this dance happens among molecules who are compelled by forces of attraction, as we humans are. When they fit together perfectly, a cascade of events is triggered. There is an astonishing beauty to be found in the molecular realm that exists in contrast to the fear and suffering experienced in the human realm as a result of the pandemic. Yet this interconnected molecular materiality is what we are and we cannot be separated from this fabric of nature.
I make my art because I wish to explore the beauty and complexity of the cellular world using the power of scientific discovery and methodology. I choose to present the unseen for consideration. The cells in these photographs have been grown from different kinds of stem cells, and represent a progression in the accumulation of knowledge that has led us to this moment, where scientists now understand how to reprogram adult cells to become embryonic-like stem cells. There are gaps in this understanding as it relates to our ability to cure disease and degeneration. These dark places are where human imagination lies, teeming with desire to control our biology for myriad ends. Crawling over the abyss is the cell, growing in a dish liberated from the control of the body, tiny unit of ourselves and all living things.
Exodus is a photographic exhibition of cells grown from human skin. Cell biologists have discovered how to transform normal skin cells into embryonic stem cells. I grew these transformed cells in a petri dish and fed them a liquid diet that allowed them to become neural stem cells, and then brain cells like neurons and astrocytes. Using fluorescent antibodies, I stained the cells to allow visualization of their internal skeletons.
Exodus explores the rise of science as religion. Science and religion seek knowledge of the universe by different means: reason and empiricism, versus revelation and faith. The central message of the book of Exodus is salvation and redemption. Modern societies have vested scientific enterprises like regenerative medicine with these same values. Hope for salvation from disease and ageing and the pursuit of the everlasting beg deliverance by scientific discovery. The re-birth, scattering and creation of novel colonies by these transformed cells parallels the story of Exodus with the establishment of a new world remade by the hand of man.
Parmi les Éclats is an autobiographical piece of theatre about a woman shattered by the loss of love. Conceived of by Miriam Cusson, the development of the piece was experimental, with designers and players inspiring and shaping it over the course of a year and a half in a multidisciplinary collaboration. In her role as projected lighting designer, Chaddah imaged the shattered essence of Cusson’s identity using a scanning electron microscope that is able to probe materials with extremely high magnification, depth and dimension. The imaged materials were chosen by Cusson as a symbolic representations of facets of her identity such as a fragment of the mountain across from where Miriam grew up--her childhood refuge; a piece of slag from the omnipresent mining industry in Sudbury, a twig of gnarled and hardy black spruce, a broken baby tooth, a piece of skin, hair, and fingernail. These images were projected onto large 3 dimensional set pieces to create the psychic space represented onstage.
Based on Brigitte Haentjens’ poetic story d’eclats de peines, with poetry by Robert Dickson and Miriam Cusson. Director and Original Concept: Miriam Cusson, Featuring: France Huot, Manon St-Jules, Stephanie Kym Tougas and Miriam Cusson. Assistant Director and Management: Sophie Duhcarme, Soundscape: Daniel Bedard, Projected Imagery and Animation: Design Radha Chaddah, Set Design: Patrick Harrop, Lighting Design: Ivan Pitre, Video Programming: Ryan Webber.
Electromagnetic energy surrounds us. It envelops the earth and ripples outward like a giant net ensnaring planets, galaxies and beyond. We are unable to see this fabric of the universe. Here it is presented as an undulating grid, modelling the surface of electromagnetic fields found in our earthly and stellar environments. The torus or donut pattern of electromagnetism that surrounds each human is thought to be a possible shape of our universe. The rippled surface that spreads outward from a droplet of water hitting a surface has been presented as the shape of the big bang. The funnel is believed to be the form of black holes and the exhale of dying stars. The play of wind in the trees and the shifting perspective of the approaching viewer suggests the multidimensionality of our cosmic reality. Fabric of the Universe signifies the limited and illusory nature of human experience.
Patterns are ubiquitous in nature from the macro to the micro. Cells are patterned internally and then laid down in layers that in turn pattern tissues, organs and the body. During metamorphosis, all of the cells in the body of a caterpillar are reorganized and re-patterned as the great change creates a butterfly. Humans are poised at the precipice of a metamorphosis powered by biological understanding. Our knowledge has yet to transcend our inability to cure many diseases, but the promise of our growing awareness inspires hope and awe. Metamorphosis presents transparent cell photographs mounted on chrysalis shaped structures illuminated from inside and hung inside the boughs of a chestnut tree as lanterns that represent this beautiful, inspiring and fearful moment when all is possible, but exactly what will emerge is unknown.