New York

Orshi Drozdik

Tom Cugliani Gallery

In her recent exhibition called “Morbid Conditions,” Orshi Drozdik investigated the social armature of medical knowledge. She used various outmoded medical artifacts as her starting point. In several works, Drozdik employed glass vitrines to encase such disparate elements as body parts and medical apparatus, all of which bore a distinctly 19th-century look. At one time, the scientific equipment may have appeared useful and even futuristic; today, however, it has become obsolete. Ether Anaesthesia, 1988, consists of an entanglement of rubber hoses patched with cotton gauze; they meander around glass beakers and test tubes supported by a metal armature. No logic governs their combination; instead, their juxtaposition is a collapse of oddball, useless components. The metal stand is rusting, the beakers are stained and dirty; they look like worn, overused remnants of past experiments. Drozdik uses the vitrine as a historically coded artifact of medical history—an archaeological relic. Upon close inspection, the uselessness of the device becomes apparent. In this way, Drozdik calls our attention to the obsolescence of past scientific practices and of scientific paradigms in general.

The distanced view of medical science provided by the vitrine recurs in a number of untitled photographic negatives (all from 1988) mounted in glass. The barely illuminated images depict rooms and artifacts from medical museums—oak-and-glass cabinets stuffed with spines, rib cages, and fetuses. In one such negative, anatomical artifacts are set amidst an array of decrepit portraits of medical dignitaries. Drozdik views this antiquated world of medical knowledge as itself a collection, classification, and culmination of past observations.

She reinforces the notion of the subjective singularity of perception and the optical limitations of scientific investigation in Erythrocyte, 1988. This large floor installation consists of about 30 objects made of unglazed porcelain, which represent blood cells. They seem to spill across a long flat sheet of lead, like a dried up river bed whose pebbles and boulders have been blanched in the baking sun. Suggesting a blood flow that has become barren, even poisoned, the work serves as a metaphor for AIDS and its agent, the blood. In their whiteness, the porcelain cells are pure and perfect, yet as red blood cells, they have been emptied of their color and appear bleached and desiccated. The lead sheet they rest on carries another set of associations with contamination. Drozdik places a glass lens, supported on a trellislike brass stand, before the installation. Inviting the viewer to replace the observing scientist, she creates an investigative situation in which we experience the fallibility of science. By revealing the limitations of scientific systems and methods, Drozdik exposes not only the paradigmatic nature of science but the fact that all knowledge is but a belief system limited by humankind’s anatomical prison.

Kirby Gookin