Sex Lives of Animals without Backbones

Rachel Fein-Smolinski

2017 - Ongoing

New York, United States

*Access to images and objects- Archives and Special Collections at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Health Sciences Library in Syracuse, NY.

Sex Lives of Animals without Backbones is about courage, pain, and biomedical power dynamics within the western healthcare industry. Using the metaphor of spinelessness as a lack of courage, I excavate hospital archives to find and validate subjectivity and intimate power relations amongst the vital mythology of scientific objectivity. My research focuses on clinical documentation of pain, through archival patient portraits, scientific imaging techniques, clinical notes, and fantastical photographs I make from studio set-ups of defunct medications, and tools from multiple medical institutions.

I am sick with a degenerative autoimmune disease. I am always a fucking patient (as is everyone with a body.) I sublimate this background into an alter-ego, a caricature of a neurotic, intellectual hero, in which I imagine myself as a figure of scientific authority. As a Jewish woman, raised with a familial identity that idealizes intellect to the point of fetishization, this is a stylized performance of a masculine archetype (yes, I am exploring what it means to be a woman through the usage of masculinity and its historical relationship to authority) used in sci-fi (e.g. Mary Shelley’s sublimation of self as the decidedly male Dr. Frankenstein.) I use this archetype to construct images and installations using the visceral details of medical history to sublimate the notion of myself as a sick woman into a fantasy world of infinite visibility and knowability.

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  • Love in the Scoliosis Clinic, 1971*, reproduced 2019, dye sublimation print on ceramic tiles, grout, resin.

  • Post-Op Portrait, 1931*, reproduced 2019

  • Sodium Amytal— Blue Heavens (barbiturate used as an early truth serum) found in medic’s first aid kit, used c. 1940*, photographed 2018

  • Clinical Photograph Illustrating Spinal Curvature*, 1962, reproduced 2019

  • Earthworms have five Hearts and no Backbone, 2017, dye sublimation print on ceramic tiles, grout, resin.

  • Cutler-Robinson Apparatus for Inducing Pneumothorax in Tuberculosis Patients*, 2018

  • Daphnia Magna— Advantageous Experimental Organisms, 2019

  • Clinical Photograph Illustrating Spinal Curvature, 1987*, reproduced 2019, dye sublimation print on ceramic tiles, grout, resin.

  • Diagnostic Image, 1954*, reproduced 2019

  • Object in Central Image found in the Collection of Dr. Ellen Cook Jacobsen, the first female instructor of the Dept. of Med. at SUNY Upstate Medical University*, photographed 2019

  • Glass Syringe from doctor’s bag c. 1970*, photographed 2018

  • Dissection of a Frog, 2017
    Dye sublimation print on ceramic tiles, grout, resin.