Peru, 1953 (Trephining Letter)
The human skull as a material object is framed within multivalent interpretations, whether studied as specimen evidencing particular anatomical and anthropological features or imagined as the former repository of an individual's thoughts and experiences. Viewing both skulls and buildings as weird, dynamic containers, Annie Heckman—the first resident artist in the Museum's new OPEN program—has spent nearly two years researching and reflecting on the trephined skulls from pre-Columbian Peru in the IMSS collection. The culmination of her project, this solo exhibition focuses on two practices that have converged uniquely within her surroundings during this time: the creation of a hole in the skull through the ancient operation known as trephining, and the projection of subjective boundaries and openings onto the architectural space of the Museum.
Peru, 1953 (Trephining Letter) centers around a new animation that Heckman created in response to both the skulls themselves and a film from the Museum's collection that documents a trephining operation performed circa 1953 using traditional Peruvian surgical tools. Interested in the mutual trust implicit in trephining, as well the dignity of forming such trust, Heckman wrote the text that provides the framework for her animation in the form of a poetic letter from a surgeon to a patient. The animation incorporates drawings and collage that Heckman produced during her residency layered over photos and filmed footage to visualize the gap between clinical presentations of the body's structure and our lived experiences of pain and pleasure. The soundtrack was composed by Jason L. Hoffman, with narration by Jorge Soto.
Heckman's exhibition also investigates how the Museum's historic mansion—its structure, contents, and accumulated human experiences first as a private home and then as a public institution—can represent an enlarged version of the central headquarters assumed to be present in the skull. The projected animation is surrounded by a creatively curated installation of artifacts, artwork, and archival materials from the IMSS collections that situate the piece within a conceptual context, dramatizing Heckman's research experience and artistic process to provide visitors a glimpse of her mind at work. This installation juxtaposes fragments that she has excavated from various eras in the history of trephining and of the Museum itself to realize an anachronistic imagined past for her present work and activate an alternative narrative of artifactual meaning through her idiosyncratic interpretation.
Annie Heckman is a Chicago artist whose practice explores mortality and the workings of the mind through animation, drawing, installation, and creative writing. She received an MFA in Studio Art from New York University in 2006 and currently teaches in the Department of Art, Media, and Design at DePaul University. In addition, she facilitates inquiry-based museum education through research and workshops at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and runs StepSister Press, an independent publishing company founded in 2007 to promote discourse on emerging interdisciplinary art, literature, and critical theory projects.
Jason L. Hoffman is a Chicago-based composer and musician working in the ambient and acousmatic genres. Drawing from influences encompassing surrealism, pataphysics, science fiction, cosmology, and experimental broadcast, he seeks to create an artificial universe. He plays digital synthesizers in the power-ambient quintet Chord and records solo under the name Anatole.
OPEN is a new residency program at IMSS that provides Chicago-area artists with extended and in-depth access to the artifacts from the collection, studio space within the Museum's exhibits, and support to present exhibitions that introduce additional perspectives to the institutional depiction of medical history.