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Primum Non Nocere

  • BBA Gallery Köpenicker Str. 96 D-10179 Berlin Germany (map)

16.09. – 07.10.2017



  • Renata Kudlacek

Primum Non Nocere is a retrospective of Emma Barnard’s experience working as an artist within the medical field for several years. Primum Non Nocere* is a Latin phrase derived from the first precepts of bioethics and is taught as the fundamental principle in medical schools throughout the world.

Emma Barnard's work was developed through collaborations with consultant surgeons and their patients offering an inside view of real life experience and observations whilst giving patients a visual voice through the touring exhibition Patients As People, and reflecting on some of the harsh realities people endure in their pursuit of “getting better”. Emma Barnard's work expands on the air of mystery surrounding the surgeon’s practice. What goes on in the operating theatre is usually unknown to the patient, who must have trust in the theatrical performance, the surgeon's medical act. However, the surgeons, what kind of harm is being done to them by the immense pressure they are under?

The show includes thought provoking materials as well as insights into the surgeon and patient dynamic and theories of “projection” (the unconscious transfer of one's desires or emotions to another person) e.g. the patient viewing the surgeon as a miracle worker. Part of the work is based on the philosopher Michel Foucault's’ notion of the ‘medical gaze’ that denotes the dehumanizing medical separation of the patient's body from the patient's person (identity). Staged photographic and moving image tableaus are set to form a dialog, including artifacts such as biomedical and patient notes & surgical theatre drawings.

Emma Barnard is a visual artist, specialising in lens-based media, interdisciplinary practice and research within Fine Art and Medicine.

Her ‘Patient As Paper’ artwork is exhibited widely in galleries, universities and hospitals in England and internationally. It has been presented at medical and medical humanities conferences and most recently at University College London, Medical School. She has written for the BMJ Medical Humanities online publication. The experience Emma has gained through several years of working with consultant surgeons and their patients is influencing the field of medical education. Emma has led a highly successful pilot project at King's Medical School in London to introduce art into medical education as a vehicle for encouraging empathy and resilience, undertaken in conjunction with a critical care consultant and a fourth-year medical student. An exhibition of this work was included in the recent ‘Excellence in Learning’ conference at Somerset House, London. And more recently she taught within the Department of Health Sciences at Surrey University. 

In 2016 Emma sat on the Arts and Ethics Subcommittee at the World Congress in Bioethics and she is also a member of the Arts & Ethics Research Group (AERG ) at the University of Edinburgh. The AERG seeks to encourage both new insights and public debate around ethical, legal and social aspects of the practice and governance of medical research and healthcare.

Earlier Event: July 29
Field Works
Later Event: October 27
Contemporary Art Ruhr Art Fair