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Circles of Fire (Variations)




Project Details
Circles of Fire (Variations)
Two Channel 4K – HD 1080p video with Sound, Duration 23 minutes and 16 seconds
The Nine Circles
  1. Lost (Similkameen) – The Call & Gates of Hell (Karakum) – Entering Surgery
  2. Nessun Dorma – Surgery
  3. The Gift – Organ graft
  4. Placing the Scarab – Immuno-supression
  5. The Liminal Struggle – ICU
  6. Healing (Kliluk) – ICU
  7. Hybrid Journey (Izmukshir) – Recovery begins
  8. Testing the Body (Izmukshir)  – Compliance
  9. Boot Camp (Nisa)- Compliance

The project began in 2014 when, after several years of dialysis treatment, Douglas received a phone call from his hospital stating that a kidney was available to him. The surgery was a success however there were many complications. While recovering from the surgery he put together a team of collaborative practitioners working in textiles, LED, glass making, movement and sound composition and commenced developing a two channel video titled Circles of Fire (variations). Using Dante’s Inferno as a loose structural template, the work is divided into several sections from the time of the phone call, the surgery, near death, healing and patient regimentation. The sequences, shot on location in the Karakum Desert (Turkmenistan) and Spotted Lake (Canada), signify the nightmare transition between near death and healing. Research included a residency at SymbioticA Lab, where he was able study the mechanisms of the drug Cyclosporine and photograph his own T-cells. He also conducted interviews with artists Ingrid Bachmann and Andrew Carnie of the Hybrid-Bodies project. This enabled Douglas to make sense of the science of immuno-supression and the emotional/psychological aspects of the transplant experience. Circles of Fire (Variations) ultimately exists as an autobiographical piece within the context of a transplant recipient who is both artist and patient.

”This work is the third instalment in a trilogy of works (beginning in 2012 with Body Fluid) that reveal to audiences my own lived experience with chronic illness and treatment. In a sense, from the moment that I received the call from the hospital in April 2014 that a kidney was available, the project Circles of Fire began. Had I not received the call it is highly unlikely I would have survived another year on life support. My death that I was rapidly approaching was therefore postponed. I remember very little of the surgery and was informed sometime later that I had lost vital signs during the six hour procedure. Family members waited anxiously in the intensive care unit at the hospital not knowing whether I would survive. What I do remember is that it felt like I had passed through a circle of fire and I would never be the same again. Ironically in order to postpone my own death I had to confront death itself. Organ transplantation is an extremely risky business and there are no guarantees of survival. In some ways the risks and challenges of the transplant experience parallel the process of making this autobiographical work.”

For many organ recipients a lifetime of immuno-suppressant drugs, a disrupted sense of identity and the reality of living with a medically altered hybrid body, present a far more challenging and complex set of circumstances far beyond the expectations of the patient. For Douglas, the challenges he and many transplant patients experience is a double-edged sword fraught with many obstacles that need to be overcome in order for the transplant to succeed and maintain to a healthy body and mind. It is as French philosopher and heart transplant recipient Jean Luc Nancy stated the receiving of a dead stranger(l’intrus), where Cartesian medical science triumphantly holds mastery over life and death and the patient is no longer quite clear of who they are. The transplant recipient, altered with the DNA and living tissue of an unknown person, loses ones sense of self – the I or me – simultaneaously becomes the other. This fractured and altered identity is further complicated by a supressed immune system from a lifetime of potentially lethal neurotoxic immuno-supression drugs. The body no longer wholly belongs to the self as it becomes a product of 21st century bio-medical technology- a hybrid post-human body that lives in a constant state of deferment of ones death .

John A Douglas was the recipient of a donor kidney around the time of the Easter holidays in April 2014. It was less than twelve months after we had presented his Body Fluid II (Redux) at Performance Space as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA). Back at that time, Douglas was musing with a fellow artist about the possibility of documenting the kidney transplant process, if it should by chance happen to him.
But the scheduling of organ transplantation is subject only to the randomness of human accidents. It is heedless of any aesthetic or conceptual plans. It comes in a rush and it requires total compliance.

As for the aftershocks of this life-extending surgery on the body, and the transformation of the physiological make-up of the transplant recipient – this is the subject of Circles of Fire, John A Douglas’ video cycle. First presented in The Patient at UNSW Galleries in June 2016, in this work Douglas has mapped a psychological geography of the patient subject, as a parallel world of existence in which he cycles between places of healing, regimentation and suffering.”
— Bec Dean, Associate Producer and Curator.

NB: The full video of the work is available on request. Email:
Production Credits

Principal Artist: John A Douglas
Associate Producer: Bec Dean
Performers: John A Douglas with Celeste Aldahn, Stella Topaz, Yiorgos Zafiriou
Performance Director: Sue Healey
Videography: John A Douglas, Dara Gill
Ariel Videography: Rubicon Cinema, Shawn Talbott (Keremeos, BC, Canada)
Lighting: John A Douglas, Martin Fox, Mark Mitchell
Editing, Compositing and Colour Grading: John A Douglas
Principle Soundtrack Composer and Instrumentation: Justin Ashworth
Arrangements, Sound Design & Mixing: Justin Ashworth and John A Douglas

Additional Electronic Sounds: Glam Cyborg (The Liminal Struggle)
Costume Design & Production: Michele Elliot, Yiorgos Zafiriou, John A Douglas
LED Costume Design, Production & Rigging: Alejandro Rolandi
Props Design & Production: John A Douglas, Nadege Desgenetez (glass objects) and Yiorgos Zafiriou
On Location Production Management & Camera Operator: Melanie J Ryan
Special Thanks to:
First Nation Okanagan custodian of Spotted Lake(Kliluk), Alex Louis (Senklip Skalwx) of the Osooyoos Indian band for permission to perform and shoot at Spotted Lake, BC, Canada.
Artik Gubaev and Batyr Nitazov for clearance and transport in Turkmenistan.
Dr Stuart Hodgetts, Assoc Prof Silvana Gaudieri, Guy Ben-Ary and Celeste Wale for assistance with the artist’s T-cell experiments and microscopy and SymbioticA Lab, UWA.
Ingrid Bachmann, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Andrew Carnie, Winchester School of Art, Southhampton University, UK.
The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of The School of Art, ANU Canberrra, ACT, School of Media Arts, UNSW and The Bundanon Trust.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


Catalogues, Articles, and Reviews

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Chalk Horse Gallery Catalogue

A unique boxed edition is available from Chalk Horse gallery in Darlinghurst, Sydney

Chalk Horse

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Monocle Magazine London Podcast February 8 2019

Artlink, Bec Dean, The Art of Dis-ease, Sepetember 1, 2017.

The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries, Rodent leather and designer kidneys: art in the age of bio-revolution, March 20, 2019