Artist's Statement: Library
“Lost and Found” was my second installment in a three-part project completed during my tenure as artist-in-residence at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Observations made during my residency at this biomedical research institute led me to investigate what has been lost in the progress of science and medicine. This work led me to consider the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the earliest known surgical treatise on trauma, from 1,600 BC in Egypt, including remedies for injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations, and tumors. On this papyrus, rational science is not seen as being at odds with magic, and on its verso, magic spells are recorded as legitimate medical treatments.
Fascinated with this papyrus, I created a number of works combining images of magic spells with current scientific information, including the paper on the Human Genome Project (published in 2001), and numerous other writings she observed and traced from the whiteboards around the Broad Institute.
My projects at the Broad, including Library, explores the interconnectedness between knowledge and belief, while bringing forth forgotten ideas—like the magic spells once considered legitimate. What have we lost? What do we still believe? What do we hope to find? These ancient spells—indecipherable to the untrained eye—operate also as formal visual elements, like technical scientific writing today that can sometimes seem at once beautiful and difficult for a layperson to understand.
In a time when science, medicine, and technology are accelerating at a rate unprecedented in human history, I revisit our ancient beliefs and finds exploration as a recurring themefor scientists and artists alike, there is always the quest for discovery, knowledge, creation, and beauty. A quotation from T. S. Eliot’s long poem “Little Gidding” has been laser cut onto a wood panel and displayed, but then a backward version of this same text, lying over the inscription, makes it difficult to read. The same Eliot quotation concludes the paper on the Human Genome Project:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Throughout the exhibit, to point us back toward a cycle of exploration, I presented paradoxical ideas. Scholars believe that in ancient Egypt, when the Edwin Smith papyrus was written, the same content was recopied many times, spanning 200 to 300 years, and this means that the methods of diagnosing and treating patients did not change significantly. Only fifteen years after the sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2003, we’re talking about precision medicine. During recent decades, science, medicine, and technology have been moving at an exponential speed. How do we begin to comprehend a world which moves at this super-fast speed? For me, it was by looking back to see where we started, and in understanding that progress is never a straight line.