August 1, 2017 – October 1, 2017

Opening Reception: August 1, 2017 from 5:30PM – 7:00PM. This reception is free and open to the public.

This exhibition is presented as a culmination of Carrie Olivia Adams six-month residency at the International Museum of Surgical Science. The IMSS Artist Residency Program provides artists with extended and in-depth access to artifacts from its collection, working space within the Museum, and support to present exhibitions that introduce additional perspectives to the institutional depiction of medical history. As artistic practice occupies an increasingly pluralistic field, The International Museum of Surgical Science believes that artists are uniquely equipped to extrapolate on Museum collections in innovative ways. Artists-in-Residence present a capstone exhibition at the end of their residency. 

Read About the Work in this Exhibition:

Artist Statement: “A Willing Hostage” Video Installation

In collaboration with dancer-choreographer Edson Cabrera and musician Joseph Clayton Mills, “A Willing Hostage” adapts my book Operating Theater as an experimental dance performance piece.

Written as a poem-play in five acts, Operating Theater, which was published by Noctuary Press in July 2015, combines found-text from Victorian medical and surgery reference books with my own compositions, and it presents the text in conversation with black-and-white radiographs that appear throughout the book. Ryo Yamaguchi, writing in the Michigan Quarterly Review, describes Operating Theater as “a haunting drama of the liminality of the body,” and it’s precisely the poetry’s relationship to—and interrogation of—the body, which immediately lends itself to a physical, and embodied, adaptation. Poetry on the page is a flat medium, but music and dance can change this into something completely new, by giving motion to emotion—mass, texture, heft, gravity, and dimension.

“A Willing Hostage” is not only an investigation of the body—and the body of the other—but also a play of boundaries: of self and other involved in dialogue, between doctor and patient, between the body and the knife, between reflection and shadow, and between the self and the mind. However, within the poem-space, these are boundaries that cannot be felt, touched, grazed, graced, traced, or even outlined. They are disembodied questions of the body until altered and amplified by the incorporation of other senses and disciplines.

Dance has frequently been used to teach poetry, by explicating its narrative and physicalizing it. By making it tangible, dance makes the poem approachable; one can put her foot into the poem space. And, of course, in return, different styles of dance have their own vocabulary of movement. There is often an act of translation in dance—translating music into image and words to translate back into image and movement and sensation. The result is a work that removes the limits of each to create something new—its own body with its own inflection and reflection.

This collaboration includes an original score by Mills, original choreography by Cabrera performed along with Jamie Corliss and Rodolfo Sanchez Sarracino, in addition to my own voice and text. The videography is by Curtis Matke.

Artist Statement: Artist Book Installation

My poems often originate in these serendipitous sources—overheard conversation lost and found text, photographs, and illustrations stumbled upon and turned to itches in the mind. My third and most recent book, “Operating Theater,” began after I discovered boxes of medical teaching slides at an industrial antique store. The slides showed cross-sections of brains and x-rays of lungs and were intended to teach the diagnosis of cancers and tumors. But I saw them and immediately saw something else as well—an unsettling irony. These were intimate pictures of strangers, depicting their most hidden and private selves. And yet, if that had been your lung, the folds of your mind, would you have recognized them as your own? To write the poems beside them, I turned to works such as “A Manual of Operative Surgery” by Sir Frederick Treves (1909), “The Functions of the Brain” by David Ferrier (1876), and “A Manual of Surgical Treatment” by Sir William Watson Cheyne (1912) in order to begin to piece together the body, investigating as I wrote, borrowing and remaking. And the more I read, the more I found myself surrendering my curiosity to medical history, delighting in its balance between the visceral and the theoretical, between societal service and investigation, a tension I saw echoed in my own work.

It’s a path that has led me to the Museum. While Operating Theater was focused on surgical technique and the patient, I feel like there was a crucial perspective that the work overlooked or could not fit in. And that perspective is of the physician and the nurse; it is one of healing. In my research, I sought to change this—to look down on the table from above, rather than up into the surgical lights.

And so, through the shelves of the Museum’s vast library, I chased  after the specters of pioneering women and the medical worlds they encountered and conquered, in particular, Mary Harris Thompson (1829–95), founder of the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children and the Woman’s Hospital Medical College; Sarah Hackett Stevenson (1841–1909), graduate of the College and the first female member of the AMA; and Alice Magaw (1860–1928), graduate of the College’s sister nursing school and nicknamed the “mother of anesthesia,” her portrait hangs in the Museum. Of course, the information I uncovered about them is as notable as the books of the time that ignore their existence as women in the field.

From this, I fashioned my own works, highlighting the overlooked voices and creating new ones through a series of artist books that draw from and comment upon the many tomes that I encountered. Among the things that struck me most is how many of the medical books for women in the decades immediately after the Civil War read much more like lifestyle guides or etiquette books than actual guides to health. During this time, the idea of preventive medicine—as compared to responsive medical treatment—grew significantly, and medicine’s connection with societal well-being became more intertwined. This, of course, is a good thing, but with it came a lot of advice, well meaning in its prescription, but not always thoughtfully contextualized. Here, I offer my own series of guidebooks: A Guide for Women, A Guide for Men Who Sit beside Women, A Guide for Surgical Practice, as well as an examination book and a guide to anesthesia, drawn from the writings of Alice Magaw, called The Pain Reliever.

Carrie Olivia Adams (Spring 2017 Resident) lives in Chicago, where she is the communications specialist for the American Medical Association Foundation and the poetry editor for the small press Black Ocean. She is the author of “Operating Theater” (Noctuary Press 2015), “Forty-One Jane Doe’s” (book and companion DVD, Ahsahta 2013), and “Intervening Absence” (Ahsahta 2009) as well as the chapbooks “Grapple” (above/ground press 2017), “Overture in the Key of F” (above/ground press 2013), and “A Useless Window” (Black Ocean 2006). She has an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College and a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Georgia.

This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.