Video Still from ‘ is time that we become human again”

“ is time that we become human again”
Running time: 4 minutes 50 seconds.


Artist: Sophie Huckfield
Music Composition: Aubrey Jackson-Blake

Commissioned for ‘SURGE’ by:
Wellcome / EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences. UCL
University of the Arts London 

The contemporary technologies of surgical trade embody a collaborative relationship - with human interaction/interface intrinsic to how they operate. These tools are operated manually by surgeons. They are designed to upskill - opposed to deskilling. The narrative around surgical robots sits at odds with the dominant narrative and histories of machines displacing workers. These robotic systems are intended to enable surgeons to become more proficient, accurate and in turn ensure the patient is safer.

Through conversation and collaboration with Dr George Dwyer, Research Fellow at the Wellcome / EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences and the Department of Computer Science at University College London. Artist Sophie Huckfield has explored the impact of automation on surgery, researching the historic and social backdrop of surgery. Dwyer is developing and re-engineering a KUKA Mobile Robotics arm, to automate the cutting of personalized cranial implants for patients. Automation is beginning to make significant impacts on surgical technology through decision support software and this is likely to facilitate the expansion of automation within surgery. How automation can be used to augment the skills of surgeons and other medical practitioners will determine the form of impact this makes on society.

Based on conversations related to his research, Huckfield researched the histories and narratives which coincide with the same automation technologies in other industries, how automation is often used as a political tool to deskill and displace workers over upskilling.

The moving work is centred on the idea of the ‘cut’ both as a literal action and as a symbolic and economic reality. She used the action of the ‘cut’ across the work, cutting up and collaging a range of texts and conversations related to the history of surgery, automation and labour to inform the creation of a new narrative which explores the complex reality of automation. She recorded sound samples of the ultrasonic cutter used by George Dwyer, working with musician Aubrey Jackson-Blake, to develop an audio work which incorporates both the sound samples and a diverse range of cutting sounds to make an engaging and accessible ‘pop’ track, which is cut to a variety of imagery related to the history of surgery, labour and automation. Alongside filmed footage of Dwyer's machine and simulation programming.

Image Credit for Images  5-9: Marcin SZ from Welcome To New Earth at Vivid Projects. 2021

Image Captions:

Image 1:  Vidoe still of a row of human bodies line the screen all from historical medical archives and imagery, the body are in different states and some are cut open. All inverted to white on a black background. 

Image 2: V ideo still top: a skull on the left and historical image of surgeon, with a chisel and hammper on the skull of patient on the right on a black background

Image 3: Video still bottom: an oval with image of surgeons in operating theatre and a square image with cars on a conveyor, a dashed line running through the middle on a black background 

Image 4: Video still middle: Two squares with image of people marching in the street on a black background