Medical technologies and affect

If C-lab’s presentation felt a bit like a survey and an introduction to the many aspects touched by the combination of art and biology, each of the following interventions engaged in deeper reflections of these aspects. Jack Butler’s very personal journey dealt with the challenges of exploring and representing pain and discomfort produced by a chronic injury. in his work, medical imaging (especially MRI) of his frozen shoulder could not properly convey the claustrophobic sensations experienced during the procedures, they could not reproduce the pain or the frustration of not being able to recover lost mobility. These images have a profound significance for the patient, who is experiencing pain, but they are just diagnostic data to the clinician who interprets them. The clinician cannot enter the patient’s body.

However, Butler showed, if these technical images are combined  with drawings by the patient himself and photos of objects inspired by such images (e.g., images that evoke the sense of frustration and pain experienced) then, it might be possible to map pain and use visual art at the service of feeling and to obtain the support needed.

Butler’s mapping reminds me of the XVIII century images that represented various ailments: lacking the proper instruments and technologies,  the only ways to assess them was by visually representing their effects or by reproducing both physical and emotional pain through fictional interpretations. we lost this aspect of scientific investigation as we rely more and more on technologies as exact tools that turn diseases into a standardized set of data.

The MRI conveys what can be seen, but Butler’s work also contains  an embodied sense of space. These are not simply pictures of some anonymous internal organs, but the senses of the interior  topology of the patient. In this sense, Butler’s drawings vis-a-vis MRI scans bring back a more intimate idea of disease as affect or as “emotional topology” that maps both the disease and its emotional invisible scars.