Kim Morgan: Blood Portraits


Kim Morgan, Grace, 2020. From the series Blood Portraits.

Kim Morgan: Blood Portraits

Curated by Susan Gibson Garvey

Installed above the elevators on the first floor of the Marion McCain Building (housing Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), nine large discs present images of an essential bodily material: human blood. Magnified up to 12,000 times through the use of scanning electron microscopy (SEM) they capture a frozen instant in the life of nine individuals’ blood. We observe in detail the forms and structures of red and white blood cells, platelets, and antibodies involved in the processes of delivering oxygen and fending off disease.

The high-resolution images reveal a depth and richness of surface, complex cellular structures, and compositions that are morphologically reminiscent of other natural phenomena at different scales: a cascade of antigens like a surge of marine biota; white blood cells resembling coral or spiny sea urchins; red corpuscles like asteroids adrift in the depths of space…

But these are not imaginary images. Each named image represents an individual blood “portrait” derived from a sample donated by a human volunteer, with appropriate permissions for its use. They are diverse in age, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, yet each volunteer’s (self-identified) particulars are not detectable here. All SEM images are black and white. All human blood is red.


video still from Blood Portraits, 2020, 7 minutes and 30 seconds.

The printed portraits represent one half of this two-part project by interdisciplinary artist Kim Morgan. Part Two is a video, accessible through a QR code on the text panel by the work. The video is structured around the same nine images, which circulate nine times, accompanied by the persistent sound of a beating heart, as if in a musical roundelay or nine-stanza poem, while a voice track offers an increasingly layered gloss of facts and fictions about blood and identity. Why nine? As the video informs us, the average adult human body contains about nine pints of blood.

The video’s section titles are single words that act as double-entendres, exemplified in the fourth round, “circulation,” which begins by describing the circulation of blood within the body, but fluidly transitions to reference the circulation of blood as a commodity, and the global trade in blood products. Likewise, the section titled “pathology” concerns itself not so much with blood-borne disease as with myth, misinformation, and prejudice about blood (a kind of sociopathology) that leads to the “stains” of deadly discriminatory practices.

This installation was commissioned by Dalhousie Art Gallery as an offsite project well before the advent of Covid19 in Canada. However, the same kind of scanning technology (SEM) used in this artwork has also provided those striking images of the coronavirus in everyday media (images often artificially enhanced with colour, although electron microscopy only “sees” in monochrome). The pandemic has underscored the fragility of the body and made us acutely aware of the role of medical science in understanding threats to human health, as well as of the social disparities that the virus spread reveals.

In Morgan’s installation, the strange beauty and ambiguity of the fixed images combine with the video’s visceral layering to offer an experience intended to intrigue, provoke wonder, and prompt questions about the meaning, use, and value of a person’s blood.


Blood Portraits installation view, nine circular images, each 79.8 cm diameter, ink on vinyl bonded to aluminum, accessed via QR code on text panel, 2021. Photo: Steve Farmer.

Blood Portraits is commissioned by Dalhousie Art Gallery as part of its 2021/2 offsite programming with generous financial assistance from Arts Nova Scotia, Halifax Regional Municipality, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Dalhousie University, Marion McCain Arts and Social Sciences Building,
6135 University Avenue, 1st Floor
Hours: 7:30 AM – 10:00 PM daily

There is a level entrance at the front of the building with automated doors (6135 University Avenue). Accessible parking spaces are located on LeMarchant Street. There are wide lobby spaces within the interior and an elevator to access multiple levels. Blood Portraits is located on the wall above the elevators on the first floor which can be reached by the elevator in the lobby. Accessible washrooms are also located on the first floor.

For more information contact:
Dalhousie Art Gallery
6101 University Avenue, Halifax, NS, B3H 4R2 |

Instagram: @dalhousie_art_gallery

Dalhousie Art Gallery is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We are all Treaty people.