Labour in a single shot - "Surgical instruments" explained
Labour’s Mediating Objects: Tools,Tactility, and Embodiment
Gregory H. Williams
Given the extensive cinematic history of the activies that take place in hospitals and surgical theatres, the instruments inevitably call to mind images of the people and objects they will encounter when deployed: doctors, nurses, machines, gurneys, and blood. With no words to help the viewer comprehend the utility of the surgical instruments, and with the checklist visible only to the worker, the formation of “grips” (both concepts and tools) in the hospital comes across as a highly specialized endeavour. The care with which the Łódź surgical assistant arranges his materials while consulting the list of terms is tied to this preservation of the grip. Because his command of the instruments is institutionally determined rather than linked to individual invention, it holds a secure place in a chain of events that require strict oversight. Here Negt and Kluge’s link between the grip and conceptual grasping, as an expression of comprehension, is made explicit: inthe hospital, lives depend quite literally on a reliable relationship between the tool and its name. The camera reveals a behind-the-scenes moment of preparedness, the accuracy of which has major consequences. Though the necessary skill required to deploy these tools is not demonstrated on camera, the instruments, even in their state of rest, evoke reliable and consistent functionality. They are presented as intermediaries that will soon take on a more active role as mediators; again, mediation is registered as potentiality. This scene captures a moment before the start of the surgeon’s work, when the toolstake on a vivid, yet passive, presence as their shiny surfaces glint against the backdrop of a metal counter. They have not yet touched a body in anoperation, but it takes little imagination to picture them in use. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin compares the work of the surgeon with that of the magician, claiming that the former physically penetrates the body of the patient whereas the latter merely “heals a sick person by the laying on of hands.” For Benjamin, this analogy can be extended to the relationship between the camera operator and the painter. He prioritizes the labour of the cameraperson, whose Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” inprobing activity stands in contrast to the painter’s remove from a givensubject: “The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web.” By focusing on the surgery preparations, Pudło uses his camera to enable the instruments to stand in for, even to prompt the viewer to envision, the probing activity of thesurgeon who will soon use the tools.