Museum Blood Count

No. 1: Katrīna Neiburga and Jānis Noviks

16.02.2021. - 16.01.2022.

The permanent exhibition of the Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum in 2021 will feature artworks by Katrīna Neiburga and Jānis Noviks – a creative response of both artists to museum’s collections and exhibits. This exhibition will launch the museum’s redefinition and residency programme entitled “Blood Count”.

Katrīna Neiburga and Jānis Noviks – active Latvian contemporary art practitioners with good knowledge of creative research methods and modern technologies – have highlighted the museum’s less noticeable and silenced aspects. 

Jānis Noviks brings patients’ voices to the museum exhibition – they are as impersonal as disease descriptions in an encyclopaedia entry. At the foundation of his sound installation are vinyl recordings from the second edition of the Soviet-published Great Medical Encyclopaedia (1956–1964). The records are a compilation of sounds produced by the human body during pathological processes, as well as examples of stuttering and speech affected by mental disorders.

Jānis Noviks’ composition is a reflection on the audio-technical aspects of patient ‘auscultation’. The space selected for playback is a room devoted to 19th century medicine, featuring an exhibit of a collection of early stethoscopes. This medical device was invented by René Laennec, a major driving force in early clinical medicine. The stethoscope’s success was ensured by two factors. Firstly, clinical medicine allowed the auscultated diagnoses to be confirmed in the hospital autopsy rooms after the patient’s death. (It could be argued this cultivation of the imaginative skills of visualising sound, turning it into a virtual album of pathological anatomy, was the first step on the road to ultrasonography.) Secondly, the acoustic cylinder tactfully set a socially significant distance between doctor and patient.

A dedicated flutist in his youth, René Laennec included detailed descriptions of the tonal and rhythmic aspects of ‘pulmonary rales’ and ‘heart gallops’ in the manuals of his acoustic diagnostic device. In addition, his experiences during the reign of terror during the French Revolution led him to the notion that many ailments are the result of traumatic events – and therefore, for diagnostic purposes, it is prudent to also interview the patient.

Katrīna Neiburga has used the residency to add to the museum’s considerable portrait gallery, which is dominated by commissioned works from the 1950s – paintings created from photos or fine art reproduction photographs. Set in opulent frames from the turn of the 20th century, these portraits hark back to a time when an impressively framed oil painting was still a medium that could convey social prestige and authority.

For her portraits, Katrīna Neiburga employs the technological means that are available to 21st century video art, but keeps away from the talking head format, since the subjects she has chosen for her story are obstinate and reckless characters who operate outside any kind of box. She found her protagonists in Hugo Glaser’s book ‘The Drama of Medicine’, which is devoted to physicians who have carried out risky medical experiments on themselves: by ingesting the cholera vibrio, spending a night in the sweat-soaked nightshirt of a typhoid patient, or infecting a self-inflicted cut with pus or blood from a plague, leprosy or syphilis sufferer. Among them is Polish-born research physician Clara Fonti of the National Cancer Institute in Milan. To challenge the assumption that malignant tumours are caused by viruses, she rubbed her breast in a patient’s open cancer lesion, which led to serious blood poisoning. Just another example of a blood test one may encounter at the museum…

About Artists

Katrīna Neiburga creates video and environmental installations and processual art, as well as video works and scenography for opera and theatre productions. She is the first recipient of the Purvītis Prize. Together with Andris Eglītis, she represented Latvia at the 56th Venice Biennale. Neiburga’s recent projects have been displayed in exhibitions such as Survival Kit 11 (Riga, 2020), Wilderness (Drusti, 2020), Riga International Biennale of Contemporary Art RIBOCA (2018), as well as in solo exhibitions: Hair (KIM? Contemporary Art Center, 2019), Playground for Accepting Mortality(with Andris Eglītis and Jānis Noviks, Klosterruine, Berlin, 2019) and Pickled Long Cucumbers(Italienska Palatset, Växjö, Sweden, 2019).

Jānis Noviks works mostly in interactive large format installations that tend to focus on everyday phenomena, sounds or body movement experiences. Recently, Noviks has participated in the Sculpture Quadrennial (Riga, 2020) and several exhibitions: Wilderness (Drusti, 2020), 7kas (Rīga, 2019), JARO (Riga, 2019), Playground for Accepting Mortality (with Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis, Klosterruine, Berlin, 2019) and Survival Kit 10(Riga, 2018).

About the Residency Programme “Blood Count”

The 2021 programme will take place in a form of institutional self-criticism during a time of change. The global experience of the pandemic has brought a tension into social thinking on health-related issues. That is why it is crucial that medicine, as a science of nature and technology, recognizes the perspective of social history, anthropology and cultural theory. 

For the whole year, the Museum will work as a multidisciplinary research laboratory, conducting a complete blood count and analysing its own future prospects. 

Blood Count, the museum’s research project residency programme, invites participants from outside the field to work with the museum’s collections, library resources and loft archives. This brings a prism of different outlooks and experiences to the research and helps to diversify the range of professional approaches and tools in working on future exhibitions.

A poster for the exhibition


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