An Infinite Love
- First working session, January 22nd, 2021
Summary texts An Infinite Love, session 1 – Barbara Polla
Barbara Polla is a medical doctor and a researcher, a galerist and a curator, a writer and a poet, a mother of four, a former Member of the Swiss Parliament and she loves to organize projects, to work in collaboration and to promote ideas. Together with Per Hüttner, she is the initiator of An Infinite Love.
Since the beginning of my medical practice, in particular in intensive care, I have always been impressed by the load of emotions, and the hidden sadism and sexuality that I could observe in our medical gestures. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and when one of my daughters decided to become a surgeon, we often discuss together what happens in the operation room. I used to say that surgeons are sadists who have “put their sadism to good use” – I mean, rather than hurting people, they cure them – or may be they do both in the same gesture?
From the side of my artistic activities, I have been working a few years with the self-named “Super-masochist” Bob Flanagan. Bob Flanagan, born in the fifties, suffered cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that at that time would usually kill most patients in their twenties. Bob Flanagan lived to be over 40 years. He turned his suffering into pleasure and made art and performances based on it. No one else I know than Bob Flanagan has with such precision, intelligence and sensitivity described the mechanisms that suffering of one person induce in its surroundings and in relationships. He explains that his parents loved him all the more when he was severely ill. In the hospital, the sicker he was, the more the doctors and nurses would take care of him and care about him. Following the experience of multiple needles and tubes penetrating his body, he started to impose similar suffering to himself, going as far as nailing his penis on a wood table in public performances. Many men would faint – and come back the next day. I have translated in French and published a text by Bob Flanagan, a kind of dictionary of his suffering. The English text has never been published. I suggest that publishing the English text could well be an important goal for our project.
I am also very interested in the aesthetics of the body, in the beauties of its forms and the resulting function. I believe that being a doctor is often called an art also because the doctor’s job is to restore the beauty of a functioning body.
I have expressed this fascination for the beauty of the inside in a poetic prose recently published in French, entitled Love Journey. Here is a relevant part of it.
« Pendant les moments de répit, pendant qu’Ada tétait, pendant ces moments bénis où j’étais en mesure de penser, je pensais alors au corps de mes patients. Le corps d’Ada, entre mes bras, contenait tout, comme ceux de mes patients : les alvéoles pulmonaires, les glomérules rénaux, les circonvolutions cérébrales. Alvéoles, glomérules, ciselés, raffinés, d’une beauté de fleurs et de fontaines à la fois. Plus tard, par goût esthétique, je ferai de la néphrologie, puis de la pneumologie. La découverte du corps humain intérieur et de ses trésors parallèlement esthétiques et fonctionnels m’aura appris la beauté du lien entre forme et fonction bien avant Louis Sullivan. Comment faire pour multiplier les surfaces de contact entre l’extérieur et l’intérieur, entre le dedans et le dehors ? Le corps humain inventa les alvéoles et les glomérules. Le corps humain, avant le corps urbain. Voilà à quoi je réfléchissais avec ce minuscule corps déjà parfait entre mes bras, et moi dans les bras de l’Immeuble Clarté.
Dix ans plus tard, cet émerveillement esthétique me conduira à ouvrir une galerie. Souvent, on me demandera : mais pourquoi donc as-tu passé de la médecine et l’art ? Quels liens, entre l’une et l’autre ?
Ces liens, au nombre de trois, se sont révélés à moi au cours de cette traversée solitaire à deux.
D’abord, le corps. Le corps parfait que je tenais entre mes bras comme le corps malade de mes patients. Le corps que j’aime. Il faut aimer le corps pour vouloir le comprendre, l’analyser, le pénétrer, l’opérer, le réparer, le soigner. Il faut en voir les beautés jusqu’au fond de ses entrailles, de ses sécrétions, de ses circonvolutions. Je le trouvais beaux dans tous ses états. Le corps depuis la nuit des temps sujet de toute exploration, de toute recherche, de toute représentation artistiques.
