My beloved alma mater, the University of Sussex, is no stranger to interdisciplinarity. Even so, this event at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) stretched the definition of 'scientific discourse' in this exploration of a most literary disease: tuberculosis. Approaching the topic with an inventive eye,
The Romantic Disease is an event which inspires you to look a little closer, and a little more creatively, at the afflictions which dominate and define humanity.
But that’s not to say that it entirely succeeds. Anyone who has attended a student exhibition will be well-acquainted with the rather ramshackle proceedings, and The Romantic Disease is no exception. The reception of the BSMS building is currently populated with homespun art ‘pieces’, from a garish child’s den to a 'European-African' clay head which was sheepishly pronounced by the originator to be the product of ‘about two hours work.’
There are, however, some gems within the swathe of half-thought-out exhibits. A peep show box plays the alarming missives of 1940s governmental health advice (‘the infected must carry their own plates’) while a poignant pile of love notes written by visitors to the exhibition remind you that, for TB sufferers, letter-writing was often their only contact with the outside world.
However, the real star of the event was Anna Dumitriu, bio-artiste extraordinaire. A compelling, if eccentric, figure and a hugely engaging speaker, Dumitriu has exhibited her bio-art all over the world. Tuberculosis has lain with us in the tombs of Egyptian mummies, been detected in the bones of 17,000 year-old bison, and followed us all over the world. It is Dumitriu who brings this extraordinary history to life, along with a liberal dose of chatty charm and downright peculiar artefacts ('a Blue Henry: the ultimate accessory in consumptive chic'). While the other members of the discussion panel were perfectly erudite, it was Dumitriu’s clear passion for all things TB which liberated this event from being yet another evening of po-faced academia.