Blood flows through veins of challenging art exhibition

This exhibition about blood at Melbourne Science Gallery is not for the faint-hearted.

Blood: Attract & Repel explores why we're both attracted to and repulsed by blood — a liquid that fills our body but still makes people squirm.

So how do you feel about blood? Let's take a look at some of the featured works, in which art and science collide in curious and sometimes confronting ways.

Compass made from placenta

Art and metallurgy combine in this surprising artwork, where the blood of 69 women's placentas was used to forge the metal needle of this compass.

"[The placentas] were cooked up and then a blacksmith created the needle out of the iron," the exhibition's creative director Ryan Jefferies explained.

The artwork, created by Norway-based artist Cecilia Jonsson, is titled Haem: short for haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule within blood.

he artist says the placenta is so vast and complicated you almost need a compass to navigate it.

The work also comments on the placenta as the navigational tool in the relationship between mother and child.

How would you feel smelling blood?

Australian artists Ollie Cotsaftis and Sarah McArthur test people's innate response to blood in this interactive installation.

The metallic odour of blood naturally triggers a strong emotional response in most people, and this artwork titled Sentience uses emotion mapping and facial recognition software to measure whether the distinct smell makes you feel "negative", "positive", "sad", "disgust" or "fear".

The artists say it's a way to make people reflect and question their beliefs around the stigma and taboos that surround blood.

Artwork tackles menstruation taboo

The artwork, titled You Beaut, uses piped icing to explore the strong cultural taboos that still exist around menstruation and menstrual blood.

The Hotham Street Ladies worked with pathologists at University of Melbourne to ensure their artwork represented some of the science behind menstruation.

The artists say it's a way to surprise people and get them thinking differently about an aspect of women's lives which is still often considered dirty and shameful.

"The icing is royal icing, so it's a really thick mixture and a lot of people come in going 'oh I really want to lick the walls', which has been an interesting response," Dr Jefferies said.

Artist injects horse blood

In this extreme body art, French artist Marion Laval-Jeantet attempted to hybridise herself with a horse by mixing their blood.

"[The artist] went through quite a scientific process of building up an immunity, so she initially injected the antibodies to the horse blood into her own blood stream and then was able to inject a larger volume of horse blood," Dr Jefferies said.

"It's certainly something as a scientist I wouldn't advise to do, you could potentially go into anaphylactic shock and die."

Titled May the Horse Live in Me! this performance artwork was created and filmed by French duo Art Oriente Objet.

"It explores the future of science. Where is science taking us in terms of human-animal hybridisation?" Dr Jefferies said.

"We're already seeing embryos of fused animal human/hybrids being developed, what are some of the ethical and moral considerations around that?"

Would you hold HIV-positive blood?

The artwork by German-based designer Basse Stittgen was created to encourage people to think about the cultural stigma that people with major blood-borne infections face.

Some of these objects are made from the blood of people with major infectious diseases — including HIV and hepatitis.

"We've gone through a scientific process to sterilise them and make them safe, but still people will feel uncomfortable holding them, there will be people who won't even be willing to hold them," Dr Jefferies said.

'I nearly became a vegetarian'

When quarantine laws prevented German artist Basse Stittgen from bringing pigs' blood into Australia, it was up to the exhibition's creative director to take the reins.

Dr Jefferies, who also has a background in science and a PhD in parasitology, personally sourced, boiled in a wok and dried in his oven 10 litres of pigs' blood.

"I nearly became a vegetarian after that, it was a little bit too much," he said.

Through the process the blood was turned into a powder, which the artist then converted into plastic and pressed into a music record which plays the sound of a pig's heartbeat.

"The dry powder is put into an aluminium mould, [and placed under] over two tonne of pressure at 200 degrees, it transforms into a hard plastic material. It's pretty amazing," Dr Jefferies said.

So why are some people repulsed by blood?

Dr Jefferies said the legal and ethical issues around using blood made this a challenging exhibition — but the purpose of pushing boundaries was to spark an interest in science and technology among young adults.

"People think of blood as just this biological fluid and not thinking more of that, but once you scratch the surface there's so many different aspects we can explore," Dr Jefferies said.

"Why are some people repulsed by blood? It's so biologically important and yet when people see blood they often feel really confronted, people even faint.

"So what's at the heart of that… is it biology or is it cultural constraints that have been developed?"

The exhibition at Science Gallery Melbourne finishes this week.