as more advanced technologies and science breakthroughs are introduced –supposedly–to ease our diseases or improve the quality of our lives, we also have to come to terms with the transformations they have gradually brought to the way we see life and death, the way the relation doctor/patient, health/illness, individual/health institution are also inevitably affected. As one of the presenters pointed out quoting McLuhan, technologies are not just tools, or appendages, but become prostheses able to affect our senses. In this context, art could act as a warning system, while a performance or an artistic intervention that utilizes or comments on said technologies, perhaps, may bring some awareness.
in some way, this could be interepreted as a pertinent response to some of the questions posed yesterday such as what is the role of the artist.
a detail to note. here “science” and “technologies” are interpreted in quite a flexible way: not, or not just as “material instruments” but as means or as processes; not only as innovative tools, but also as means with a long tradition and use. presentations focused on performance as a way to reproduce and represent the life of a cancer patient, spiritual midwifery, gene therapy and Ayurvedic/Siddhan healing practices.
For Bonnie Eckard technologies such as cosmetic surgery, anti-aging techniques atc.. celebrate a society that does celebrates the healthy, beautiful body while disease and decay is seen as our enemy and, most of all, a failure of science.
her performance work examines the experience and the life journey of a cancer patient through a multi-composite performance. by using gestures (using the Suzuki methodand Kabuki movements), sound and monologues, follows the journey of a cancer patient: the negative and deeply emotional reactions to the diagnosis and her frustrations with the medical language are followed by a gradual transformation that is both internal and physical. as the body decays, the patient embark in an interior journey that finally reconsiders her notion of life and the acceptance of death.
the performance confronts difficult relationships such as the one between the dying or healing patient and the doctor. Both have to deal with a disease. Yet, their agendas and their responses to it inevitably stand on completely different levels.
As our diseases are prolonged and our death is postponed, as people live longer with disease, also the way we die has changed. Thus, there needs to be a new way to think about death as an extended process.
The fight of the patient against the disease becomes also a fight against the medical system that, certainly with good intentions, is keen to try new experimental therapies and use invasive testing tools to understand the disease and successfully heal the greatest number of patients. This, as funding is lavishly employed to develop new therapies and medications, while little attention is placed on finding better ways to alleviate the pain of the dying patient.
Performance, as it is seen here, is a form of survival, an exploration of the interior landscape before death
On the other end of the spectrum, life before life and the process that leads to life is the focus of Heather Maines’ intervention. As a “doula,” (attendant to women for childbirth), her task is to psychologically sustain, by assisting and, as she prefers to say by “accompanying” the woman during labor and the moment of birth.
As her photographs witness the intensity of labor and the intimate relation she is able to establish with the women she assists, one cannot help drawing a comparison between this presentation and the performance presented before her. one thing that comes to mind is how both interventions were able to make evident moments of our lives that are either considered very private, fearful or taboo. in addition, the image of the pregnant woman is almost always perceived as sick, as if the baby she is carrying was a burden. this is also reflected in the way technologies are monitoring the new born and are separating it from the mother, basically considered a container, a carrier, not one with the organism she is raising.
while Maines didn’t quite deal with reproductive technologies if not tangentially, the exhibition just outside the conference room contains quite a gallery of photographs and posters that criticize and make fun, at different levels, of reproductive technologies
see for example