A little story about our Filmhouse event

Hi Folks!

As most of you know, the Everyday Cyborgs and Humanimals event went ahead on April 14th at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh. For those of you couldn’t make it here’s a little “ethnography” of the event:

It was exciting because it was the first public screening of all our films: ‘Electrifying Cyborg Heart’, ‘Everyday Cyborgs’, ‘Maggie’s ICD Story’, and ‘Broken Wings’. Saturday was lovely and felt like the first spring day of the year. Gill and I welcomed people at the door, while Anna took some photos of the audience. We gave everybody a programme, an Everyday Cyborgs and Humanimals pen, and a questionnaire to fill out at the end.

Gill gave a short introduction basically to welcome everyone to the event and to thank everyone for coming. All four short films had been cut together, with short introductions from Gill and film-makers in between. The viewing took about 45 minutes, after which Gill, and two of the filmmakers, animators Cameron Duguid and Ross Ziegelmeier took questions from the audience. Questions about the project and the films raised by audience members were quite varied. The first was about ‘Everyday Cyborgs’ and the choice to create animations based on interviews with patients and their relatives, as opposed to just showing the interviews. Gill explained that the reason was wanting to find a way to bring the different stories and experiences that came out of the interviews together. Cameron also added that there were ethical reasons for not simply filming and showing interviews mainly because it would have been impossible to preserve anonymity.

The same audience member, referring to ‘Electrifying Cyborg Heart’ expressed that what he didn’t like about the format of animation was that it had a way of making the phenomenon of ICD’s seem unreal. Cameron explained that what they were trying to do with ‘Electrifying Cyborg Heart’ was to meditate on the symbolism of the heart and to distill themes that had come up through the project more than to “reflect reality”.

To this, one audience member commented that the “reality” of ICD’s is so visceral and medical that if we had taken a more realistic approach we might have distanced some viewers, and that she felt that the fact that they were animations meant that she could follow the stories in a way she may not have been otherwise.

Cameron agreed that this was a hard balance to maintain, and mentioned that there had been discussions about this and that a decision had been made that images of actual hearts, for example, could throw people off. Gill also mentioned in this context that the project was about bodily experience with a broad focus – part of the project is the interesting duality where the heart is both symbolically very loaded and simultaneously “just” a pump.

This was followed by an interesting discussion on recognising internal parts of ourselves as ourselves, and whether we are more used to identifying with external body-parts and “how we look” – the inside understood as a sort of “alien territory”. Gill explained that her research has shown that this changes for people over time and that it differs between people. For some having an implant is not much of a challenge, but for others, it can be, like in the case of Maggie in ‘Maggie’s ICD Story’. This discussion led to a suggestion from the audience to personalise ICD’s – Can you give them a name? Would that help some people to identify with their “new body part”?

It also led to a question from the audience about the difference between an ICD and a prosthetic like a hip replacement. Gill explained that the project had come out of previous research she had done on organ transplantation where she was interested in the narratives around organ transplantation and why they persist. This led to the question – how would you feel about a device? And the main difference between a hip replacement and an ICD is that the hip replacement is not cybernetic.

One of the audience members commented that the last film “Broken Wings” was very different from the other three. Broken Wings was the live-action short that came out of the collaboration between professional filmmakers and young people. Gill explained that the idea from the film had come from brainstorming and discussion sessions with the young people where they had been asked to think around the subject of ICD’s and the experience that might come with that. They had ended up with several options but had landed on this one, which gave a contrast to the other films in that it focused more on acceptance of yourself – on how identity is shaped and challenged.

The final questions were both about the collaboration between social scientists like Gill and animators – the first directed at Cameron and Ross and the second at Gill. Both Cameron and Ross had worked with social scientists before and agreed that it was a great thing to do. Gill joked that it was awful but quickly retracted and recommended it wholeheartedly.

All in all, we had a great couple of hours at the Filmhouse Edinburgh. It was great to see the films and to hear from some of the creators, and the event went off without a hitch!

*We wore rainbow lanyards together with the blue Edinburgh University ones to promote a more inclusive public image of the University and as a note of appreciation for LGBT+ contributions to academic thought around identity, selfhood, and embodiment, and around the figure of the cyborg in the Western cultural imaginary.

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