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Robot as Extension of the Surgeon

Royal College of Surgeons

I am currently working alongside the Royal College of Surgeons and the Surgeon’s Hall Museum as their Project Artist, developing paintings for their upcoming exhibition Body Voyager, which will be exploring the future of surgery, specifically robotic surgery.

Over the next few months I will be creating three paintings that explore different themes around Robotic Surgery that have come to my attention during research.

They are:

The robot as extension of the Surgeon.

The Surgeon Person.

The Patient at Center.

And how Surgical equipment has changed with the introduction of robotics.

There is a lot of hesitation around robotic surgery, and a huge part of this is the misunderstanding that the robot replaces the surgeon. This is not the case at all. Just like the Scalpel or Forceps, the robot is an additional tool opening up possibilities for minimally invasive procedures. Like a tennis racket becomes an extension of the player and the paintbrush an extension of the painter, the robot becomes the extension of the surgeon, who is still the one in control.

One of my paintings will attempt to capture this, as you can see in one of my early exploratory paintings.

The beauty of art is creating a new reality.

In the TV series The Age of the Image, James Fox discusses how altered images, like those created by photographer Frank Hurley during World War One told a bigger truth. (If you haven’t watched this BBC series – WATCH IT)

Hurley was a renowned photographer, who would constantly risk his own life for a photograph, becaming the official photographer on Ernest Shacklton’s trip to Antarctica, and then making it to the western front in 1917. However, Hurley found that was a distinct gap during WWI with what he was photographing with what he was experiencing. So he took liberties. Using multiple negatives of photos taken, Hurley would compile these in the dark room, piecing together images, into fantasy compositions. (watch:

You may think this is cheating, not true to life, a lie, but Hurley’s darkroom manipulations, were lies that told a far bigger truth. They make us feel more acutely the drama and the tragedy of war.

Although my paintings aren’t photographs, and can never be mistaken for the real thing, I do strive for realism, for truth and for the viewer to be able to approach it on an equal playing field. Nonetheless when trying to convey the robot as an extension of the surgeon, with multiple viewpoints, and physical dimensions, I, like Hurley, have to manipulate the image being created.

It would be impossible to convey robotics as an extension of the surgeon without bringing the components closer together. Artistic license needs to be taken, just like Hurley’s darkroom manipulations. My paintings for the Royal College of Surgeons will thus largely subvert reality rather than representing it, hopefully blurring the boundary between real and presented. I need to take artistic license and in a sense lie, creating a new reality that represents a bigger truth.

(This piece is available to purchase, please email for more info)


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