- A project by Barbara Polla and Per Hüttner

About the love for body in medicine, and specifically about:

1) sexual love and sadism
2) aesthetic pleasure and fascination

One of the most obvious and hushed up features of being a medical doctor, is the love for the other’s body. Love to look at it, from outside, from inside, from everywhere, to picture it, to care for it, to clean it, to listen to it, to examine it, to palpate it, to cure it, to heal it, to open it, to penetrate it, to sew it up, to amputate it, to repair it, to massage it, to biopsy it, to dissect it, to analyse it, to describe it, to admire it, love for its functioning, its mysteries, love for its flesh, its fluids, pus, faeces, blood, bile, tears, sex and soul… all of it. LOVE.

An infinite, unrestricted love.

A group of international artists, practicing surgeons, psychiatrists, philosophers, thinkers, sexperts, active sadists and more will during two years meet regularly to investigate why these aspects of the medical profession that appear to be known to everyone are rarely, if ever spoken about, studied, taught, integrated in the medical curriculum. Why are these topics taboo?

The group will initially focus on the following statements questions:

Fascination, desire, sexuality and sadist drives play important, obvious yet unspoken role in the every day life of medical doctors, in particular at hospitals around the world and in the field.

  • Why do these major drives remain unspoken? Where exactly does the taboo come from? Is this taboo important for the best care of the patients or, on the contrary, should it be unveiled for better care and patient-doctor interactions? In particular, do the constant conflict between Love and Death that plays in care and the sexual, vitalist, contents of care really need to remain silenced or should it they be elaborated?
  • How do aesthetic considerations enter into the every day practice of general practitioners, surgeons (including plastic surgeons), psychiatrists, forensic doctors, anatomists? How important are the aesthetic aspects of our outsides and insides that become visible through surgery and through different forms of micro technology? What are the aesthetic relationships between “form and function” and why is this not elaborated either in current medical studies?

Since the dawn of times and more specifically since the Hippocratic oath, doctors take great ethical care in their practice. But is it ethical to ignore realities and feelings that so obviously play an important role in the everyday life of doctors – and hence, patients? The project wants to debate these questions using the arts, science, philosophy, sexual practices and formats so that doctors, patients, specialists as well as the general public can think about them. Such an approach will also favor fruitful “reciprocities between observer and subject”, as Georges Devereux suggested back in 1967.


Methodology, as supported by VISION FORUM

To put together a functioning group of vastly different professionals, of different ages, from different countries is not a simple task. Here Vision Forum’s many years of experience of working with medical scientists and artists from many fields come into play. The group will start to meet in informal ways and the boundaries of the participants will be porous (no one is invited to become a part of the group, they are invited to attend an event. The group will develop naturally and dynamically over time). The first events will be “private“, but open also open for others to join – people who share an interest in the questions of the project.

Lectures, visits to medical history museums and art exhibitions will be mixed with collective medical visits, coffee-wine-eating meetings (meat eating preferably), walks and discussions. This allows for new people to join the group (friends/colleagues of those invited as well as those who have heard about the project through the grape wine) and those whose expectations are not met, to leave.

Barbara Polla will ahead of time search and collect whatever available medical/philosophical literature she can find on the topic to share and stimulate the discussions. When the group has met three or four times there will be a solid knowledge and also texts, lectures, performances and artworks that can meet an audience.

Goals and outcomes

The group will initiate a public debate about the problematics of the project. They feel specifically strongly that this should take place in medical schools. In order to achieve these goals the project will:

  • Create public events and exhibitions on the topics addressed
  • Publish in the form of books a complete documentation of the process as well as the projects outcome. The book(s) will be distributed through usual book distribution to a wide public, but first and foremost they will be used in medical schools, medical museums and they will further nourish ethical reflections around medicine.
  • Introduce theoretical and artistic events in medical educations around Europe.
  • Specifically, teaching about the above mentioned issues should be introduced in the teaching curriculum of at least one major medical school in Europe


In autumn 2020 the group will start with private meetings in Geneva, Paris, and Stockholm. These will include visits to medical museums, art collections, sex clubs and other relevant venues. In spring 2021 public presentations will be presented in Paris and Stockholm. In autumn 2021 and spring 2022 the project will go into a more public phase where the project will be presented in multiple European cities. Publication of the intellectual outcomes of the working group will be an important focus for the group.

Paris offers a very interesting context to study the above-mentioned issues, with its unique Museum of History of Medicine, under the roofs of historical University René Descartes. By visiting this museums and looking at the development of medical instruments through history, the links between pleasure, pain and healing, life and sex, appear very obvious. We believe along with Georges Devereux that life needs to be made more present in the sciences of life, and that, as he writes, “sexuality is an essential manifestation of life in society and not just a kind of choreography, as wrongly believed by those who think sexuality as sole sexuality.”

Stockholm offers another very interesting context as Descartes died there. In Stockholm there is one of the two skulls (indeed there appear to be two existing skulls…) of the master of mind-and-body dichotomy. The project will therefor start with two experimental workshops: “Life” in Paris and “death” death in Stockholm. Through this study, we will question Descartes’ idea of dichotomy, aiming to reunite under one “synthesis” the pleasure of the body and the good of the mind. The study of Descartes influence will focus on the questions outlined above.

Further information.

- Notes from the Geneva session.
- Joakim Forsgren’s exhibition “Dark Matter, Golden Door,”  Stockholm
- Barbara Polla’s contribution to An Infinite Love, Stockholm.
- Barbara Polla’s text “Sadisme chirurgical, Eros contre Thanatos” (in French).
- Per Huttner’s contribution in Stockholm interpreted by Barbara Polla.
-Program for the Paris session.


Galerie Analix Forever, Geneva
Le Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine à l’Université René Descartes, Paris
Vision Forum, Karolinska institutet, Kl.9, Konstnärshuset -  Stockholm

The project is supported by the Swedish Arts Council and Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse.