Last week I listened to the BBC’s Reith Lectures from 2001 by Professor Tom Kirkwood, Associate Dean for Ageing at The Institute for Ageing at Newcastle University. Nearly fourteen years ago, Professor Kirkwood began his lecture series with the words, “Never in human history has a population so wilfully and deliberately defied nature as has the present generation. How have we defied it? We have survived. Our unprecedented survival has produced a revolution in longevity which is shaking the foundations of societies around the world and profoundly altering our attitudes to life and death.” Ageing, he says, “is neither inevitable nor necessary… we are not programmed to die“.
Throughout the series of lectures he went on to talk about not only the science of ageing, of longer life and the implications of decreasing death rates, increased longevity and a changing population, but also the changes in attitude and direction which society needs to make to confront the challenges and reap the benefits of the longevity revolution.
This morning I was pleased to see and hear Professor Kirkwood again, this time talking on BBC Breakfast. Already feeling fairly overloaded with information and thoughts about this subject which seems to be a hot topic just at the moment, I’m now preparing myself for a further information onslaught as the Beeb’s Breakfast show focuses firmly on the subject of #livinglonger for the whole week this week.
Approaching the subject from a rather different direction, it was great to finally get round to reading Peter James’ Perfect People over the Christmas break. This 2011 novel adopts a very different take on ideas around “improving” human life and the potential side effects of bio-medical science on ageing.
With so much information available via the internet and media my head is spinning around scientific and bio-ethical texts, speculative and sci-fi novels and conversations with friends, colleagues and the public. Now is definitely the moment to spend some more time finding out how other artists are exploring the subject of super-longevity, ageing and our common futures so that I can begin to think about the sort of material I’ll be able to show in The New Immortals exhibition next year. I’m just finalising a call out for artists to get in touch and tell me about their work in this field, so Artists, watch this space…