TRANS

Project summary

Trans is a photographic project that aims to explore how organ transplants can affect people's sense of self-identity. Individuals have experienced taste, personality, or behavioral changes after an organ transplant, which they sometimes relate to the traits of their donors. Extreme cases have lead to recent biomedical research beginning to investigate the possibility that through organ transplants individuals can connect to sensory data from the donor. These theories have not been scientifically proven and these changes are currently explained as a product of improving health, medication or psychological shock.

Context and objectives

The possibility of living thanks to another person's organ somehow transgresses the notion of a unified, self-contained body that conforms to Western understanding of the human subject's sense of individuality, which lays at the foundation of modern society.

The idea of receiving aspects of someone's identity by having some sort of corporeal transfusion or implant has been suggested in literature and films and is part of the domain of science fiction in Western cultural imaginary.

In 1998 Sylvia Claire was the first person to declare personality and taste changes after a heart and lung transplant, which had a strong connection with the personality of the donor. More cases lead to various research programmes in the USA suggesting that the brain does not have an exclusive role in data processing and that it may be possible that a transplanted organ could connect a recipient with the donor's memories. Despite such research, such theory of cellular memory has not been scientifically proven.

There is no question that an organ transplant is a life-changing experience that carries psychological complexities that may translate into certain fears and desires. These are crucial to some of the current debates: whether recipients and donors' families should be allowed to know each other; whether to approve organ transplants from other species; or why it is that many donors opt out of donating their eyes and heart, which are culturally more related to the soul than other parts of the body.

The main objective of this project is to produce an exhibition with approximately twenty portraits that express the psychological impact of an organ transplant on different people's sense of selfhood. Through the process of production and dissemination of these portraits alongside texts of their life accounts, the project does not intend to prove or challenge any medical or scientific findings, but rather it aims to become a platform for learning and creating dialog around the psychological, biomedical and ethical issues of experiencing an organ transplant.

Methods

The method for producing this project involves the interaction between interview and image making. I interview the participants first in order to decide elements around the location, settings and actions for the portraits. During the photographic sessions, however, the focus is placed on the psychological aspects that come up through the creative process. All the images are presented with individual texts about the personal accounts of each participant. The texts are a fundamental part of the work because they offer a parallel reading, a discourse that interacts with the images.

Trans is the third part of a trilogy that aims to question what it is to be human by exploring issues of identity in relation with health and disease; the imaginary around the body and its control; and ‘lack’ as a corporeal condition. The first project of this trilogy, Sleepless, is a series of portraits of people that, for whatever reason (voluntary or involuntary), sleep very little. The second project called No Ma is a photographic portrait project about women who are not mothers and are certain they will never be, no matter the reason.
One of the main challenges of the trilogy is to visually explore aspects of the human condition that are invisible and that I try to bring out through the specific approach of each portrait as a result of the interaction with the people portrayed.