Artist-in-Residence Capstone Exhibition at the International Museum of Surgical Science

March 12 – July 11th, 2021

Breathe, Fibres of Papers Past is a solo exhibition by Fall 2020 Artist-in-Residence Kioto Aoki constructed in conversation with the collections of the International Museum of Surgical Science. The exhibition intertwines the histories of medical imaging, anatomy, physiology, the Museum’s origin and physical architecture through the technological studies and processes of analogue photography. Adjacent explorations of the physicality of the body and the photographic image proposes Aoki’s work as a sinew that negotiates the poetic ambiguities of embodied time – whilst considering the notion of fibre in biological, material, conceptual and historical contexts. 

Diamond Tin Series – Photographs of the Countiss Mansion created with handmade pinhole camera. Gelatin silver print.

Kioto Aoki is a visual artist and educator using the material specificity of the analogue image and image-making process to explore modes of perception as a politics of vision. Her photographic work oscillates between the still and the moving image, attentive to the apparatus of the human eye and the camera; while installation and artist book works engage mechanisms of structural tangibility and site-specificity. Forming a rhetoric of nuanced quietude, her practice considers the intimacies of vision through the experience of sight from inception through presentation. 

Image: Kioto Aoki

Kioto is also a musician, descending from an okiya (geisha house) performing arts family in Tokyo –Toyoakimoto– with roots dating back to the Edo period. Studying under her Tokyo-born father, Kioto is carrying on the artistic family lineage in Chicago, playing in both traditional and contemporary musical contexts. She specializes in Japanese traditional music, playing taiko, tsuzumi, and shamisen and has been performing professionally since age 7. Kioto is active within the experimental and creative music communities in Chicago and the Bay Area and leads Tsukasa Taiko, the Japanese drumming department at Asian Improv aRts Midwest. 

Sectional cyanotypes created from original architectural drawings of the Countiss Mansion from 1916.

She has exhibited in Chicago, Berlin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Japan. Her work is held in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Library. Musical projects include Yoko Ono’s SKYLANDING, Tatsu Aoki’s The MIYUMI Project, The Reduction Ensemble, and the Taiko Legacy / Reduction series at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Kioto is also a multi-year Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprentice Program Awardee from the Illinois Arts Council. Curatorial projects include the ongoing Chicago Obihiro Exchange Project, an initiative to cultivate international dialogue between contemporary artists from the Tokachi Region in Japan and Chicago. 

LEFT: Diamond Tin Series – Photographs of the Countiss Mansion created with handmade pinhole camera. Gelatin silver prints.
RIGHT:  Installation view of Signature Bun series

“As a photographer and filmmaker, my work explores the material specificity of the analogue image and image-making process to explore different modes of perception. Accentuating the nuances of time, space, form, light and movement, my practice calls for a return to the fundamental. A return to an awareness of our surroundings as a politics of vision. As humans we feel light, experience space, see form, sense time and understand movement and it all exists within the mundane. My work embraces this universality of the mundane, through the idiosyncrasies of conceptual photography and experimental cinema.”

-Kioto Aoki, Artist Statement

Photogram on x-ray film.

“My work is all about the body and the relationship between my body and the lens. It hinges as much on the physical process as it does the visual composition. As photographer and filmmaker, I often engage the visual plane with my hands and feet. As maker, I am interested in the self-sufficient cycle of the artist being simultaneously in front of and behind the lens. The body is also as a mechanism for which the viewer can access my work. The hand is my hand but also your hand and all of humankind’s hand; as is the foot. The dancing figure is my body but it could be anyone else moving just the same.”

-Kioto Aoki, Residency Statement of Intent

Image: Kioto Aoki

The International Museum of Surgical Science is housed in a four-story landmarked Chicago mansion built in 1917 for socialite and philanthropist Eleanor Robinson Countiss as a family home. The design for the mansion was inspired by the Le Petit Trianon chateau on the grounds of Versailles completed in 1770, which Eleanor had visited during her travels to Europe. The fortune to fund the construction of the home was provided by her father, John Kelly Robinson, an executive at The Diamond Match Company. The Diamond Match Company was founded by Eleanor’s grandfather George Barber in Ohio and became the largest match manufacturer in the late 19th century.

The mansion was later acquired from the family in the early 1950s by the International College of Surgeons (ICS) founded in 1935 by surgeon Dr. Max Thorek and headquartered next door. The goal of the ICS was to promote a global exchange of surgical knowledge. Initially conceived as the ICS Hall of Fame, the museum eventually expanded to become a repository for its growing collection of historically significant surgical instrumentation, artworks and manuscripts from surgeons, collectors and institutions.

Together with Dr. Solomon Greenspahn, Dr. Thorek founded the American Hospital primarily to support low-income patients in 1917 – the same year the Countiss Mansion was completed. His professional endeavors are chronicled in his autobiography, A Surgeon’s World. Dr. Thorek was also an accomplished photographer, participating in photography salons worldwide. He published two photography books, Creative Camera Art (1937) and Camera Art as a Means of Self-Expression (1947), detailing the technical aspects of the paper negative process and aesthetic concerns of the Pictorialist photographer.

Breathe, Fibres of Papers Past begins with an homage to these two historical narratives and continues throughout the four floors of the museum. The exhibition responds to these intertwined histories by engaging objects from the museum’s permanent collection, which include original blueprints of the mansion and a variety of medicinal and photographic material. By pulling together varied physical and textual sources, Aoki reveals the layered architectural, historical, and haptic relationships that compose a place.

Read more about Kioto and her work at

About the Residency Program: 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 and introduce novel perspectives to the institutional depiction of medical history. The IMSS Artist Residency Program provides working artists with:

  • Access to the Museum’s extensive collections and archive
  • Visibility on the Museum’s website and social media channels
  • A month-long capstone Solo Exhibition (or equivalent presentation) at the Museum

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