Hope Ginsburg + United States Surgical

Exploring practices traditionally considered outside the realm of artistic production, Hope Ginsburg challenges conventional notions of what constitutes art making. Mining for sites where creativity emerges in everyday life, Ginsburg is inspired by the distinct aesthetic sensibilities created and perpetuated within various professional domains. Research, participant-observation, documentation and production are components of Ginsburg’s work. In Project QVC, she documented transformative cosmetic makeovers and a series of auditions that led to her becoming a semi-finalist in the television network’s search for a program host. For Bearded Lady, she apprenticed with a beekeeper. The project culminated in the production and marketing of her own brand of honey, and the performance of a traditional bee beard. Temporarily inhabiting the environment, and experimenting with the materials and products of an adopted trade, Ginsburg paraphrases both formal and informal techniques, customs, and aesthetic practices cultivated within a particular sphere of production. Her work with U.S. Surgical investigated unofficial moments of individualized creation that coincide with the official and collective manufacture of surgical tools. The artist discovered and followed the initiative of several employees who transformed everyday, utilitarian company products into personalized and unique objects for display and consideration in their own workspaces.

Like artists’ studios, factories are usually messy places: bustling hands get dirty making things; drips and scraps fall to the floor. Appropriately, black greasy dirt, discarded shavings, dust bunnies and grimy fingerprints appeared in factories participating in Factory Direct. U.S. Surgical was quite the exception. While many of the surgical devices they produce bear an uncanny resemblance to artists tools, a tour of the manufacturing plant revealed a facility cleaner, perhaps, than the operating rooms where their products are used.

U.S. Surgical, a division of Tyco Healthcare, is located on a sixty-acre campus in North Haven, Connecticut. To enter the production floors–referred to as Clean Rooms–one must first be processed in the Gowning Rooms. Here, visitors scrub their hands with antibacterial soap, wrap in isolation gowns, don puffy caps and large plastic goggles, and have dust particulate removed via air jets installed in the connecting Blow-off Rooms.

The effect of first seeing the facility in action can be likened to Charlie Bucket’s visit to the Wonka Factory. The place is immense, and the door to each room opens into an entirely new world. Workers, shrouded identically in Clean Room uniforms, attend to oversized chemistry sets and magnificent machines that hum, buzz, gurgle, swoosh, chop, split and twirl. In this seemingly magical, surreal atmosphere, however, the serious science, innovative engineering, and assembly of advanced surgical technology is underway.

U.S. Surgical is a pioneering manufacturer of wound closure products and surgical devices. The company provides tools that reduce required time for surgery, anesthesia, hospital stay, and healing, in turn helping prevent post-operative complications. A few of their leading products include surgical needles, sutures, and staplers. Their plastic surgery needle resembles a curved upholstery needle the size of a single lower eyelash. Its almost microscopic size and its tapering diameter reduce tissue trauma and scarring. The sutures–think stitches–are available in a variety of thicknesses, and dissolve over different time intervals, depending on the healing needs of a particular organ or procedure. Plastic laparoscopic staplers are available in a wide variety of models, resembling canvas pullers and industrial staplers. Doctors insert the devices into the body through a narrow tube and see clearly their magnified handiwork on overhead video monitors. These lightweight, disposable staplers require single-hand operation and a smaller incision; their 1908 predecessor weighed eight pounds and took two hours to load!