Anarchy in the Organism: Cancer as a Complex System [Computer-generated sound and video installation]

Simeon Nelson (Developer), Rob Godman (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

1925 Downloads (Pure)


Anarchy in the Organism ( is a Wellcome Trust and University College London Hospital NHS Trust funded residency and commission that questions attitudes to cancer and attempts to place it within a normative framework. Is cancer an aberration or is it an embedded aspect of being a complex organism? Complexity theory underpins much of the thinking behind this project. It is an integrative way of looking at disparate phenomena and has great explanatory power when confronting the possible meanings of cancer from a scientific, an ethical and existential perspective for patients, their loved-ones, carers, researchers and anyone interested in the wider implications of cancer.
Collaborations with researchers working at the forefront of the sociology of cancer, complexity theory, the anatomy, networks and growth mechanisms of cancer were essential to this project. I also collaborated with Robert Godman, reader in music at UH who composed music that was synchronised with the visual elements. The resulting artwork is displayed in the windows of a major new hospital, the UCH Cancer Centre London and consists of four 60' screens in portrait format embedded in a geometric vinyl pattern. On the screens computer generated organisms develop cancer to varying degrees. Some succumb, some recover. By situating cancer within a wider context of complex evolving systems from cities to trees to landscapes, this work attempts a reconciliation of cancer as a normal aspect of being in the world.
A symposium was held at the Wellcome Trust in June with the following speakers:
Monia Brizzi, chartered counselling psychologist
Gilly Angell, patient representative
Simon Walker-Samuel, Senior Research Associate, UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging
Jorge Castillo Sepúlveda, Group of Social Studies of Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
A book with short essays by the above will be published next year.

Anarchy in the Organism features many highly innovative treatments of rhythm and it is in this aspect that the audio-visual output responded to the research questions. Central to the concept, is the idea of interruption, interference and disturbance. The music uses a rhythmic technique the composer describes as Pulse Time Modulation (PTM) - a repeating sound (a pulse) is subject to a constantly changing tempo creating a shifting accelerando/rallentando effect. Where simultaneous multiple PTM’s take place, any definitive pulse quickly becomes perceptually complex and/or chaotic. PTM attempts to mimic the cycles of life - functioning on the macro and microstructure of the work (in a pseudo-fractal fashion). Breathing, tension and relaxation, physical and psychological time all come under the auspices of the technique.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUniversity College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre, London
Sizeduration and dimensions variable
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2012
EventAnarchy in the Organism - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Apr 2012 → …


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