From Life Saving to Storytelling: The Evolution of Our Blood Bikers

We were delighted to work with artist and designer Kirsty Harris to co-create our Blood Bikers performance, part of the BLOOD: Life Uncut season. Here she tells us about the inspiration for the piece and where the bat motif came from.

One of the original inspirations for the Blood Bikers came from an archive image shown to me by Andy Franzkowiak, Creative Producer of the BLOOD: Life Uncut season. The image depicted a pair of field-medics on a bike. Behind them, painted on a van, were the words “Advanced Blood Bank” and above that the unmistakable graphic symbol of a bat. The image is heroic and pragmatic. A team of people in the field attempting to reduce the huge loss of life in a time of war using what knowledge and resources they had from blood science in its early stages. Not only that, the link with the super-hero imbued in the bat symbol is full of hope for a rescue – what a gift of a beginning for the project! There it is, in black and white – this bold, playful allusion to the bat in such a challenging environment! 

BRITISH MEDICAL SERVICES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR

BRITISH MEDICAL SERVICES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR © IWM (E 18700)

Both art and science are fired by curiosity and a desire to make connections between ideas and people, to enlighten and encourage positive change. The Blood Bikers’ world formed from a partnership between blood science and a narrative mission to connect humans through stories. The science is fact, the stories are fact. The Blood Bikers are the fiction that facilitates the sharing of both science and story. The truth of the archive image is a fusion of all these ideas.

In designing the world of the Blood Bikers, I wanted to reference the historical inspiration behind this team of incredible people, but also be future facing. The tent that unravels is part bat, part field hospital and part bat-mission base camp. Made in crisp white parachuting fabrics, I wanted to lean away from any retro-aged styling that wouldn't do justice to the progressive attitude of Science Gallery London. The Bikers themselves have a home-made-superhero feel to them. They have taken on the mission of collecting stories and making connections. They are using what they have to hand to achieve it! This belief in the power of science to inspire human connections in a time of need, in a city of thousands of stories, means that millions of connections can be formed and make us stronger, more compassionate and more enlightened. We can be enlightened about our blood type, hopefully leading to a desire to give blood, knowing the value and wonder of it. We can be enlightened about the stories of those around us, stories of blood, the life force we all share, and wonder at how closely connected we are under the skin.

The Bikers wear a practical get-up of Lycra cycling gear, have equipment to collect and exchange stories (written on prescription-like ‘donation cards’) and have bat wings – modern, practical and ridiculous! I feel like this is a good mix to ignite curiosity in passers-by. 

The challenge of designing the world of the Blood Bikers was in combining historical archive images, innovative science and playful, engaging theatre. I've found in my work as an immersive installation and theatre designer that creating a fantastical/strange/bizarre world provides a tool to trick people into ‘the other’. Playfully communing with a Lycra-clad bat-hero, participants may be in a more conducive place to share a story they may otherwise not have found themselves telling. They may not even have known it was there, hiding beneath their skin.