Every Body is An Archive

by Liz Orton

Every Body is An Archive considers the medical body as an object for analogue and digital calculation. In medicine, to go into the body always means going in to the image first.

The work was developed as part of a long-term collaboration with patients, radiographers and radiologists, in partnership with Steve Halligan at University College London Hospital. It comprises photography, archive material, text and 3D data visualisations.

Every Body is an Archive is based around a series of patient re-enactments that recall and re-imagine the experience of having a medical scan. These moments of vulnerability and enforced stillness, in which we become images, are so highly regulated and private that they are rarely exposed to public vision.

The project also features a number of images from an X-ray manual, re-photographed by the artist. The framing of these images is not a result of an aesthetic choice but rather a cut determined by the region of medical interest. The body becomes a series of planes and angles, subordinate to the functions of the machine. Orton is interested in appropriation as a way to expose something new about images, or their conditions of production. Here, the act of re-contextualisation undermines medicine’s claims to objectivity and exposes its complex relationship to fashion, surrealism, pornography and comedy.

The processes by which a patient becomes a medical image are black-boxed, hidden in a series of algorithmic calculations. The artist trained herself to use professional radiology software, co-opting it to reconstruct the body’s outside, a deliberate mis-use of the technology that refuses the desire of the medical gaze to go inside the body.  These technological images tell us more about methods of quantification and sampling than they do about the patient, whose identity is obscured through sampling techniques and digital artefacts.

As a whole the project aims to undermine and subvert the traditional medical gaze, reclaiming control from medical authority and acknowledging that bodies are vulnerable not only as patients, but also as representations.

Every Body is an Archive is available as an artist book, and has also been performed as a text with live sound.