Ensuite, la mort. C’est souvent dans l’amour le plus fou que la panique de mort est la plus proche. Comme elle l’est dans toute traversée, comme une ombre. Epée de Damoclès. Dans toute consultation, toute prescription, dans tout geste médical, à chaque moment de cette co-présence particulière qui se crée entre malade et médecin, la mort est là, elle se penche par-dessus nos épaules, elle regarde notre ordonnancier, elle surveille nos gestes, nos erreurs toujours possibles. Elle est là. Comme l’écrit Pierre Corbaz dans La Médecine comme une Tauromachie : « L’éthique médicale, celle qui m’intéresse, naît dans l’inconfort ressenti par l’artisan du soin. C’est alors que les règles universelles de la science, de la morale, de la loi s’estompent pour se centrer sur le visage du patient unique, en souffrance et menacé dans son existence même. » Combien de fois, alors, ne me relevai-je pas la nuit, non seulement dans l’espoir qu’Ada veuille bien téter encore, mais aussi dans l’angoisse que la mort ne se soit invitée auprès de son berceau comme elle s’invitait toujours, à l’hôpital, dans les chambres de soins, au pied du lit des patients en souffrance – dans l’angoisse qu’Ada ne se soit étouffée, peut-être ? Dans l’art, c’est à la mort, omniprésente, que les artistes s’adressent. Comme le dit si bien Pascal Quignard, « Les artistes sont les meurtriers de la mort ». Ou René Char : « Face à la mort nous n’avons qu’une ressource, faire de l’art avant elle. » En réalité, le glissement de l’art du médecin à celui de l’artiste, de l’art de réparation à l’art de création, est de l’ordre de l’évidence.
Enfin, l’esthétique. Tout corps qui fonctionne recèle une beauté intérieure éblouissante. L’esthétique miraculeuse du corps intérieur. Le cœur qui bat et qui, à chaque pulsation, pompe le sang jusqu’aux extrémités de ce petit corps, la bouche qui avale, l’estomac qui se remplit, l’intestin qui se vide. Cette beauté que le médecin a la chance de voir au-delà des parois de verre de la maison corps. Le rose nacré des bronches, le pourpre du sang, le jaune pur de la bile, l’or de l’urine. La beauté des fèces même, leur moulage ou leur fluidité. La beauté sauvera le monde. Les artistes, au-delà des concepts, toujours, mettent de la beauté dans leurs créations, y compris dans les plus monstrueuses d’entre elles. La beauté intérieure, de l’art comme du corps, au-delà des apparences. »
It is important to me that the issues of sadism and of aesthetical pleasure will finally get introduced into the medical curriculum.
It is important to me to provide a relief from guilt that so many young doctors resent when they first realize the pleasure they take in front of a suffering other.
It is important to me to verbalize these concepts, for myself, for my surgeon daughter, for all therapists and for a better world.
At a very personal level, is will be a great satisfaction to be able to work out these concepts together with my surgeon daughter (Roxane Varone is my daughter). It is a fascinating step in a mother-daughter relationship to be able at a certain point to interact as two women, two workers, two intellectuals, two poets, two art-lovers. The possibility to further deepen this project and to bring it to concrete outcomes in collaboration with my daughter will be an incredible (but not a required) stimulus for further studies, interactions, writings, exhibitions, publications and teaching.
An Infinite Love, session 1 – Per Hüttner
Per Hüttner is an artist and the director of VISION FORUM.
As an artist, my practice is about creating things collectively and curating events. In Sweden I was asked to work towards an increase in the quality of education in art at Linköpings universitet and to make their program more international. Vision Forum was born from this process and became independent from the university in 2015.
With VISION FORUM, I have been working with very different people, people as different as possible. The bigger the differences, the more we can learn from each other and therefore achieve. However, there needs to be at least one shared interest or common shared goal in the group. If there is such a goal, one can bring together very different people relatively easily. This approach stands in stark contrast to the way that for instance social media works. Wherever in the world, reaching out in the social media you will meet the same people with the same background and same values as yourself. My view is that it is through friction that we learn most efficiently. One learns by being with different people. It is love to set and highlight the common ground together. A labor of love. And this approach allows one to do things you cannot easily do using traditional methods.
There are many things that interest me about our project, such as the thoughts that remain un-outspoken in hospitals, the feelings and pulsions that are rarely expressed. There are taboos, hidden agendas and events that take place out of visibility in secrecy. Fantasies that remain secrets in doctors’, patients’ and everybody else’s minds about naked bodies and penetrations of hands, fingers and scalpels in different parts of different bodies.
