Every Body Is An Archive

Every Body Is An Archive is a four year project, resulting in a book and performance, about the relationship between the body and medical imaging technologies. A collaboration with Prof Steve Halligan, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, the project involved a range of works involving patients, radiographers and radiologists. Read more

Every Body is an Archive has is a long-term research project about the body as a medical image. It has been produced as a book, a performance and an exhibition.

Images have been central to medicine for centuries – documenting, monitoring, and measuring the body.  Imaging has become the most important diagnostic tool in medicine., so being a patient today increasingly means becoming an image.  Every Body Is an Archive explores this radiographic body, as a subject/object and as a flow of data.

This project was based on observation, collaboration and appropriation. I undertook a number of ‘observerships’ at UCLH, where I learnt about imaging procedures, and tried to see things from a clinical perspective. (Later I came back to the idea of try to occupy or inhabit the clinical gaze.)

Every Body is an Archive is comprised of photographs, text, data visualisations, and image appropriations.

Some of the key works are photographic collaborations, re-enactments that recall or reimagine the experience of having a medical scan. The body becomes subservient to the machine and its technologies, a series of xyz points to be captured and processed. How do we mediate between the experiences of the patient, who is often physically and emotionally vulnerable, and the radiographer, upon whose technical precision the image is dependent?  The moments of stillness, during which patients become images, are highly regulated and private and rarely exposed to non-clinical inquiry.

I have always been interested in using re-photography as a gesture to expose existing images to new forms of seeing and interpretation. For Every Body is an Archive I re-photographed some images from Clark’s Positioning in Radiography, a manual providing instructions to technicians in correctly positioning the body for the X-ray plate.   Removed from their original context, stripped off clinical annotation, the photographs reveal something of medicine’s relationship with surrealism, comedy, pornography and even fashion.  We see the how the body is enframed by medicine: cut and isolated for/by the image, a geometric regime laid bare.

Newer medical imaging technologies extend the clinical gaze. As mathematical code, bodies undergo extensive automated processing, becoming full of potential images, a stratigraphy of layers that can be restacked to create the body’s form and volume. These mathematical bodies are visualisations based on chains of algorithmic interpretation. Without gravity or shadows, the imaged body becomes a 3D space for navigation and calculation. This is explored in my text You are My Territory and I am Your Explorer.

I trained myself to use professional radiology software, in an attempt to occupy a radiologic position, and make visible the computational gaze. Working with patient data, shared with me by UCLH using an ethically approved consent process, I explore the potential forms of the algorithmic body. Refusing the traditional clinical desire to go inside the body, I [mis-]use the software to render the body’s surface. This might be understood as an attempt to recover a sense of the patient’s identity. Ultimately this fails though, revealing more about the software itself than any individual body. The digital surface is a sampling of skin, fat, hair, tissue, blood, water and air.  This new digital materiality is heavily artefactual, an amalgamated surface that has no correlate in the biological body. This is captured through a series of screengrabs which further flattens the dimensional body into a surface.

The work was made as part of a four-year collaboration with Professor Steve Halligan, with the UCL Medical Imaging Centre, funded by the Wellcome Trust. It came out of a larger project funded by the Wellcome Trust, Digital Insides. The full project can be seen here www.digitalinsides.org

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