Fay Bound Alberti
Blog originally posted at Fay Bound Alberti.
Image of Aaron James, recipient of the first eye and face transplant with his surgeon, Eduardo Rodriguez, courtesy of the NYU Langone
NEW YEAR, NEW YOU?
Many of us turn to the idea of self-improvement in the new year, to changing who we are – whether it’s a new gym ritual, a new diet, a new job or hobby – a new face turned towards the world.
The New Year tends to be a time of resolution and change (even if those changes seldom last beyond the first week of February). So it’s no surprise that there’s a spike in cosmetic treatments every New Year as well as a rise in divorce petitions.
We want the face that fits, that reflects our essential sense of self. The face is, after all, the interface (literal and symbolic) between our ‘self’ and other people.
Yet the face that we have changes throughout our lives, and is changed by other factors, deliberate or intentional. Finding out who ‘we’ are throughout those changes is an ongoing process. And that’s one of the core theme of my project Interface, which took up its new home at King’s College London this time last year.
And what a busy year it’s been! Along with moving Interface, I set up the Centre for Technology and the Body, which is part of King’s Digital Futures Institute, and explores how technology intersects with the human body – past, present and future.
The DFI is uniquely concerned with how we live well with technology, a theme that resonates through my work with Interface. The Centre for Technology and the Body held a number of great events in 2023, and we have put together a fantastic programme for 2024, including Joanna Bourke on evil women and Kashmir Hill on digital faces.
Last year was also a year of international travel, with filming for a new project in the US (more on exciting development to follow), and I gave papers on my face transplant research at conferences in Mexico City and Los Angeles to name just two. It is a pleasure to work with surgeons and patients as well as qualitative researchers, as interdisciplinary research is key to my work.
In 2023 I secured (via my Future Leaders Fellowship renewal) the second phase of Interface’s funding from UKRI, into 2027. That funding will continue to support my work on the history, meanings and ethics of face transplants, as well as new work into technologies of the face: from cosmetics and digital filters to facial recognition systems and 3D printing.
As the field of face transplants progresses – 2023 marking the first ever face and eye transplant – this research will continue to cast a critical lens on the meanings of technologies of the face as a cultural and emotional, as well as a surgical enterprise. As the Interface team showed in a recent article, we don’t know enough about the cultural and emotional impacts of face transplants as a specific and still experimental field of human transplantation. The history of emotion, medicine and the body helps us explore pressing issues in the present, as well as the past.
Interface will be advertising for a new project manager in March, to help us manage the exciting and busy years ahead. Watch this space for more information and links.
In the meantime: happy new year everyone!