From the exhibition 'R Block'


R BLOCK



When is an X-Ray a portrait? When is a specimen an artwork? From grainy portraits to hypersaturated colours, Karl Grimes's work has consistently sought to explore new perspectives on medical and scientific matters. Both Still Life (1997) and Stuffed Histories (1998), in distinctive ways, dealt with issues of identification and classification in medical and science history display. Central to all his work is the role of technology, specifically photography, as a means to mediate our worlds, whether those of science, nature or tourism.

His perspective invites us to explore the function of photography in reasserting old myths and in establishing new ones. In his emphasis on the camera as a scientific tool for documenting human and other natures, he foregrounds the critical role of lens-based imaging for re-imagining all natures - for apprehending/comprehending pathology, criminal proclivities and forensic evidence. pathology, criminal proclivities and forensic evidence. In these sombre portraits in abandoned research files from R Block in upstate New York, the figures and faces of these dark celebrities point to the power of the look to scrutinise and penetrate, making them both subject and object in the process of classification. The attire, grooming and appearance - an ornamental pin decorates one of the sitter's ties - the gestures and the pose - all suggest a significant occasion. All highlight the codes of the formal portrait, here performed for a medical lens as 'best practice' models of disease. Used for research purposes and later abandoned, Grimes reworks their images in a different age and context and engages us in narratives of science history.

In this revision, he unsettles the safety of the representational regime and challenges the norms and neutrality of the medical and forensic gaze. "Medical display is designed on scientific principles as a pragmatic map (atlas) and aid for health-care professionals. In reality, however, it too depends upon a rhetoric that can be read as producing not only information about disease, but also about its own institutional and epistemic pathology. The sciences, more than any other human institution, seek to be presented as ordered, rational, and developing in a dynamic and appropriate way, yet the rhetoric of medical imaging produces narratives of success and maps of conquest, which reinsert science into the imaginary universe of the soap opera and imperial saga." Peter Wollen in Lynn Cooke and Peter Wollen (eds.), Visual Display: Culture beyond Appearances, Dia Center for the Arts, 1995.

Stephanie McBride

Article reproduced from CIRCA 96, Summer 2001, pp. 30-33.

CIRCA



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