I will outline some questions, reflections force fields that we can use in our process or we can choose to ignore. They are openings, invitations, cracks in walls or small matchboxes in the dark – that we can use to highlight aspects of our ‘theme’ or not. I will approach healing, surgery and love.
It is important to Barbara and myself, that our point of view is not more important than yours. We only have a starting point and the project and those of us, you who engage with it should shape the trajectory together. So, what I say should be considered as possible inspirations and nothing else.
We live in a time and society that is defined by rationalism, technology, science and consumerism. A central question becomes in such a society: How to address non – material aspects of life, such as love or spirituality. What interests me most in my practice as an artist relates to how ontologies are created, changed and maintained.
We all know, that what is secret or taboo and what is out in the open are fundamental in the formation of culture and ontologies. In my work I focus on how the values that are most important to us, also remains unknown to us – what Daniel Everett calls “Dark Matter of the Mind.” Or phrased differently, it is not until we meet a culture that is sufficiently different from our own, that we become aware of our own values. It was by travelling over 50 times in China that it became clear to me how we in the west define things as good and bad, happy and sad, black and white etc…
So how do ontologies influence processes of healing?
¥ - In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the focus is on balance. (As we will see, the metaphors are also very different). The body is considered to be able to heal itself. If it cannot, it is because there is imbalance or a blockage to the flow of energy. The role of medicine is to re-establish balance and to make sure that the energy flows freely. Also, one does not cut in TCM, because it is believed that the qi, life energy or the soul leaks out.
¥ In most shamanistic societies, it is believed that disease is either a curse or that something bad has happened to one’s spirit animal. Disease is connected to the dead, to other worlds that exist around and yet remain invisible to us in our every day. The shaman works to relieve the curse, to re-establish a healthy relationship to the other worldly creatures by visiting them, communicating with them, killing them or scaring them away.
Whether we believe any of this or not, thinking about how healers in other ontologies conceptualize their practice highlights how we see disease, healing and ourselves in the west. I am NOT creating a dichotomy between western thinking and other thinking. I merely want us to try and become aware of the blind spots in our own ontology.
Here the metaphors become important. In the West, we often talk about viruses and bacteria as aggressors. We believe that the medicine or doctor will heal us by defeating this aggressor for us. This obviously works. But does it have to be the only way?
To give another example, western medicine studies the placebo effect. A colleague who is involved in research related to placebo says that it influences up to 70% per cent of the effect (e.g. in anti-depressants.) Also it has been proven that care and love also improves the efficiency of the healing process a great deal. So we know a lot about how the body works, but there are many unknowns. It is primarily the unknowns that interest me. How can they be used to find new understanding of life? (To improve the quality of our lives?)
In European ontology we unconsciously polarize the world around us. One of these polarizing processes lies in making distinction between subject and object. What does this separation entail? It must certainly play a role how we look at love. (The object of our love, the object of desire.) In surgery, the subject is presented as an object through a hole in a surgical blanket.
Traditionally we see ourselves as subjects and the things around us as objects. Children make drawings representing themselves: “This is me this is my house.” It is also the foundation of consumerism, where each subject is enticed to desire the objects created by the market.
But when we move a little further afield things start to become less clear: The air that we all breathe is shared and the oxygen atoms becomes integrated into our bodies. The oxygen created outside these windows by the trees, becomes a part of me, just like they use the co2 that I produce, in order to grow.
Also, something similar happens with ideas. Last week I read a book that changed the way I see life. Yesterday I shared some of these ideas with some friends and now they are slowly part of them and their friends.
Also, obviously the food we ate day before yesterday is now a part of our bodies. I am quite literally the food that I have eaten. The proteins in the fish, meat and soya I eat become part of my muscles. The boundaries between subject and object still remain relatively clear. But the food that I eat also feeds the microbiota (the microbes that we live in symbiosis with) in my body. They help my body not only to digest the food but also for my brain and gut to communicate, they affect my mood, how I act etc. Now it becomes really hard to make a distinction between me (subject) and the microbes (object). It is hard to make a distinction between what is inside and what is outside.
