This week’s material focuses on art and technology and how they engage in the world of medicine. One artist from lecture that particularly stood out to me was Beatriz Da Costa. Da Costa was an artist and researcher whose work blended the fields of science, engineering, and contemporary art as a way to explore interspecies relations in urban settings. Her work took many forms including installations, sculpture, photography, performance plus many more. She even experimented with biological materials and organisms. The work that I will be exploring in my case study today is called “Dying for the Other,” which was presented as a 3 channel video installation in which she documented her life as she battled breast cancer. The videos project clips of De Costa as she receives physical and cognitive therapy after receiving brain surgery to remove tumors that had spread form her breast to her brain. These clips are interspersed with video segments of lab rats that are being used in cancer treatment experiments.
This exhibition is one that hits home for many. There are so many people world wide that are affected by cancer both directly and indirectly and there a hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations dedicated to the treatment of and finding a cure for cancer, that the average person wouldn’t think twice about the work these organizations do. However in this project, Da Costa brings new light to something that is, for most the part, universally perceived in one way. She raises unspoken ethical and moral questions regarding cancer treatment and experimentation practices that are often overlooked and go unchallenged. Even more interesting I find about this work is that she herself is a victim to the disease and despite her want to survive, she is absolutely unrelenting in her need to pursue her art and send this message.
Normally the experiences and emotions of a person dealing with terminal illness are very internal and hidden from the outside world. Da Costa not only brings these emotions to the surface with this work but she also uses the clips of the lab rats as a way to link the animals we use as a proxy for our suffering, to how little we actually know about many diseases such as cancer. One scene that I found particularly powerful was the side by side clips of Da Costa as she portions out her medication for the week next the clip of the lab rats being injected with experimental drugs. This juxtaposition is extremely powerful in that it shows how both the rats and Da Costa become test subjects in field of science that is beyond our comprehension. Their lives are linked in a way that is emotionally conflicting for the viewer. While De Costa obviously wants to live and fights her survival, there is a sense of empathy for the lab rats that are essential to her therapy. She uses this parallel as a way to examine the mutual fragilties of these two victims and raises broader social and moral questions regarding humanity’s ability and right, or perhaps lack there of, to determine worth. Things like animal cruelty and speciesism are not topics typically associated with things like cancer, however Da Costa brings these issues together in a way that is powerful and relatable. The message of this work is even more impactful by the fact that this was Da Costa’s last creation before her passing from this disease. It goes to show that despite the disease ending her life it was not able to end her work. Below is a clip of the installation which was exhibited at Laguna Art Museum in Long Beach California.