About a week ago, a friend received a package in the mail. It was a plain manilla envelope, seemingly innocuous, and it was filled with papers from an insurance company. These papers were to be read, filled out, signed, and returned -- if my friend decided to attempt to get health insurance through this particular company. Going through the various forms carefully, he came to the final one, and the heading on the sheet stood out quite glaringly: "NOTICE AND CONSENT FOR BLOOD TESTING WHICH MAY INCLUDE AIDS VIRUS (HIV) ANTIBODY/ANTIGEN TESTING." It was, not surprisingly, a release form for tests "to determine insurability." and if your tests were to come back positive, not only would it affect your dealings with this company, the test findings would be reported to other insurance companies. Of course, they would not list you as HIV positive, they would merely report that your tests were "unspecifically abnormal" -- a term revealed as code for HIV positive when you learn that results from every other test are reported specifically.
This, unfortunately is just one manifestation of a very complex situation. Hardly a day passes without our having some encounter with a sign or signs of the problems that plague our bodies, ourselves. A provisional list would include impending restrictive legislation such as the rollback of abortion rights, to less "newsworthy" -- but equally criminal -- government inaction such as AIDS drug trials using placebos, the FDA's withholding of certain AIDS drugs, and the continuing relative unavailaibility of safe sex and clean works information for all citizens of the United States. Incidences of police wearing rubber gloves to handle AIDS activists, the lack of a national healthcare system, the extreme overfilling of our hospitals, and discrimination against people with AIDS or even someone who may look a little thin or sickly are other familiar indicators of our bodies' weakened states.
The idea of ourselves (and importantly, certain groups within society) as diseased and beseiged entities has never been more prevalent since the heyday of the bubonic plague. We have become subjected to unprecedented medical observation as we monitored and self-monitored. Watchful for any deterioration or improvement in our physical and psychological states, we subject ourselves to the medical gaze out of necessity, fear, andbecause we are simply at a loss. Even mainstream culture's psychic foils to the body's diseased state, self-help books and physical fitness crazes, encourage and accelerate our obsessive self-observation.
We must accept our current reality and work from there. One way of coping with our fear, revulsion, and pain -- this stuff that has been right in our faces for a while now -- is to do something that helps express the way this crap is affecting us. for some, this means recognizing one possible locus where these narratives of the human body, politics, science, and disease intersect. The area of medicine is such a locus, and what this exhibition attempts is a reflection of the human body as seen through a clinical gaze. It is not unmotivated acceptance of our situation, nor is it a patent endorsement of medical perception: what The Clinic strives toward is the creation of a space for the dissection and dissemination of what life is today -- a transferred exercise in the anatomo-clinical method. These artists evoke such an examination of our being not to merely achieve an aesthetic effect nor to produce cultural objects analogous to a hot pop topic, but rather to begin a reinterpretation of an entrenched cultural narrative. These objects are symbolic reconceptualizations, and The Clinic serves both as provisional model and cultural record of the present state of the body, a state we cannot afford to ignore -- or forget.