Louise Wilson and Alexa Wright

La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse

In an attempt to demystify modern medicine, Louise Wilson and Alexa Wright presented “Corps-Machine engrenage médicale,” (Body-machine medical machine), a show that not only emphasized the highly codified and symbolic nature of the rituals of modern medicine, but gave the viewer a sense of where the human and the scientific seem distinctly at odds. Wilson and Wright contend that the precision-driven instruments, diagnostic procedures, and emphasis on objective data of specialized medicine leave the patient with little control over his or her own body.

For Transplant I, 1995, Wright presented her reconstruction of a surgical heart transplant in a corridor of the gallery, at the back of which hung a life-sized photo of a knight in armor. In Wright’s words “the transplanted body and the armored body present two opposed expressions of being, both of them addressing some of the metaphors which exist around the body as malleable or invulnerable object.” Speakers inserted into the walls broadcast a recording of a heart-transplant operation that took place at St. George’s Hospital in London earlier this year. Minute, backlit, color photos of another operation, each disconnected and with no apparent relation to the next, or even the corridor site, emphasized how invisible the elements of our body are to us without the aid of technology. The macabre neutrality of the gallery space exacerbated the sense that technology splits the body into simple visual packages or fragments, and in so doing questions its wholeness. Wright’s corridor suggested a place of passage, a temporary, labyrinthine, and depersonalized site within a site. In conjunction with the exhibition, Wright presented Transplant II, 1995, at La Maison de Greffes, an organ-transplant hospital in the east end of Montreal. Here, texts written by organ-transplant patients were available for reading on a table into which representations of all the body’s inner organs except the heart were incised in frosted glass.

Wilson’s Possessed, 1995, generated images of the human brain on a screen placed above an antique-looking analyst’s couch set on a carpeted black platform in an open area of the gallery. Technically stunning as these visually enhanced state-of-the-art activations of PET and MRI scans were, they also raised questions about whether the environment in which the tests are administered can potentially alter the content and quality of what they hope to record. The revolving images of the brain displayed on the screen changed in response to the voices of hypnotists who droned on in French and then in English. The final segment recorded the artist’s own sleep patterns by highlighting different areas of the brain in pink, green, and blue as it moved across the screen, disappearing and reappearing.

This numbing, hypnotic presentation suggested that just as increased specialization means a greater isolation and subdivision of knowledge, the imagery of the medical industry becomes more and more remote from its human context. The artists’ interventions certainly present an interpretation of the role and meaning of science, but whether they go beyond merely pointing to issues that are already part of most national debates remains an open question.

John K. Grande