Image from the BBC Reith Lectures 2001 - Professor Tom KirkwoodLast 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…


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I’ve been listening to Atul Gawande’s Reith Lectures, The Future of Medicine. A couple of weeks ago, he talked about the complexities of modern medicine and the importance of setting in place systems to ensure that complex and sophisticated procedures which can save lives can be managed effectively. He told the story of a sustained and complicated set of processes which, over a period of days and weeks, resulted in the miraculous recovery of a child who had been lost in a frozen pond, under the ice for more than half an hour and showing no signs of life for 90 minutes until life support systems were put in place which eventually resulted in her being effectively brought back from the dead. I had heard a story like this before, about a skier who had “died”, trapped and super-cooled under the ice in a frozen river and who had, over days, weeks and months, slowly recovered, but now it seems that with the correct system of procedures in place, the prospects of success in these sort of cases are good.

Since preparing for The New Immortals Superheroes-themed discussion event in September, several phrases from movies (Brian Blessed’s “…he’s alive! Gordon’s alive!”), song lyrics and titles (Culture Club’s “It’s a miracle”) have lodged in my mind. I decided to use some of the words and phrases to make small souvenirs for participants at future events – a set of badges.

Today, in honour of the doctors and nurses who successfully carried out those procedures which saved that little girls life, I wore my “It’s a miracle” badge.