Abnormal Results part 2
The second part of Abnormal Results ' cycle
Part one and artist statement under this link: Art and cancer; contemporary drawings of Maess Anand inspired by medical imaging
In her series Abnormal Results, Polish artist Maess Anand draws upon cancer databases, microscopic views, histopathology images, Kaplan-Meier curves, 2D visualization software and 3D modeling software to create an image of cancer that straddles the boundary between science and art. The result is an explosive splatter of cells and tissue intersected by the occasional red lines of IV tubes pumping Adriamycin, the chemotherapy drug known as the Red Devil. Some of the drawings also contain data visualizations of tweets and retweets from those experiencing the disease, bringing to life what Paul Rabinow calls a “biosocial space,” a social community created by shared illness. Through tracing the connectivity and communications of those with breast cancer, Anand considers the ways in which cancer, while experienced in an individual body, can be thought of as a digital media event.
Yet she is careful to emphasize that neither the social web, nor the sprawling visualizations of cancer tissue, are meant to be seen as metaphors. In her 1978 book Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag similarly rejected the use of metaphors to explain cancer as a disease that afflicts people who repress their passion —“cancer personality,” as it was known in pop science at the time. Anand argues that in today’s popular analogies, breast cancer is often glamorized with pink ribbons, while lung cancer is seen as ugly, its causes blamed entirely on the victim.
While rejecting such pop mythology, Anand is not blind to the socio-political dimensions of biology. In one of her pieces, she sketches the cancer cells known as HeLa, taken from African American tobacco farmer Henrietta Lacks in 1951 without her knowledge or consent. In her current work, Anand engages the art of Polish sculptor and Holocaust survivor Alina Szapocznikow, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1968. While Szapocznikow’s sculptures visualize only what was visible on the surface of her body, Anand is able to use digital tools to see cancer on a cellular level, exploring the mysterious, interior depths of what makes us human.
Written by Shimrit Lee PhD, writer and educator based in Brooklyn.