Cuts to the quick
On bodies, surgeons and artistic methods
Christina Lammer has explored the human body and its perception in medicine and society for years. In a discussion with Michael Stampfer, director of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF), she speaks about why she as a sociologist has increasingly turned to artistic methods, and how natural sciences and art meet in the operating room, of all places.
Christina Lammer’s work yields beautiful, poetic, sometimes startling images. At some point, the question of bodies and physicality in medicine (now her specialty) led the trained sociologist to pursue methods beyond the traditional tools of the social sciences. In images, she saw a way to shed light on the world of surgery, a realm that, though very often depicted in fiction, is often obscured from real insights. Rather than evaluate interviews and questionnaires, she makes film recordings in and around the operating room or allows surgeons to show their own creativity: “For me, it’s about developing methods that enable us to experience concrete procedures. It’s another kind of knowledge.”
Lammer’s practice sounds out disciplinary and institutional boundaries, but it can strike a painful nerve with viewers as well. It grates against popular stereotypes ranging from white-clad super-humans to inhuman gods, not to mention longstanding physical taboos. Basically, the researcher takes critical and emotional reactions as a positive sign. She defends herself against accusations of voyeurism or the glorification of the surgeon figure, however: “I am much more interested in the relationship aspect, like the question as to how a surgeon who has to cut into the human body goes about building trust, both physically and verbally.” In other words, what’s being examined is as much the surgeon’s embodied ability as the bodies of his or her patients.
In an interesting reflection of her own hybrid role between research and art, Lammer is constantly discovering individual, highly intuitive acts in surgical practice that go beyond standardized rules and scientific knowledge to border on the artistic. Michael Stampfer, director of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund, which has sponsored several of Lammer’s projects, sees real potential in this unorthodox research methodology: “The artistic element is a way of tracking down reality and creating evidence. That sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t.”