The concept of a miniaturised traveller taking a trip through the human body — long the subject of fiction, from the 1960s movie, “Fantastic Voyage” to the cartoon, “SpongeBob SquarePants” — recently became real, when a film-maker at Kingston University swallowed a pill camera and broadcast the images live to a packed house of artists, doctors and historians.
Phillip Warnell, an artist and director of film-making at the univeristy, stood onstage at the University of Copenhagen’s Medical Museion for about 90 minutes while gastroenterologist Simon Anderson of St Thomas Hospital, London, offered a running commmentary for the audience.
The performance was dubbed “Endo – Ecto.”
“It was a pretty intense, intimate experience, as you can imagine,” Warnell said. “I was exhausted afterwards, as I’d had to fast for 24 hours, but exhilarated too and delighted with how it went … The Museion was an amazing space to perform in, as it dates from 1760 and many medical procedures and dissections have been carried out in it, so there was a real sense of continuity of culture.”
The audience were invited to ask questions during the performance, which ranged from topics such as medicine to politics.
Like much of Warnell’s work, the performance explored the secrets of inner space, transparency and the unseen. Several film clips were screened during it, including James Williamson’s pioneering short film “The Big Swallow” (1901, courtesy of the British Film Institute, London), which first simulated the swallowing of a camera.
Warnell’s next project will look at the plague. “Like swine flu, it’s the unseen enemy which terrifies people,” Phillip said. “I’m fascinated by things invisible to us that permeate our bodies.”