The Immortal, life-support machines keeping each other alive

A number of life-support machines are connected to each other, circulating liquids and air in attempt to mimic a biological structure…

The Immortal – preview from Revital Cohen on Vimeo.

Revital Cohen managed to track down and acquire a Heart-Lung Machine, a Dialysis Machine, an Infant Incubator, a Mechanical Ventilator and an Intraoperative Cell Salvage Machine. She connected the discarded organ replacement machines together and had them ‘breathe’ in closed circuits. The machines of The Immortal keep each other alive through circulation of electrical impulses, oxygen and artificial blood.

Salted water acts as blood replacement: throughout the artificial circulatory system minerals are added and filtered out again, the blood gets oxygenated via contact with the oxygen cycle, an ECG device monitors the system’s heartbeat.

As the fluid pumps around the room in a meditative pulse, the sound of mechanical breath and slow humming of motors resonates in the body through a comforting yet disquieting soundscape.

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Cohen has long been investigating how machines, peripherals and even animals can work as extension of the body or substitutes of body parts. This time however, the human body has been removed from the scene. Yet, its presence and fragility can still be felt…

The medical machine – whether in use or not – is an object which transcends its materiality. Designed and created to perform a single, most meaningful function, we never subject these devices to a critical investigation as industrial products within the context of material culture.

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Far from being just assemblages of tubes and circuits, the machines intersect with our culture, fears and beliefs. The Cell Salvage Machine, for example, blurs the boundary between technocracy and the metaphysical. The machine suctions, washes, and filters blood so it can be given back to the patient’s body. The cell saver is used on patients, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have religious objections to receiving blood transfusions. As for the infant incubators, they used to be part of freak shows before being adopted by hospitals.

But more tellingly, each of these objects is the product of our attempts to conquer biology (and our own mortality) with engineering.

0adeuxcents257_3953cc2ffd_z.jpgPhotograph by Revital Cohen

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The Immortal will be part of Superhuman, an exhibition exploring human enhancement that will open at the Wellcome Collection in London on July 19 and run through October 16, 2012.