The Art of Biomedical Imaging

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Corporeal_Expressions:tracing both biomedical and emotional links from an artistic perspective by Patricia Adams/ The Breast and Its Images by Abou Leo Caraballo-Farman/ Re-enacting the Self in THE ARCHIVE by Maria Manuela Lopes and Paulo Bernardino
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:00
Chair Person: 
Marie-Pier Boucher
Patricia Adams
Maria Lopes
Paulo Bernardino

Corporeal_Expressions: tracing both biomedical and emotional links from an artistic perspective

by Patricia Adams

What issues are involved in twenty-first century representations of corporeality from an artistic perspective? What parameters and methodologies are required when contemporary biotechnology and neuroscience are rapidly changing the ways we see ourselves and actively remodeling the human body? These questions drive my research and have formed the basis of my art/science practice. They are discussed here in relation to my artworks and as part of my continuing investigations into what constitutes “humanness” in both the biotechnical and virtual domains.

My cross-disciplinary art/science projects, my methodologies and my aims are illustrated here. Central to my explorations is the juxtaposition of what is commonly termed “hard” scientific research with artistic re-interpretations of the resulting research data. These readings of experimental research image data are sensual and arouse emotional empathy between the viewer/participant and the artwork content. In this way they raise questions about contemporary biomedical research and current socio-cultural issues.

For the ‘machina carnis’ cross-disciplinary collaboration with a biomedical scientist I experimented on my unscreened adult stem cells. The fundamental practical and theoretical investigations informing this innovative research model were:

  • What will occur if a visual artist engages with biomedical engineering as a first-person researcher?

  • Can two customarily divergent disciplines create hybrid spaces where scientific research can be interrogated by an artist?

These questions are extended and re-examined in the context of the artwork: ‘Changing Fates_matrilineal’. This artwork introduces the discourse surrounding female genetic inheritance through mitochondrial DNA in connection with more ephemeral human residues and traces contained in material possessions and personal memories. Once again, the aim of this exploratory project was to generate individual engagement at the interstices between a participant’s personal experiences and the symbolic traces embedded in the remediated image data. Most recently the ‘mellifera’ project has explored corporeality and identity through both real-time and virtual sites and also a variety of participatory tropes. In all these examples of completed artworks, the use of technologies is discrete and the affective qualities are featured - with a particular focus on the feelings they arouse - creating layered networks of physical, emotional and sensory artwork encounters.

The Breast and Its Images

by Abou Leo Caraballo-Farman

Medical Imaging is an increasingly important part of personal and social lives. A tool of medical diagnosis, scanned images of our interiors produce new identities and anxieties. Anthropologists like Rapp and Dumit have documented the ways in which categories of person and senses of self are produced and contested through images of fetuses or brains. Rose, Rabinow and others have argued that identities are formed and understood through biological and biomedical discourses, producing biosocial identities. Similarly, medical imaging can suddenly create a social category for a person such as ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘2nd stage breast cancer survivor’.

Breast cancer patients rarely see their MRIs or get a sense of the shape or physicality of the malignancy. The tumor remains an unseen, dark and invisible monster lurking within – even after it has been surgically removed. We believe that visualizing tumors can be an important aspect of dealing with the aftermath of the disease. Research with brain tumor patients suggests that visualization has positive psychological and even physiological effects. Bringing art to bear on biomedicine, we are interested in investigating the agency of objects and the power of objectification, especially within socially charged categories like the ‘the breast’ and ‘cancer’.

With help from radiologists, we digitally imaged breast cancer tumors obtained from the MRI’s of patients and friends – that is, we imaged the last form the tumor assumed before being excised. Through a complicated process going from medical imaging to 3D software, we ‘printed’ the tumors on a rapid prototyping machine to produce concrete versions. Finally, we made molds and cast them to produce pendants which we returned to the patients. Externalized, the tumor can now be visualized, even held, by the breast cancer patient - as a fetish now in the world, it can be ‘active’, a new force with a positive effect. We are the first to have imaged and prototyped breast cancer tumors.

In this panel, we will describe the process through which we achieved this and present narratives of the effects the process has had on us and on breast cancer survivors.

Re-enacting the Self in THE ARCHIVE

by Maria Manuela Lopes and Paulo Bernardino

We seek to construct connections between visual art practice and neuroscientific research studies in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. The method is envisioned as a circulation in a network of four virtual intertwined archival spaces:

  1. The patient;

  2. The art studio;

  3. The Alzheimer’s clinical research laboratory;

  4. The cellular and molecular research laboratory;

In this process we are documenting the assessment and categorization of Alzheimer’s patients and their exposure to various therapies, as well as laboratory procedures and collecting science materials. Key elements are the visual – ordering – archiving - montage.

This paper introduces the overall concept of archiving and its circulation on the design framework in relation to the concepts and production of an installation – THE ARCHIVE. The work is analyzed in relation to notions of bodies, fragments and reconstitution activated according to Foucault’s theories of clinical manipulation of records and surveillance, and Mark Dion’s artworks strategies, such as re-creating and critiquing both scientific and artistic processes of cataloguing and display.

We explore interpretations that objects acquire when they are subjected to artistic processes and re-experienced in a different context. In the laboratory a sentence, a diagram or an MRI is read against the assumptions of medical discourse. The installation uncovers some of the representational strategies produced in the laboratories and searches for similarities between the visual technologies applied by neuroscience and self reflection in the studio; examining that in both contexts, decisions regarding handling, archiving, framing and time happen in parallel. Although if in science the effort to enhance or scale ‘inscriptions’ (Latour, 1986) reflect the power to make believe in the invisible world of scientific research, we propose that in employing artistic methods such as re-tracing, wax casts and edition we are challenging the associations of scientific images to an invisible truth and exploring their potential power to deploy the discourse of autobiographical memory. By recording/re-editing both the studies of Alzheimer’s disease and Lopes under similar neuropsychological examination we operate at a metaphoric level of endless revision of traces, comparing the never-ending chain of representations (scientific archive), to the psychological process that creates identity and integrates personality.

This project is funded by FCT SFRH/BD/37721/2007