Every Body is An Archive is about the body as a medical image. Designed by Valentina Abenavoli, it uses photography, archive material, text and 3D data visualisations to go inside medical imaging. It is based on a long-term engagement with patients, radiographers, radiologists and collaborators in University College London Hospital (and beyond) from 2014 to 2018.
The book is structured around a series of patient re-enactments that recall and re-imagine having a medical scan. These moments of vulnerability and stillness, in which we become medical subjects, are so highly regulated and private that they are rarely exposed to public vision.
The book also uses appropriated photographs from a radiography manual, produced to instruct technicians in correctly positioning patients for an X-ray plate. The re-contextualisation of these photographs undermines their claims to objectivity and reveals something of medicine’s complex relationship to fashion, surrealism, pornography and comedy.
The processes by which a patient becomes a medical image are black-boxed, hidden in a series of algorithmic calculations. Orton trained herself to use professional radiology software and then [mis]used it to reconstruct the body’s outside, a digital sampling of skin, hair, air, water, tissue and blood. These technological images return the solidity of the body while obscuring individual identities. They deliberately resist medical narratives of the body’s transparency and the desire of the medical gaze to go inside.
Throughout the book are scatterings of words, extracted from long conversations between Orton and different patients. None of them had seen their medical images before. The words seem to reflect a longing for a language for the inside of our bodies.
And why does all this matter? Because being a patient increasingly means becoming an image. Every year, almost 80% of people in the UK have a medical scan, and biomedical images are now one of the most important sources of medical data, offering new ways of accessing, disseminating and knowing the body.
The book is accompanied by three short texts: by computer imaging scientist John Hipwell; by visual artist Dr Henrietta Simson; and by Head of the Medical Imaging Centre at UCLH, Prof Steve Halligan.
Edition of 300.