Doctoral Students

Jort van der Laan
Started in

Research summary

Auto/Immunity – Art Strategies Against a Military Sense of Self

The immune system is often characterized in a military vocabulary. 'Auto/Immunity – Art Strategies Against a Military Sense of Self' explores the origins and implications of immunity as a natural system of defense, and investigates how different perspectives on the immune system can be derived from the practices of artists living and working with autoimmunity.

Originally, immunity refers to various legal privileges that would exempt individuals from political obligations and community responsibilities. In the late 19th century, immunity acquires its medical meaning as an organismic defense mechanism constructing and maintaining borders between self and non-self.

The research consists of different components. Historical case studies in which healthcare and politics are inextricably intertwined form the basis for an analysis of the socio-political context for a change in medical thinking. Practices of contemporary artists living with - and working on autoimmunity are analyzed to determine different perspectives on the immune system and ways of seeing and naming the body in relation to its surroundings. The full scope of their self-reflective artistic practices is included as well as organizational structures and collective moments of exchange, to share strategies for coping with - and learning from autoimmunity.

Another component of the research involves making connections with present-day healthcare, in order to compare different vocabularies of allopathic practitioners and "alternative" healers relating to autoimmunity. A guiding question throughout the research project is whether a visual vocabulary can be developed in experimental video as a working method to speak about physical and abstract bodily phenomena that relate to autoimmunity and that are difficult or even impossible to put into words. To what extent and in what manner can experimental video be used to reclaim the capacity for telling one’s own story, on one's own terms, speaking in tongues outside the linguistic framework of immune system discourse?



Jort van der Laan’s (1986) artistic praxis of experimental video and printed matter addresses the intricate relationship between immunity and community. Plural and porous, you will find body and mind presented as an assemblage that is, moreover, part of other assemblages: artistic / political / cultural / economic / spiritual / medical.

Van der Laan obtained his MA at the Dutch Art Institute (DAI ROAMING ACADEMY) and a BA at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. He was a resident artist at King’s College, London.

His work has been shown at venues including Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons, Utrecht; Rongwrong, Amsterdam; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; The Tokyo Art Book Fair; Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Zico House, Beirut. He has been involved with Studium Generale Rietveld Academie since 2011.


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