• Living In Sim: Justine Cooper's medical mannequin soap opera art

    Heather Sparks writes for and about the medical industry. She has contributed to Wired, Popular Science, and many other publications.

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    Justine Cooper is a multi-disciplinary artist living in Brooklyn whose work lies at the intersection of science, medicine, art, and commerce. Following up on HAVIDOL, a fake marketing campaign for an imaginary drug, Cooper has launched Living In Sim. This latest online and offline work presents the real and imaginary lives of medical mannequins via blog, video soap opera, installation, and photography. Living In Sim opens today, October 22, at the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery in New York City.

    HS: Most people have probably never seen one of these mannequins in the real world. Can you explain how they're used?

    JC: Medical mannequins serve as simulated patients in hospitals, universities, and clinics. Typically there is a two-room setup: one is where the simulation takes place, the second is where people direct the simulation and where everything is recorded.

    Software controls the mannequin's vital signs according to a script. While the simulation has a plotline, it can branch off depending on how the clinicians respond and what the learning goals may be.

    The whole thing can seem like improv theater or like a dress rehearsal for the real performance. The simulation finds out how the clinicians will handle everyone's needs. It can be very gripping.
    The Center for Medical Simulation (in Cambridge, MA) where I had a residency this past year is very advanced in their use of simulation. They stage cases that probe the limits of human and medical communication.


    HS: What is it about the mannequins intrigued you in the first place?

    JC: I was introduced to them in Queensland, Australia four or five years ago. I work like a dung beetle; that first meeting was just a particle that got rolled along, growing and picking up ideas along the way. I started with their portraits in my last show, Terminal, but I wanted to turn their situation around and make them something more than the passive recipients of endless crises. So I made them the doctors and nurses–in fact, the whole hospital staff–and gave them a voice on the Web.