• Report: Speculative Future Clinic of Chinese Medicine 

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    Posted: 21 June 2018


    A visit to the future clinic of Chinese Medicine

    Exploring traditional culture and biodiversity through speculative design


    ‘Are you here for the Traditional Chinese Medicine workshop?’ A friendly Asian looking woman asks when I enter the basement of Baltan Laboratories. She invites me to have a seat, pointing towards the chairs in the waiting room. After a while she calls me back. While she grabs paper and pen, I sit down in front of her desk. ‘Do you have any allergies? Are you a vegetarian? Do you agree with any photos or video being taken?’ While questioning, she checks the boxes on her paper. She pauses for a moment and her voice calms down. ‘Welcome to the Speculative Future Clinic of Chinese Medicine. You are now a patient with a sexual dysfunction. Do you agree to be a participant?' I am guided into the waiting room after being told that the doctor will see me soon.

    When I enter doctor Kuang-Yi’s room, I notice the diffused walls filtering the light. It makes me feel relaxed. Doctor Kuang-Yi and his assistant are already waiting for me. He measures my pulse and asks ‘Do you get cold easily? Do you have a lot of dreams at night? Your heart rate is steady and soft. It’s like a boat on a calm sea'. Doctor Kuang-Yi draws a few dots and lines on his paper and explains that in Chinese medicine there are many different symbols for expressing the heartbeat. Each doctor uses his or her own symbols. Doctor Kuang-Yi hands over the recipe to the assistant next to him. According to him I suffer from a sexual dysfunction of Type 2. 'You’ll need a mix of herbs for your medication. My assistant will give you what you need.'

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    Workshop derived from Tiger Penis Project

    Kuang-Yi explores the idea of hybrid animal parts with emerging future technologies. In this Speculative scenario, he combines the DNA of three different animals using synthetic biology and 3D bioprinting. The video projected on the wall shows the manufacturing process of this hybrid creature. After all participants have been diagnosed, Kuang-Yi explains that we experienced the Speculative Future Clinic of Chinese medicine as a participatory performance. A project which is derived from his graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

    Eating animal parts is a common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Kuang-Yi's project proposes the idea of the hybridization of traditional Chinese medicine and western science, to open up new possibilities for society and our natural environment. By combining non-western perspectives and speculative scenarios, he explores new forms of creating artificial hybrid animal parts using emerging biotechnologies for Chinese medication in the future. In the traditional culture of Chinese medicine, the myth of eating the tiger penis for male virility enhancement is called "Yi Xing Bu Xing”. (“Xing” can be literally translated as “shape” or “form”). This belief revolves around the idea that consuming an animal organ will nourish or heal the corresponding or similarly-shaped human organ or body part. For instance, eating pig liver is good for the liver. The consumption of the tiger penis is a cultural myth that was formed within a similar context.

    The effect of alternative medicine can't always be proven by contemporary scientific research. It's often regarded as a cultural myth. Traditional Chinese Medicine consists of values which are very different from mainstream western medicine. The huge demand of wild animal parts, on the other hand, results in an increasing number of endangered animals. Kuang-Yi’s fictional hybrid medications aims to avoid the killing of these endangered animals in the future.

    The Speculative Future Clinic of Chinese medicine playfully explores how art and design can open up new ideas. Approaching science in a creative way will introduce unexplored methodologies into the field. The ambiguous relationship between art and science; real and imaginary is a reoccurring topic for Taiwanese born Kuang-Yi Ku. He believes that art and design can be a powerful tool to mitigate cultural, social and environmental gaps. With his background as a dentist and his practice as a social designer, Kuang-Yi Ku explores - in a performative way - which values, old and new, should be maintained.

    The workshop at Baltan Laboratories is funded by National Culture and Arts Foundation in Taiwan.

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