Whose Body is It, Anyway?
THE DUALITY OF HUMAN DIGNITY: TWO SHORT ESSAYS ON MONIR MONIRUZZAMAN AND JACK BUTLER
JOHN K. GRANDE
Monir Moniruzzaman: Rough Cut
Monir Moniruzzaman's ethnographic interviews, documents and images draw from the everyday to address a situation many of us in the West are unaware of- the bustling trade in organs for transplant from the Third World donors to First World patients. Such transplant tourism has now evolved into a highly specialized service industry in North America. This business usually involves a trade in organs originating in countries in the Middle East, as well as Bangladesh, China, India, the Phillipines and Turkey. These organs are traded without any consideration for basic human rights: poverty obliges many of the poor to sell their organs to the rich, not out of choice but necessity.
A contemporary anthropologist who uses everyday reality as the material for his research, Moniruzzaman has drawn on stories recounted by 33 kidney sellers and many organ recipients, brokers and health personnel. And so, first-hand accounts- along with photos of sellers' scarred bodies, as well as advertisements for organs from daily newspapers -highlight some basic, largely unmonitored issues that blur the boundaries between right and wrong. Where does international law stand on these matters? How do the recipients' actions affect the tenor of human rights issues? Such ethical questions are answered differently depending on which side of the development fence one stands on.
As technology increasingly tries to convince us the body is a machine, the boundaries between individual rights and public rights are crisscrossed, and commodity and bodily interests move into the realm of fetishism. Rough Cut, drawing on Moniruzzaman's research, includes an interactive aspect whereby participants can assume the identities of a Bangladeshi kidney seller or broker, or an international kidney buyer. Sound, images, video and text illustrate the organ-buying and selling process, as viewers/participants are prompted to make to the real-life choices that would confront a kidney buyer and seller. Moniruzzaman's interactive exploration of this seldom-considered aspect of our healthcare industry resonates with paradoxical ethical questions about the trade in organs, making viewers more aware of the degree to which we are implicated in this, in part because the legal supply of Canadian donors does not nearly match the demand. This project could encourage Canadians to recycle organs more effectively through a better organized and more efficient cadaveric donation program.
Jack Butler: Genital Embryogenesis and Fatemap
Jack Butler's computer-animated, screen-based Genital Embryogenesis (1976-2005) originates in his biomedical research, which was supported by the Children's Hospital of Winnipeg Research Foundation and first published in the film The Child with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia in 1980. Butler's original research in Winnipeg, based on firsthand observation of aborted embryos and fetuses, ultrasound images, photography and illustration, compelled him to further explore his subject. Seeking to develop a more evocative response to this complex, emotionally charged field, in a more compelling medium, Butler made black-and-white stop-motion photos of Plasticine models. The models present five basic stages of human development in the embryo. At first the pre-genital structure differentiates, first into the female and then the male polar extremes of the possible spectrum of genital anatomies. The images Butler has created for Genital Embryogenesis, based on his research at the Winnipeg Children's Hospital, represent both the normal and anomalous development of genitals in the human embryo.
As representations of genital differentiation with a scientific focus, the photographed models Butler formatted communicate this highly controversial and seldom openly debated area of sexual evolution. Adding texts referencing science, but with poetic and personal twists, Butler seeks to claim a hybrid space between biology and art. As he states, "We never experience our body solely in scientific terms."
This research/art form evolved further into the video/performance art seen in Fatemap: Would You Like to Know What Will Happen? Drawing Pictures of Genital Differentiation on the Skin. For this video, Butler literally inscribed his body with visual cues and information to heighten the viewer's sense of the bodily, physical aspect of the images and research he had come to understand. As the artist comments, "I wanted my audience to engage, for example, with critical issues embedded in the modes of representation: Is this scientific truth? Child pornography? Sensual indulgence or epistemological certainty?"
Fatemap is an edited compilation of these performance presentational documents. Butler writes, "My intention is to broaden the sensuous base for understanding embryogenesis, and by extension all theories of human development, to include the sense of touch and those imaginary routes to knowledge that value and embrace desire and the emotions."
About the artists:
JACK BUTLER is an interdisciplinary artist whose works bridge the visual pleasures of art and the rational demands of science. He has exhibited installations, video projections, computer animations and performance works internationally, and his work is in public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canada. Butler has 30 years' experience as a medical model builder and researcher in human development. In addition to his hybrid art/medicine research practice, Butler is a founding member of the Sanavik Cooperative, Baker Lake, Nunavut, and has worked collaboratively with Inuit artists since 1969. He has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Banff Centre for the Arts, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario and, most recently, as adjunct faculty in the Healthcare Technology and Place programme at the University of Toronto.
MONIR MONIRUZZAMAN is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto. He received his MA from the University of Western Ontario of Canada and MSS and BSS (Honours.) from Jahangirnagar University of Bangladesh. Moniruzzman was full-time faculty at Shahjalal University in Bangladesh in the Department of Anthropology. His research interests include new biomedical technologies, kidney commodification, healthcare services in post-tsunami Thailand, perception of poverty, and educational curricula in Bangladesh. His doctoral research analyzes the contexts and conditions of human organ commodification in Bangladesh, investigating how Bangladeshis participate in the illegal marketing of organs and how sellers experience the lived realities of kidney commodification.
is a Toronto-based artist, curator and cultural producer whose practice explores the social dimensions of technology. She is a founding member of Year Zero One, a collective operating as a network for the dissemination of digital culture. She curates for Subtle Technologies Festival and has presented her work in socially engaged media at conferences including: Dak'Art_Lab at La biennal de l'art Africain Contemporain, Dakar, Senegal; Skinning Our Tools: Designing for Context and Culture at the Banff New Media Institute, Alberta; and Coding Cultures in Campbelltown, Australia.
JOHN K. GRAND is the author of Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998) and Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists (SUNY Press, 2004). His latest book, Dialogues in Diversity: Art from Marginal to Mainstream, will be published this year by Pari Publishing in Italy.
This exhibition is co-presented by InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre and Year Zero One in collaboration with The Subtle Technologies Festival.
Monir Moniruzzaman's Rough Cut installation was created with the assistance of:
advisors: Shelley Wall, Jack Butler and Jim Ruxton
curator: Camille Turner
art director: Philippa Pires
production coordinator: Day Milman
installation designer: Veronica Verkley
video designer: Brahm Rosensweig
photographer and sound recorder: Molla Sagar
programmer: Michael Corrin
sound editor: Jes Singer
set constructors: Mohammad Anvari, Adrienne Baker
voiceover artists: Paramita Nath, Jack Butler, Scott Remborg, Brahm Rosensweig
Rough Cut was supported with seed funding from "Health Care, Technology, and Place: An Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement Team" (Institute of Health Services and Policy Research- Canadian Institutes of Health Research).
Subtle Technologies Festival 2007
in situ: art | body | medicine
May 24- 27, 2007, University of Toronto
Subtle Technologies is a four-day multidisciplinary festival exploring complex and subtle relationships between art and science. The annual international event combines symposia, exhibitions, workshops and performances that juxtapose cutting-edge artistic projects and scientific exploration.
For the 10th annual festival, Subtle Technologies has invited practitioners of arts, sciences and medicines, and those who study their context, historians, ethicists and other critical thinkers, to contemplate how these disciplines can work together and reshape perspectives on the body.