Diagnosing an artistic connection

Lauren Taiclet

In his search for a moment of sheer scientific elation, David Lachman has gone where no man has gone before – every lab on the 16 floors of the Tarry Research and Education Building, and then some, on the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Chicago campus.

“I knocked on the doors and asked, ‘Can you say “Eureka” for me?’,” he says of his lunch hour wanderings. “On one floor, somebody reported my presence to the administrator, and they came out to make sure I was a legal presence on the floor.”

With his medical school identification badge proving that he was legal, Lachman continued his journey.

“I had the full gamut of reactions, from people being very happy and cooperative and glad to help me out to people looking at me like I was from another planet,” he says. “I wasn’t sure when I left one lab and entered another.”

But, in the end, Lachman, a financial analyst at Feinberg, found what he was looking for – three minutes of Archimedes-like exclamations. The result is “I Found It,” a three-minute video installation that is part of “compelling evidence,” an art exhibit that opened April 30 at Feinberg.

The exhibit asks viewers to think about the artistic qualities of medicine, how those qualities are changing, and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in science and art.

“Historically, there’s been a lot of overlap between art and science. Artists were the first people to do dissections and anatomy,” says Lachman, who has a master’s degree in fine art from NU and a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin. “Both scientists and artists are sort of investigators.”

Funded with a grant from Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, the exhibit is the brainchild of Lachman and Dr. Lisa Boggio. Both work in the department of hematology/oncology.

“We’re going to have art in places where you don’t usually have art,” says Lachman.

On the facade of the Morton Building, an 8-by-5 foot projection of Feinberg resident Dr. Simrit Parmar holding a stethoscope to the wall appears after the sun goes down each day. The piece is called “Listen.”

“This is a piece that is supposed to get people thinking about the institutions,” Lachman says. “There’s a lot of institutional things that happen that affect what (doctors) hear or don’t hear.”

Projecting the image on the side of the building had its technical challenges. Much like a surgeon carefully manipulates the body, Lachman spent the weekend before the show’s opening tweaking the video of Parmar. The image is being shot from windows 90 degrees adjacent to the wall, but Lachman’s adjustments trick viewers into thinking the image is being shot straight onto the building.

The technical challenges of the project weren’t limited to “Listen.” For a sound piece called “Diagnosing,” Lachman attached a CD player to the grate between the lights in a Feinberg elevator’s ceiling. From now until May 24, elevator riders will be intermittently surprised by recordings of Lachman’s voice reading medical records with all of the nouns omitted.

“Hopefully, it will make people reflective of the process of diagnosis by using art to change the context (of the diagnosis),” Lachman says, noting that some people may find themselves trying to diagnose the elevator.

Another video installation, “Examine,” will remain in the Galter Health Sciences Library for the duration of the exhibit. Four televisions stacked atop one another feature video of, from top to bottom, changing images of the head, the trunk, the legs and knees, and the feet. The parts are never from the same body.

“Medical science likes to isolate parts of the body, and this piece accepts that isolation but brings the parts of the body back together,” Lachman says. “It’s like those flip books kids have.”

The other two pieces in the exhibit, “I Found It” and “Best/Worst,” were moved to the Method Atrium, a gathering place for students in the medical school, after the opening because, as Lachman explains, “They’re noisy.”

Lachman shot the footage for “Best/Worst” while he sought the eurekas for “I Found It.” Although the idea was to have researchers talk specifically about their best and worst days in science, Lachman says the scientists tended to generalize the question, which he considers a reflection of their professional training.

But the 59 minutes of video footage, which feature stories of pig slaughtering and paper publishing, allowed Lachman to convey the thoughts that compelled him to surprise 16 floors worth of researchers with his video camera in hand.

“Science is not this anonymous, faceless thing,” says Lachman. “We’re trying to get at the subjective qualities of doing this thing that people think is objective.” nyou