Accepted Paper:

Medicine in Neoslave Geographies   


Cristina Visperas (University of California, San Diego)

Paper short abstract:

This project presents objects reconstructed from photographs of decaying prison walls within which dermatological experiments were performed during the postwar period. It comments on the limits of understanding the intersections between the prison space and the laboratory site.

Paper long abstract:

Titled "Wall Tiles," this visual project is a commentary on the limits of reaching, representing, and preserving repressed histories, taking as its object the site of Albert Kligman's dermatological experiments conducted during the post-war period at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. The project traces the skin's movement from the captive body to the structure that caged it, a structure whose present representations or memory work visualize and materialize a troubling history of medical science from which associated cultural anxieties are nonetheless contained or neutralized. Decommissioned in 1995, Holmesburg's now decaying form has been the subject of Hollywood motion pictures, televised ghost hauntings, artistic preservation projects, and amateur and professional portfolios made available on independent websites. In this project, the researcher's close-up photographs of Holmesburg's crumbling and peeling walls are reconstructed using a 3D printer. Focusing on surfaces that are highly textured and incredibly fragile, the resulting tiles evince what Laura Marks (2000) terms a "haptic visuality" or touch epistemology, which emphasize the always embodied, multisensorial nature of making and viewing images, and the always tactile, sensual quality of memory. These tiles both confound and reach for a greater understanding of the logical and spatial continuities between sites of medical science and sites of what others have termed "neoslavery," while still troubled by their own location within the affective and specular economy for which ruinscapes and ghost stories of Holmesburg are created, circulated, and emptied of structural, political critique.

Panel T019
Science and Technology through Critical Art Practice