Petra Lange-Berndt

Special Effects’

P1140165I hate copper. My left ear is still itching because despite knowing better I tried on those vintage earrings I had found at a car boot. Only two minutes were enough, now my body will be in revolt for days: I am allergic to this ductile metal, it smells horrible and sticks to my fingers. It is too warm, burning my flesh; during the practical session I went to the toilet to wash it off.

It was about metal and the body in this workshop, sharp instruments cutting precisely or holding back tissue, organic looking metals, or woven wires to cover skin. For me, reflecting on this version of the fraternisation of art and medicine – embodied by sculptor Matt and surgeon Roger – the medical person clearly was the better, or let’s say more contemporary, artist. As Roger pointed out repeatedly, surgery for him is a collective, many-handed practice, at times dealing simultaneously with mass-media representations, digital modelling, and the blood and guts with the actual body of the patient. His presentation revised the chain of material-tool-hand-brain that defines modernist myths of making and artistic authorship. Instead there was always a ballet of multiple hands, moving carefully, holding intestines, or flicking instruments with a certain absent minded automatism. I warmed to the clinical tools. The most interesting part was, that the master metalsmith Matt never showed an image of the maker in crisis: One should never allow tools or materials to act too much he told us. But in the case of Roger, as one short film clip demonstrated, even the anaesthetised body can be out of control and push back: In this simulated emergency, staging plastic and paint for special effects like a Splatter movie, organs were inflating and deflating while bright red blood was squirting out of this abject mess. If surgery is similar to music, this was death metal. The body is acting, the materials are dancing and everything has to happen in that very moment. The unconscious patient that in this context – for me very uncomfortably so – is the material is not objectified, since her/his body defines the scene and does the headbanging. Tools and hands are merely there in the mosh pit, trying to keep up with it.

Roger also came up with a great solution of how historians could deal with ephemeral things such as emotions: As has been done extensively for the field of performance and installation art, the re-enactment of situations or rituals could be one answer. But this would also mean to transform that strange feeling one might get when touching a specific organ in the body into written or audiovisual language in order to communicate it to those who were not present. What is obviously needed when dealing with emotions are people who can act as catalysts and are versed in mediations: Film-makers, photographers and poets should be part of the team to capture disgust, boredom, or curiosity in order to put these feelings up for discussion.

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