MAASTRICHT. The Chinese Yiyun Chen doesn't go outside anymore and has no direct contact with people. She lives in a special bedroom in Eindhoven and does everything from her bed. It sounds like a terminally ill patient, but Chen is an artist. She has chosen this temporary, ascetic life, to find out what it does to a person to spend so long in bed.
The idea appealed to research financer NWO, who awarded a so-called BAD (Bio Art & Design) Award to Chen and Maastricht researchers Patrick and Vera Schrauwen – after a so-called match-making event. They received 25 thousand euro to carry out the joint project. The award is meant to bring art and science closer together.
Patrick and Vera Schrauwen will check Chen's medical condition. Because one thing is certain: spending a month in bed is not healthy. “If only for the fact that you lose muscle mass, you use hardly any energy and your metabolism slows down,” says Patrick Schrauwen, professor of Metabolic aspects of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. “We carried out all kinds of checks on Chen beforehand, focusing on fat burning, sugar sensitivity, blood pressure, you name it. Next week, after the thirty days, we will do the same again, to map out the effects on the body.”
At the same time, the researchers try to minimise the harmful effects of a prone existence. “Chen was given scientific instructions and every morning she opens the window and spends at least two hours exposing herself to the cold. This stimulates energy consumption. She will also have more lights on in the morning than in the evening. This will make her more active and sleepier. She has also been given dietary tips. Not to eat after six o'clock. This improves the blood values and blood pressure.”
Schrauwen found the project interesting, partly because people spend less time outdoors today, exercise less, and order more and more (evening meals, the shopping, books) from their computers. “According to Chen, half a million people in Japan apparently never leave their homes. A kind of silent protest, in which people turn their backs on society.”
Schrauwen also sees this as an opportunity as a scientist to reach a wide audience, because there will be an exhibition about the project in Eindhoven starting in December. “It will initially be art lovers who become aware of the results of scientific research. It can be regarded as a kind of public health warning.”
The BAD Award is an initiative by NWO, ZonMW, and the Eindhoven institutes MU Artspace and BioArt Laboratories. The award is meant to get young artists and designers interested in life sciences. Subsequently, they organise exhibitions to try and involve the general public in technological innovations.