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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Will by Reiner Riedler: You're not sad, you're Sick!

'Well, WILL came into existence because of my son, who was very weak when he was born. It was very critical and he had the stay in the neo intensive care station (neonatology). The moment when I first entered the clinic late night was crucial for me. I was confronted with medical machines watching the little bodies in the hospital. Thats why a few moths later I started to deal with this situation…to tell our story in a different way. At that time I didn´t have any idea, where the project would direct me… ultimately it´s about the power of men to go forward, about man and machine.'

That's the premise behind WILL by Reiner Riedler (published by La Fabrica in Madrid). It's a book of images of objects, machines, and models that demonstrate the will to diagnose illness, to treat disease, to extend life. It's a history of medicine in some ways, including elements of what it is to be human, what it is to have a disease, and how those diseases are treated.

So we start with both methods of treatment and diagnosis. The first image shows a trepanated skull. Trepanning involves cutting a hole in the skull and it's one of the earliest forms of surgical intervention; trepannated skulls  have been found that date back to prehistoric times.

Another image shows 'oracle' bones; bones that were cast on the ground to show the cause of illness. So already we are on a metaphysical journey of where illness comes from, and how it's caused. It is believed that trepanning was used to provide an escape route for demons trapped in the brain, while the reading of the 'oracle' bones was something determined by local beliefs and power structures.

Medicine was not always a rational thing in other words. But then perhaps it still isn't. Over the summer I read about the drug Wellbutrin and the way it is used to treat grief. The old idea was that if someone close to you dies (your partner, your child, your parents), you need to grieve. Grief is a natural process.

Not any more in the eyes of the American Psychiatric Association according to this article.

When, though, should the bereaved be medicated? For years, the official handbook of psychiatry, issued by the American Psychiatric Association, advised against diagnosing major depression when the distress is “better accounted for by bereavement.” Such grief, experts said, was better left to nature.
But that may be changing.
In what some prominent critics have called a bonanza for the drug companies, the American Psychiatric Association this month voted to drop the old warning against diagnosing depression in the bereaved, opening the way for more of them to be diagnosed with major depression — and thus, treated with antidepressants.

What this means is that all of a sudden, grief has become a treatable illness, and according to this review of the Happiness Industry, Wellbutrin..

...is supposed to work so effectively that the American Psychiatric Association has ruled that to be unhappy for more than two weeks after the death of another human being can be considered a mental illness.

Which is the kind of way of thinking which makes chucking a bunch of bones on the floor as a diagnosis tool  seem positively sensible.

So embedded into Will are all these different ways of thinking about the body and the soul, about what constitutes sickness, where it is sited, how it is treated.

There is the Enlightment separation of the disease from the body, the 20th century dismemberment of the medical self into a series of body parts, and hints at 21st century creations of new forms of being. So throughout the book we find ideas of personhood that move from the spiritual world, to a mechanistic view of the body, through to the virtual view of the body, and robotics.

It's a very philosophical book then. Tied into that philosophy is a kind of medical subconscious of how we create the body through photography and modelling.

Will is about who we are. It's a visual book. The models and machinery that Riedler photographs are shot isolated against black backgrounds. The information comes at the back of the book. I always find that annoying because it means you have to flick from one page to the other - and it's never easy. But that's just me. I like things obvious.

But that aside, Will is a fascinating study of the representations of diagnosis and treatment of the body over the years, a study that includes ideas of what it is to be human.

In that sense, it's part of the contemporary obsession with mortality and our existence on this planet that goes from the plethora of abstract black and white investigations of our place on this elemental earth to Murray Ballard's investigation into Cryogenics, The Prospect of Immortality.

Buy Will Here.

See more books published by Fabrica  here. 

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