There seems to be great potential in reversing ideas of subject object and by blurring the boundaries between the two.
Being an artist, I want to look at how artists have approached the problem. I will therefore devote a part of this talk to Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988), whose work focused on the relationship between subject and object. We will look at some of the work she made and also “restage” or “re-create” some of the “performances “she created.
This is what Lygia Clark did. She rethought the relationship between the subject and the object, the inside and the outside.
So if inside and outside are the same, if subject and object can merge, where does that leave surgery? Does it mean that surgery is more of a folding process? Is it more like a version of eating, digesting and shitting? Or like carrying a child in one’s interior? Is surgery an act of love, where one enters into the body in a similar way as food or as in the sexual act – another kind of loving penetration?
Life needs to protect itself from intruders. All creatures are on constant hunt for energy. That is why there is a barrier between inside and outside. To protect the ‘goodies’ which are inside. We call it homeostasis. TCM considers homeostasis sacred and does not cut the body.
So if surgery can penetrate and sustain life, does it make it an act of love? Can something so violent as a scalpel cutting skin, muscle, ligaments and even bones be an act of love? It sounds more like ‘peace-keeping forces’ and other rhetorical gymnastics that are used to defend acts that cannot really be defended. Or?
In order to understand if we can merge violence and love, we could look at the potential that love has. When we fall in love, our world shrinks and everything revolves around the object of our love. We worry that our love is not requited. We fear rejection. But the doctor or the surgeon’s love is very different, isn’t it? The doctor’s love is not necessarily towards the individual patient. It is directed towards the wellbeing of all mankind. Maybe even beyond men and women. But how can a love reach beyond the boundaries humanity?
Maybe the answer can be found in the relationship between the shaman and in the spirit animal. Here humans are not separated from nature. Instead, we are an integrated part of the ecosystem, which means that there is a respect for the plants, animals, rivers, mountains, etc. that surround us. Maybe one could even say that this is a form of love?
In my experiences with psychedelics, I have learned to feel a very different love. Something that I could call an infinite love: a love that has no object, no beginning and no end. It is a love for what I would like to call the ‘life principle’ itself. I love my own life and more importantly, I love and respect all other life around me. It makes sense, because the shaman protects life and the life principle. I think that the surgeon’s love is very similar to this. This is logical since the doctor’s practice has been born from the shaman.
An important part of this process also lies in accepting one’s own mortality and try very hard not to fear death (or at least come to term with this fear). But whether we can learn to accept death is a different question for another project.
An Infinite Love, session 1 – Maja Perret-Catipovic
Maja Perret-Catipovic is a psychologist, psychotherapist FSP and a psychoanalyst. She is the Head of “Centre médico-pédagogique”, Geneva, Switzerland.
As a psychoanalyst, I am interested in the developments of psychoanalysis in other fields than medicine and/or psychology. Indeed, in medicine, as well as in psychology, psychoanalysis is more and more put aside, just because it is not high-tech, not evidence-based, and as it as nothing to do, at first sight with economics and cost-efficiency. In this situation, I am aiming to share ideas with people I don’t know, who are not part of the medical or psychological field, to share the pleasure to think. But psychoanalysis is an essential step in the progress of understanding humanity, along with two other essential discoveries: Copernicus who stipulated that the Earth is turning around the sun; Darwin who stated that we, as humans, share this world with other beings; and Freud who explains that we are not the master of our own “house”. So today, I talk more often about psychoanalysis with lawyers than with doctors – and the lawyers tell me—but why isn’t psychoanalysis taught in law school? We could use it so well in our practice!
Also, we have to think about what we call the non-specific effects leading to healing. The fact that 70% of the positive response to anti-depressants is due to a placebo effect, is parallel to the work being done therapists in relationship to their patients. To be able to use this power, is actually an important part of what makes you a good therapist. Part of it is the way you integrate your own drives, sadism included, in the understanding of yourself, hence in the relationship with your patient.
Bertrand Cramer, an important child psychiatrist noticed how a lot of parents become completely exhausted by having small children who drive them crazy. When he was trying to understand the complex relationships between mother and child he finally realized that mothers are often afraid by their own desire to hurt their children, to “throw them out of the window” – a desire that they don’t dare to confess to anybody, often not even to themselves. So strong is the social pressure to be a “good mother”. Some mothers even stay far from their children and admit that they don’t dare to take them in their arms because for fear of hurting or even killing them.
