Visitors entering BALTIC’s level 2 gallery space this winter are likely to encounter a not too fanciful glimpse of what the future of healthcare may look like. One of the most noticeable details? The absence of doctors, nurses, or any other people. As the steady march of digitisation continues to sweep through all areas of society, medicine is one frontier that has already undergone dramatic change and is on the cusp of further, complete transformation.
The immersive installation created by Lithuanian artist duo Pakui Hardware (Neringa Cerniauskaite and Ugnius Gelguda) will resemble a clinical surgery room, in which the physical process of medical intervention is administrated solely by robotic and virtual care technology. Constructed using a variety of materials and sculptural components, the work is designed to evoke an ambivalent emotional response in audiences, contrasting elements that engineer feelings of warmth and care with a sense of alienating coolness.
The idea of further digitation within healthcare deeply concerns many, for reasons including its dehumanising potential, and questions around health data gathering and exploitation. Yet, others argue that it poses a possible positive solution to the problems of access affecting poor, remote or marginalised groups of people. Is this a potential answer to the lack of provision, or simply a further abandonment of some of the most vulnerable in our society by the system?
Rather than adopting a singular position, the artists – who have engaged with issues around contemporary medicine, the quantification of health, and the relationship between bodies, technology and the economy throughout their work over the last few years – aim to offer a more nuanced provocation.
At a point when health, care, and the importance of human touch is at the forefront of many people’s minds, Pakui Hardware’s first solo exhibition in the UK has a particularly timely feel. As infrastructures become even more overwhelmed, could the vision presented within the show signal a bright new future or a more troubling sign of what’s to come?