caraballo-farman is the multi-disciplinary, collaborative team of artists Abou Farman and Leonor Caraballo. For their project, “Object Breast Cancer,” they utilize MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology to create sculpture, installation, and jewelry based on breast cancer tumors. Coinciding with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, selections from this project were recently on view in their exhibitions “Extractions” at Ramis Barquet and “Ruins (Carcinomas)” at the Eyebeam Window Gallery, both in New York.
“That’s a great way to think of the work, as a collaboration between bodies.”
caraballo-farman, Extractions 8, 2011. Bronze, 12 x 8 x 10 in. Courtesy the artists and Ramis Barquet, New York
Around The World: The Common Thread is More Than a Pink Ribbon
Caraballo-Farman is the multi-disciplinary, collaborative team of artists Abou Farman and Leonor Caraballo. For their project, “Object Breast Cancer,” they utilize MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology to create sculpture, installation, and jewelry based on breast cancer tumors. Coinciding with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, selections from this project were recently on view in their exhibitions “Extractions” at Ramis Barquet and “Ruins (Carcinomas)” at the Eyebeam Window Gallery, both in New York.
Kris Scheifele: In some instances, artists are compelled by personal experience to make work that addresses a particular illness: Who can forget Hannah Wilke’s heart-rending images of her battle with lymphoma? What made you decide to take on this subject matter?
caraballo-farman: One of us, Leonor, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Going through the process, we realized we were dealing with a word that referred to a thing—a tumor—that had no image. It was not only invisible because it was inside the body, but also because it had no image in our minds or in the public imagination. Yet, from diagnosis to excision, so much depends on a particular form of imaging, to which the patient and the public are not usually privy. We went through all the decisions, surgeries, treatment, and never got to see the tumor. The question that came to haunt us was, “What does it look like?” But the question was never really a personal matter, in the sense of what we went through; our work generally doesn’t deal with our own subjective experience—we’re interested in the power and processes of objectification. In this case, the process was highly linked to technology and closed realms of expertise. We wanted to know what might happen on the social and artistic level if we were to “give” the tumor an image.
KS: Because of your generally cool approach, I get the feeling this is a collaboration between you and the bodies making these tumors. In this way, I feel like you’re helping people come face to face with a demon and therefore taking some of its power away. It’s also interesting that someone can own or wear someone else’s tumor, which really underscores the fact that cancers, other diseases, and all of the world’s challenges, for that matter, belong to everyone.
c-f: That’s a great way to think of the work, as a collaboration between bodies. All kinds of bodies. From ancient times. So the question is no longer just about whose body or whose tumor. We chose different ways to bring in this temporal aspect—the choice of bronze-age bronze in the midst of a very hi-tech process as well as the idea of replication and thus of cells, tissue, and genes making and remaking bodies over time. The temporal was also explored in a performance. It featured an hourglass, which never ran out because it was constantly turned by a pair of young identical twins — twice the youth in the midst of mortality—who traced out a stencil reading “LIFE TIME RISK.” In addition, they spoke only a dead language, Latin, saying things like, “Time flies,” referring to the life cycles of cultures and civilizations.
Caraballo-Farman, Carcinodaimon Dracon, 2011. UV Print on Blockout Vinyl, Edition 5, 40 x 50 in. Courtesy the artists and Ramis Barquet, New York
KS: I’d like to know more about the shamanic element you’ve layered into the work.
c-f: Some shamans work with cancer patients doing “extractions”—they use drums and chants to “see” figures inside a person and remove them. We got interested in this as an imaging modality because it also uses a form of resonance and images things we can’t see inside us. We fused the figures our shaman conjured up in our sessions with the wire meshes of cancer tumors in 3D software, so the biological was first translated by magnetic resonance, then by algorithms into the digital, and finally got a figurative layer through shamanic resonance.
KS: At first glance, each piece took on the quality of a Rorschach test, but when I looked at a title like Carcinodaimon Dracon, it was clear that it’s no accident that that tumor looks like a dragon. I was inspired by your work to read about shamanism and now wonder whether your tumor necklaces are meant to serve as amulets to ward off breast cancer, not just as an alternative to the consciousness-raising pink ribbon.
c-f: Our jewelry represents a kind of conquest, a reminder that this thing has been taken out. It concretizes an enemy. It’s much more direct than the pink ribbon and what the pink ribbon culture fosters. We can’t make claims about what a necklace wards off, but based on experience so far, we can say it’s a charged and powerful object. If anyone’s interested in getting one, they are right here: objectbreastcancer.com.
This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.