It appears thus mandatory to help people to integrate their rejection, their desire to hurt and to kill, their sadistic tendencies – with the concept that if the more conscious you are about these negative feelings, the easier it becomes to overcome, to get rid of these feelings. Once expressed, they fade away.
Munchhausen’s disease is a psychiatric condition, which is also very interesting to study in the context of “An Infinite Love”. This condition makes people poison themselves or otherwise harm themselves so that they then can go to the doctor and ask for help. Their great reward lies in the fact that the doctor will not be able to cure them, as they will continue to injure themselves in any chosen way, thus constantly getting confirmation that nobody – other than themselves – can help them.
Munchhausen’s disease has also something to do with certain mothers who love their child too much, so much that they don’t sleep with their husband any more, they don’t go to work anymore, they actually act out their sadistic tendencies. Then they claim that they sacrificed themselves and request a lot of compensation in return from those they have tormented. Often also, these mothers may do something hurtful to the child – then go to the doctor with their child, and as in Munchhausen’s syndrome, take their reward from the inability of the doctor to solve the problem they are hiding and cultivating. Again, the claim is: “look what I sacrificed; I have to get something back”. These mothers indefinitely want to keep the child, want to be and remain the only important person in the life of their child. But in order to be an adequate mother, mothers have to lose the illusion to be the only valuable person for their child. Too much love (if this is love) is actually very detrimental to the child, who becomes incapable of becoming an independent person, an adult who is able to assume frustration.
We actually have, all of us, some sadistic tendency. But it is very difficult to talk about. However, if we manage that, and we are able to talk about it, the act of verbalizing makes us better people and better partners. It is astonishing, is that these processes and behaviors that are so common are never included in medical teaching curriculums: medical training does not include any of that.
Furthermore, in reality we are both sadistic and masochist, we are both the subject and the object. I am deeply involved in prevention of teenage suicide – and this question of subject and object is very prominent in the context of suicide, i.e., self-murder: when you try to murder yourself, are you your own subject or your object? We will need to further explore these questions of subject vs. object and sadism vs. masochism.
An Infinite Love, session 1 – Roxane Varone
Roxane Varone is a surgeon, currently at Hôpital de Sion, in Switzerland.
My first motivation to participate in this project lies in that I am convinced that being aware of our feelings, “pulsions”, in general, makes us better persons.
I would like that the group involves more surgeons, because if I feel that it is relatively easy for me to speak about the issues of sadism in our practice with medical doctors or psychiatrists. I feel it more difficult with my peer surgeons, they would be less inclined to enter such a conversation.
The vocabulary used in surgery conveys a lot of sexual innuendos and jokes, during operations, but also more and generally in the surgical jargon. Two years ago, in the surgical team I was part of at that time, one of the leaders of the group had to temporarily resign because of accusations of sexual harassment.
I am wondering if as a surgeon, a male surgeon, a leader of a surgical team, talking about the sadistic side of our practice, could make us all improve our attitudes? It is difficult to imagine that from a team leader in surgery, but it would be important that it is exactly a team leader, because for the younger surgeons, the more experienced boss still is like a “god”.
When I discuss the issue with my younger colleagues doctors or therapists in general, they all acknowledge that there is indeed a component of sadism – and power – in our practice. And in such conversations they would soon tell their own story about a relevant experience. In general, the subject interests a lot of people although they do not spontaneously talk about it. It is a hidden part of our practice still awaiting to be brought into the open.
Surgery in general is factual, it is physical, you cut, you see the problem you repair and the patient gets better. There is no much room in surgery for anything else than the very concrete gestures of repair.
Before continuing I would like to read you an extract of “the 11.000 verges” by Guillaume Apollinaire that I feel is particularly relevant to our topic. Indeed, this book describes all the possible sexual fantasies Apollinaire could imagine. Any sexual practice I could imagine or you could imagine. This book proves to me that we are able to think the most terrible unlawful and disgusting practices and link them to pleasure without acting them out. Thinking about something is not acting on the impulse. Writing it is not acting it out. Maybe by engaging in such fantasies you kill people in your head but you don’t kill them on the streets.
