The film follows a woman engaging in cross-border, assisted reproduction. Within this process she is confronted with a constellation of invisible female bodies; human and non-human that work, care and provide for her reproductive journey. From anonymous urine donors providing hormones purified from their bodily waste, to intended parents, their brokers and surrogate hosts, in Reproductive Exile the protagonist comes to terms with how her journey is both facilitated by and impacts different bodies.
The story unfolds in a private, international clinic built in a former public sanatorium in Czech Republic where the lack of legislation associated with reproductive rights offers a degree of freedom to a range of commissioning parents who are driven to the country by a various social, political and economic forces. Here, the protagonist is introduced to ‘Eve’ (short for Evatar), an artificial model of the female reproductive system. Based on research into recent developments in reproductive science, ‘Eve’ is the 'mother of all micro-humans' and the future of drug testing in women personalized medicine. As the protagonist discovers more about her body’s incapacity to produce the hormones she needs, she becomes obsessed with Eve, confiding in her about the drugs she injects daily, derived in some cases from pregnant horse urine and in others from the urine of menopausal women.
'Reproductive Exile collapses the binary of subjective artwork and objective science not to offer an alternative to expert discourse but to intervene within it, positioning itself in what Susan Squier has described as somewhere ‘between knowledge and unawareness.’ In this sense, Lucy uses film to create subjects out of scientific objects.
I rewind the sequence of CT scans and watch them on repeat. Female torso, horse’s hoof, mouse. Instinctively I see a face as the glowing orbs of her hip bones morph into two eyes, the sharp slit of her labia a crooked smile. Her edge is a halo of white casing, marbled blue bacon fat. The camera is cutting through tissue, seeing where we can’t see, melting through layers going deeper. Without her skin she’s a swirling mass of shapes, an abstracted Magic Eye picture.
Lucy is not a medically trained professional nor the intended viewer of these images. I see her misuse of this material as following the approach of Roberta McGrath whose research into midnineteenth century medical photography tries ‘to understand the female body in its historical corporeality, rather than its biological specificity.’
In case you didn’t know, the character of Evatar exists, just not quite how Lucy imagines it (well not yet). I visit the website of Woodruff Lab at Northwestern University where this organ chip is under development. Here the real Evatar is a dull orange plastic, not stainless steel and its liquid culture is blue rather than flaxen. Predictably, the researchers are quick to gender:
‘She’s innovative. She’s three-dimensional. She’s made out of human cells. She has a functional reproductive tract that includes an ovary, fallopian tube, uterus and cervix. She also has a liver, and the channels necessary to pump nutrients between her organs. She produces and responds to hormones, and has a normal 28-day hormone cycle. She can metabolize drugs. She can tell you how a drug may affect fertility in women, or if it is toxic to the liver. And she fits in the palm of your hand. She’s the future of drug testing in women and personalised medicine, and her name is Evatar. Just as Eve is thought to be the mother of all humans, Evatar is the mother of all microHumans.’
See how science relies on fictions too.
In Reproductive Exile Anna and Eve mingle, loosening each others limbs. They come together in shared ‘technical’ status. Anna is conscious of these other bodies to which she is intimately connected; the hormones purified from pregnant mare’s urine which thickens her host’s uterus, the hormonally active medication she injects, extracted from the urine of menopausal women. She finds comfort in the sharing of this fluid debris.'
Extract taken from the publication that accompanies the exhibition, text by Naomi Pearce.