Medical Imaging and Modern Art: Encounters over a Virtual Body

Special report: “Psychoanalysis, the Body and Society”
By Rémy Potier

Modern art offers us a singular and revealing perspective on the body and the way it is experienced today. Based on this interest in the body, the latter's virtualization has also become a source of artistic inspiration. To present this virtual body, artists sometimes use images produced by medical imaging technologies. The actualization of the virtual body poses a question for them. The images of the body produced by medicine are thus integrated into their artistic works. In an era of sophisticated technological equipment, this encounter between art and medicine raises the question of the position of these images in our culture and the way in which they illustrate our relationship to otherness and to death. Today, medical imaging provides one of the key illustrations of the body, seen at its most intimate. This technology is the inescapable medium through which we imagine our living body, a body that is subject to illness and doomed to death. It is therefore useful to look at contemporary art and what it tells us about the subject’s encounter with medical imaging. The cultural discontent of today is closely related to our immersion in the (virtual) image, while the access to and use of these technologies is becoming increasingly widespread and extends far beyond the field of healthcare. Since the 20th century, art has been trying to show the aspects of the body that these techniques have allowed us to see, as they are gradually seeping into our culture one after another, and ultimately modify our relationship to the body and its representation. Xrays, close-ups, macrophotography—each of these have been enlisted in the service of art. This detour through art can teach us a great deal, helping us see the extent to which looking at these images confounds and challenges the very idea of representation.

  • psychoanalysis
  • medical imaging
  • contemporary art
  • culture
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