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john k. holte - film
California Dreaming (2023)
THE ROOTS OF MRI
Eight years ago my mother died of breast cancer, shortly thereafter I was told I would be part of a high-risk breast cancer clinic. I would need to go every year for an MRI.
Having a breast MRI is a very specific kind of experience. You are naked, save your underwear, socks and an open hospital gown. You are propelled, lying face down on a kind of platform, into a white tube. It is very claustrophobic.
It takes a half hour, and you must remain completely still, lying on your stomach with your breast hanging down through two slots in the platform like pendulums. The sound these machines make is extraordinarily violent and extraordinarily loud. There is no sense of rhythm, except for these very short staccato moments. It is like being assaulted with noise.
At my first MRI, a British nurse put in my IV needle, she was kind and gentle, and I began to cry, my mother was British, kind and gentle, and this was less than a year after her death. I cried all through the MRI, lying on my stomach, ribbons of mucus hanging from my nose, it took everything I had to stay still, to force my sobs to be shallow and controlled.
I remember wondering if my mucus would damage the machine.
The next year, same nurse, same experience, crying, but I did have the thought - if someone were lying inside this machine with me, underneath me - what must this look like? The next year, the British nurse was no longer there, replaced by an efficient male nurse. I still cried through the MRI, this time for the loss of her, she felt like a connection to my mother. The next year while inside the MRI machine I had a very strong vision of a multi-screen dance piece set inside an MRI machine, based on my experiences inside this machine.
I see MRI as an empathy machine. Dance is a very visceral art form, and when done well, it touches people.
There is something about a body moving that affects you in a primal way. I’m hoping MRI will spark conversations around the intersection of bodies and technology and the way medical technology
can both help the body and harm the soul.
The spectators enter a brightly lit, white walled space to see a row of low fabric cots on the floor. Directly above the cots, three enormous monitors 4 feet by 6 feet, make a triptych on the ceiling. On each screen a video of a dance.
The only way to see the monitors is to lie down on one of the cots. Attached to each cot, a pair of headphones, that when put on play soundtrack of the dance - the sound of the MRI machine. Each of the three screens will represent a different experience inside the machine, much like I have had over the years. The dances will be 30 minutes, and will play on a loop. The screens will play in sync, the dances playing into and against each other.
The gallery space is quiet. There are a pair of headphones attached to each cot.
When you lie down on a cot, and put on the headphones, you will hear the soundtrack for the dance.
On the headphones, the recorded sound of the MRI machine plays. Along with this, the foley of the
dancer - a combination of body movements, fabric, breath and vocalizations, giving the viewer the experience what it is like to be inside one of these machines.
I want the architecture of the installation to force the viewer to be both witness as well as participant, watching the uncomfortable private experiences of the patient/dancer, who is prostrate, exposed, and raw with emotion.
The viewer is forced by the architecture of the installation to lie flat on their backs on a cot, vulnerable, exposed to both the dancers on the screens above them and the other viewers in the gallery. Only the dancer and participant hear the soundtrack of the piece, connecting them by sound.