MEDICAL DREAM I
In this performance, I investigated strategies to counteract the fragmentation of the body that occurs when seeking medical attention. A body is presented to a doctor, who uses various tools and techniques to isolate relevant symptoms. These symptoms are then combined into a diagnosis, which marks a specific part/system of the body as malfunctioning.
This process might be effective for treating many medical problems, but in practice can be reductive and often dehumanizing, turning a complex system of physical and emotional realities (an embodied human) into a group of disaggregate parts. A doctor’s touch becomes clinical, unfeeling, and distant. This piece, performed both times I visited a doctor in 2011, used the framework of contact improvisation to resist the distance between bodies created by clinical medical touch and to call renewed attention to the surprising physical event of two unfamiliar bodies touching intimately that is rendered mundane by the rituals of our medical system.
During the performances, I used my doctor’s touches as small impulses on which to improvise subtle movement. These improvisations were focused on reminding the doctor of my presence as a whole body rather than just a collection of symptoms and the specific physical areas that housed them. These movement-based interventions ranged from subtle actions, such as giving the doctor a bit more of my weight during a cardiovascular exam, to more pointed, such as gripping and caressing the doctor’s arm while having my blood pressure being taken. A guiding strategy was to seek points of contact with the doctor’s body and to use movement to draw attention to these points. By undertaking these interventions, I not only asserted the presence of my entire body to the doctor but also was able to maintain a heightened awareness of my own volition within a medical context. Rather than simply following my doctor’s instructions, I found myself approaching each clinical maneuver as an opportunity to disrupt expected channels of behavior. By seizing these opportunities, I reminded both myself and my doctor of our human bodies, calling attention to the physical realities of the medical encounter while imagining a less alienating model for doctor-patient interactions.