(As says Julia Kristeva : « Ce qui est effacé de l’imaginaire et du symbolique risque de resurgir dans le réel. À l’inverse, c’est la profusion symbolique et imaginaire qui peut avoir une chance de mettre à mal les tentations de passage à l’acte dans le réel ». )
Guillaume Apollinaire, Les 11.000 Verges, extrait
Alors arriva une dame de la Croix-Rouge vêtue d’un gracieux surtout écru et le brassard au bras droit. C’était une fort jolie fille de la noblesse polonaise. Elle avait une voix suave comme en ont les anges et en l’entendant les blessés tournaient vers elle leurs yeux moribonds croyant apercevoir la madone. Elle donnait à Mony des ordres secs de sa voix suave. Il obéissait comme un enfant, étonné de l’énergie de cette jolie fille et de la lueur étrange qui jaillissait parfois de ses yeux verts. De temps en temps, sa face séraphique devenait dure et un nuage de vices impardonnables semblait obscurcir son front. Il paraissait que l’innocence de cette femme avait des intermittences criminelles. Mony l’observa, il s’aperçut bientôt que ses doigts s’attardaient plus qu’il n’était besoin dans les plaies. On apporta un blessé horrible à voir. Sa face était sanglante et sa poitrine ouverte. L’ambulancière le pansa avec volupté. Elle avait mis sa main droite dans le trou béant et semblait jouir du contact de la chair pantelante. Tout à coup la goule releva les yeux et aperçut devant elle, de l’autre côté du brancard, Mony qui la regardait en souriant dédaigneusement. Elle rougit, mais il la rassura : – Calmez-vous, ne craignez rien, je comprends mieux que quiconque la volupté que vous pouvez éprouver. Moi-même, j’ai les mains impures. Jouissez de ces blessés, mais ne vous refusez pas à mes embrassements. Elle baissa les yeux en silence. Mony fut bientôt derrière elle. Il releva ses jupes et découvrit un cul merveilleux dont les fesses étaient tellement serrées qu’elles semblaient avoir juré de ne jamais se séparer. Elle déchirait maintenant fiévreusement et avec un sourire angélique sur les lèvres, la blessure affreuse du moribond. Elle se pencha pour permettre à Mony de mieux jouir du spectacle de son cul. Il lui introduisit alors son dard entre les lèvres satinées du con, en levrette, et de sa main droite, il lui caressait les fesses, tandis que la gauche allait chercher le clitoris sous les jupons. L’ambulancière jouit silencieusement, crispant ses mains dans la blessure du moribond qui râlait affreusement. Il expira au moment où Mony déchargeait. L’ambulancière le débusqua aussitôt et déculottant le mort dont le membre était d’une raideur de fer, elle se l’enfonça dans le con, jouissant toujours silencieusement et la face plus angélique que jamais.
Coming back to our discussion. I find it interested what Maja Catipovic said about the fact that we, as therapists, often consider that we are sacrificing something and hence feel justified to get something back.
One of my friends, also a doctor, explained to me that often in the Emergency Room, she has to take care of patients who are very drunk and very unpleasant. She explains that she deliberately does not rehydrate them, so that the next morning they will feel the pain of hangover more severely. “I want him to feel bad the next day” she said. There is an important game being played related to power and the will to punish.
Also sometimes, when a patient doesn’t want a treatment or take a blood sample, we tell the patient “if you don’t do that, you might die” even if it is absolutely false. We play with the fear of death. To tell them “you are going to die” provides a kind of pleasure that stimulates us doctors. It is similar to the way parents handle their children sometimes, and I even do think that some parents actually decide to have children to be able to exert power over someone.
Another example of the many situations I have been witness to “sadism at work” in the practice of doctors, therapists, and including myself, is with treatment of miscarriage, when the doctor has to “clean out” the uterus. I heard the patient screaming so much from the pain but it really seemed nobody cared. I was observing and was frightened. But some months later I had to drain an anal abscess of a psychiatric patient and I really liked to do that, but again, with insufficient care of the pain until my supervising surgeon entered the room and asked me why I left the patient in such pain. While I was critical when I observed the case of the miscarriage, being myself involved in the therapy it was like I did not care any more about the pain of the patient. It seemed very different watching from the outside from being in the role of the doctor doing it.
Again, as a conclusion, my request at this point would be that the group involves more experienced surgeons. I am very much looking forward to hear what they will have to say about their own sadism.
An Infinite Love, session 1 – Joakim Forsgren
Joakim Forsgren is an artist and a curator. Rather than in evidences, he is interested in contradictions, ambiguities and frictions that destabilize ordinary perception. He has been involved in research about Descartes’ second skull. He is also involved in An Infinite Love as a patient having undergone surgery to cure skeletal cancer as a teenager and now working with ways to merge science and art in order to reverse neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
About a personal experience: I remember a time when I had to undergo a lot of blood tests during my cancer treatment. The male nurse who did them told me: “Joakim, you have very “tasty” veins.” That made me realize there were definitely a sexual aspect of using medical needles to penetrate the skin and veins.
I am interested in works of art that change the perspective. I have been working extensively with the Swedish king Charles XII (or Carolus Rex as he called himself) and especially the photographs of his skull from the 20th century when his remains were exhumed. His skull has two additional openings at the temples, which were incurred by a rifle shot that caused his death in 1718. There is something fascinating about penetrating a skull, when the inside and outside merge and to me that is the moment when Charles XII becomes interesting. His penetrated skull is like a trepanation that let the spirit out and the sunshine in. Charles XII is an icon for the right-wing movement in Sweden and my initial idea was to distort that image, but the more I studied him, the more I was compelled by various aspects of him that do not fit the widespread narrative of the heroic warrior king. I created my own mythology. I created works about the hole in his skull. I placed natural elements as wind, the sun and the sky that penetrated this opening. When I later realized that I suffered from dysfunctions in my neurological system, possibly due to cobalt leaking from my stainless steel knee prosthesis, I realized that the image of the Charles XII with a sky-blue hole in his head could very well be a subconscious self-portrait of the cobalt affecting my brain. Through art I had access to knowledge about what was going on within me before my conscious self or the doctors knew.
About philosophy: The biggest impact Sweden had on philosophy is that our way of living arguably caused the death of Descartes. Indeed, it appears that Descartes had some kind of sleep disorder and he used to wake up very late. He even had a permit to start school after lunch. But when he came to visit Sweden to teach philosophy to Queen Kristina (truly a very interesting character in her own right), he was obliged to get up early in the morning as the teaching begun at 6am. One month after the lessons started he was dead. As a catholic in a protestant country, he was buried in the outskirts of Stockholm in a graveyard for unbaptized children, where his body remained until it was returned to France in 1666. Not until 1819, however, the French realized that the skull was missing. Two years later a skull, covered with various inscriptions, appears at a gambling venue in central Stockholm. It was claimed to be the skull of Descartes and was consequently brought to Paris with the ambitions for it to be rejoined with the body. That never happened, the skull now belongs to the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Interestingly enough another skull, or rather skull fragment, was donated to the collection of Lund’s University in the south of Sweden around 40 years earlier. This skull fragment was also said to belong to Descartes and the fact that it was donated before the absent skull was common knowledge, might be seen as evidence in its favor. Not that it would really matter to Descartes himself, since he wouldn’t consider either skull as a proof of his own existence. In Lund, the presumed skull bone of Descartes is held in an institutional “Cabinet of Curiosites”. When I first saw it, years back, I was utterly fascinated by it, especially in relation to the supposed former owner’s ideas about the mind in relation to the body. Last year, thanks to the collaboration with Karolinska Institutet, I was able to have access to the skull fragment, scan it in a CT-scanner and duplicate it by the use of a 3D printer.
Finally, another project of merging art and my body: People have constructed a healing device. It uses localized light therapy which has been considered as a potential approach to stimulate brain cells with subsequent positive effects in several brain related conditions ranging from degenerative diseases to brain fog and depression. I therefore constructed for myself a helmet emitting red light that I wear everyday. Some effects were observed after a month of therapy, but the monitoring of these effects was not pursued, because of the lack of interest the doctors had in this procedure – although my doctor appreciated the aesthetics of it.