Sean Caulfield Evolving Anatomies, Dyscorpia Team Member
What does the word “dyscorpia” mean to you?
For me Dyscorpia is a poetic play with the word corporeal. How is technology shifting our perceptions of our body and our sense of self?
How does your work speak to the body and our relationship to technology? What is the crossover between the ethics, politics and aesthetics of your work?
Since Evolving Anatomies is a collaborative work I would stress that my thoughts below are only part of the picture in terms of intent for this work. For my part, I tried to approach the creation of Evolving Anatomies in a very open way in order to create a work that could be read/interpreted from different perspectives. Below is an overview of the key research areas and motivations I drew on in creating the work. I apologize if what follows is not very concise, but the work is very fresh, so on some levels I am still processing my sense of what it is about.
Vesalius and Contemporary Medical Imaging
For several years I have been working with illustrations from Vesalius’s famous 16th century anatomical book, On the Fabric of the Human Body. At the same time Marilene has been using data/imagery from contemporary medical imaging technology (CT scans and MRIs) for her creative practice. When we began our collaboration Marilene and I saw linkages between these two representations of the body, which had become the subject of much of our work. Both are empirical, anatomical representations of the body, with the historic woodcuts emphasizing a ‘physical’ presence, and the scans a digital or virtual sense of the body. Taken together they point to the ways the evolution of medical representations of the body impact our sense of self.
Votives and Abstraction
Alongside of these scientific representations of the body Marilene introduced found wax body parts – votives from the Catholic tradition – into the work, which map onto the idea of an evolving spectrum of conceptions about the body, ranging from ‘magical’ thinking to empirical data.
In relation to the figurative wax sculptures, I carved invented biological forms, which speak to our capacity to imagine our bodies in multivalent and at times contradictory ways. Moreover, the abstractions also speak to an ongoing interest in themes of transformation both within our bodies but also in relation to our interconnection to the broader ecosystems in which we exist.
Magic and the Supernatural
Alongside of this, I also undertook research into magic and the supernatural. To my mind there are interesting linkages between the history of magic and the supernatural and the ways these traditions constructed narratives around he self and the body. In turn, this is linked to my ongoing dialogue with my brother Professor Timothy Caulfield, and his research into the impact popular media on ideas of health and the body, which can result in what we might term as magical thinking – the tension between science and pseudo-science.
Dyscorpia Workshops: Daniel Laforest – medical narratives
The broader Dyscorpia project involved multiple workshops and meetings. All of these discussions were very informative and impacted my work on some level; however, Daniel Laforest ‘s research on medical narratives seem to resonate most closely with ideas I was already interested in – the impact of contemporary medical technology and methods on the ways we conceive of ourselves.
For me, Daniel’s work mapped on to older historic philosophical traditions that examine the question of self. Of particular interest to me are Buddhist philosophical traditions which (in my limited understanding) have emphasized themes of:
• Dependent arising/interdependence
• Belief that any concept of the self is an illusion. Or in the words of Jay Garfield in his work Engaging Buddhism: Why it Matters to Philosophy:
“All Buddhist philosophical traditions agree that no robust sense of self answers to anything real; all agree that we are in some sense nothing but streams of causally connected psychophysical events and processes. But all also agree that there is a robust, persuasive and well entrenched illusion that we are more than that…”
A final element that came to Evolving Anatomies is Scott’s contribution of sound. This part of the work is VERY fresh and the final version will not happen until the installation (so more to reflect on here). I know Scott is interested in issues of environmental change and how transformation of ecosystems might impact our mental states (anxiety), as well as our sense of self.
What do you believe are the limits of the body in 2019? Can you envision how it will be different in 50 years from now? 100?
As I have suggested above one question/concern I have about the body of the future is this rising tension between science and pseudo-science. Will ‘noise’ from popular culture and social media continue to create confusion around how individuals view the body? The current controversy and confusion around vaccines, probably one of the most important medical advancements in history, is a good (and troubling) example of this.
Alongside of this I am also concerned about the ways advancements in medical and digital technology might divide humanity. What will unfold when certain groups can afford to augment (improve?) their bodies, while others cannot?