The Fox Got You is an art and science project celebrating six common plants which are at the origin of five major medicinal drugs:
- Foxglove and the drug Digoxin for the treatment of heart arrhythmia.
- Goat’s rue and the drug Metformin for diabetes.
- Yew and the cancer chemotherapy drugs Paclitaxel and Docetaxel.
- Autumn crocus and the drug Colchicine for gout.
- Meadowsweet, willow and Aspirin.
Plants feed us but they can also save lives. Françoise Sergy is a photography artist. As it happens, she is diabetic and the drug Metformin is part of her treatment. She started the project as a way of saying thank you to the plant goat’s rue, which indirectly keeps her alive. She brought together the people involved at each stage of the journey from plants to drugs. Her artwork was first exhibited at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. You can discover the complete project on this website.
Even today, with our urban and high tech lives, we are still made and changed by nature. Plants and their habitats should be valued and kept, because the natural world belongs to them, not to us.
People get ill. Treatments are sought. Diseases are studied and drugs made. Those of us who live with a disease have to trust our clinicians who in turn rely on scientists for further discoveries. Drugs are manufactured by companies criss-crossing the globe. The whole process is very complicated and knowledge extremely specialised. This project brings together people with very different experience and understanding of the biomedical world:
- People living with a disease - the 'patients'.
- Clinicians, including General Practitioners and clinicians at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.
- Scientists from the William Harvey Research Institute, the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit and the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology.
- Companies who grow and produce plants to be made into drugs.
- A pharmaceutical company who manufactures the final drug products.
Whilst researching the project, the artist’s role was mainly to be a witness. She photographed, recorded and learned from those involved. She studied the history of the plants and the drugs. She offered everyone the chance to describe their own work and experience. Then as an artist, she was free to explore her own emotional response and be inspired by the stories she had been privileged to witness. Using scientific images as a starting point, she created artwork moving between the worlds of plants and human biology, exploring the unfathomable complexity of living organisms. This project is about why we will always need plants, even if plants don’t need us.
Françoise Sergy lives in London, Britain. She also spends a lot of time in Cambridge, where her partner lives, and in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, the country she is originally from. She is both an artist and a gardener. For many years she worked as a dance and performance artist but photography has always been an important part of her practice. At the age of 40 she fell in love with plants and trained as a gardener. Working part-time as an artist means that her projects take a long time to come to fruition but she doesn’t mind. She enjoys the scientific grounding horticulture has given her, using it as another tool in her creative process.
In the past, she developed her own dance practice and feminist aesthetics. Plants are now her main focus - she finds them completely bewitching and wonderful to work with. Her aim is to reveal how important they are in our everyday life, even if we are not aware of this, and to celebrate them.
The Fox Got You has allowed her for the first time to bring together several past themes: plants, the body, illness, medical science. She has very much enjoyed meeting and learning from clinicians and biomedical scientists, even though it took a lot of effort to find all the people needed for the project. Scientists were the easiest group to recruit, mainly because they have a lot of information about their research online and are very keen to come out of their 'scientific ivory towers' and engage with the public. Clinicians were harder to locate, mainly because of confidentiality issues, which was also obviously the case for patients. The project focuses on illnesses which are chronic and potentially life threatening. However it was very clear from the start that the experience of people with the illnesses should be presented alongside that of professionals. The contrasts between their different stories, in the interview section, is truly fascinating.
The most difficult group to get on board were the companies actually making the drugs. You can read all about it in the section From Plants to Drugs.