Jennifer Willet - The Theatre (Digital Photography, 2001) Photographer Credit: Emily Heath

Jennifer Willet

The Theatre is a series of digital prints that recreate mediated and historical representations of the operating table during a complex and involved surgical procedure.  These images draw on sources such as ER, surgery TV, as well as historical representations including Rembrandt’s The Anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632), and Thomas Eakin’s, Portrait of Dr. D. Hayes Agnew (1889).  The Theatre activates western signifiers of the operating room – implying a video verité of sorts, in which we become voyeurs to an intimate and private act.  Only on closer inspection does the veneer of authenticity begin to crumble.  We notice the surgeons are without facial masks, and their apparel is held together with masking tape. Their actions/extractions are clumsy and messy – more like back alley butchery or fabricated snuff footage.  This is a surgery gone awry.  The patient is oblivious to the breaches in biomedical procedure, the failure of due surgical process – and the immanent collapse of representational integrity within the image.

The Theatre was funded as an offspring of Exploratory Surgery through The Canada council for the Arts, and exhibited at The Banff Centre for the arts and The Triangle Gallery (City Hall Calgary, Alberta) in 2002.