Sponsored and hosted by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, the talk I attended today was given by the multimedia artist Kelly Milukas. Milukas’ project “Keys for the Cure” is a collection of paint, photography and 3-D artwork characterized by the literal use of “keys” as visual metaphors of the physiological process of healing. Healing, in this context, denotes not so much the temporary workings of medicine as the body’s natural ability to cure itself, the regenerative potential of the human body that gives rise to a new self both physically and emotionally. The key works as mystical imagery that abstracts and encompasses the multifarious dynamics of healing or regeneration – to use Milukas’ own language, it “locks” and “unlocks” the bodily capabilities, “heals” as it “keeps morphing” like the disease itself; even people practicing medicine figure as keys to the extent they “solve” and “make things possible.” Boundaries converge under its shadow – the natural and the foreign, the recuperative and the pathogenic, the human and the non-human, and physical and the metaphysical are rendered virtually indistinguishable.
The project, Milukas notes, strives for a narrative plurality, one whereby we can “translate” the scientific language of regenerative medicine to the language of an artist. The repeated emphasis on the word “translate” invokes her conception of the arts and the sciences as acts of communication, as ways of “talking about” things and “making people understand what is happening.” What is left to be desired, in my opinion, is a clarification as to which aspects of “communication” the two methodologically-distinct enterprises find an epistemological common ground. For communication itself is a layered concept, the practical meaning of which can differ depending on not only the subject (factual information or inner emotions?), but also the purpose (mimetic? didactic? expressive?), of the act.