Performing Surgery

Performing Surgery

We received funding for our research project PERFORMING SURGERY! The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) accepted the proposal in the PEEK program. The project will be based at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Here is the abstract of the endeavor:



Movement Research in the Operating Theater


The artistic research endeavor Performing Surgery examines operating hands. They are regarded from two perspectives: as motoric precision tools and as for the bodily reality of another human being empathetically feeling organs. While operating touch and movement – in interpersonal contact – are inextricably connected.

In the operating theater with video and analogue film gathered movement materials – operating hands – serve as the foundation for the development of drawings and choreographic works. The endeavor is inspired by the responses on a video installation that was created in recent years in the context of plastic surgery. A series of three Hand Movies (Lammer 2012, HD videos à 5′),, was discussed at a variety of occasions both at home and abroad. The Hand Movies offer a starting point. We – the visual artist Barbara Graf, the choreographer Doris Stelzer and I, the sociologist and videographer Christina Lammer – are particularly interested in the physical skills of surgeons and how they are achieved. In our understanding the operating hands are organs of interpersonal contact. They articulate a unique language of the Leib (body). They – the hands and their moving vocabulary – shall be explored with the help of drawing and choreographic methods.

A ‚book of movement‘ (Doris Stelzer) shall be created. We work with video / analogue film, drawing and choreography, unfolding the body language in the operating theater in order to make it accessible for a broader public. Parallel to the participant observations of moving hands in the operating suite video interviews with surgeons shall be carried out. Experiential naratives. Oral histories. In these conversations sessions of reenactment shall be involved. The physicians are asked to show and draw exemplary operations in front of the camera. Barbara Graf apprehends hand movements with a pencil. Her drawings are based on the idea that the process of drawing, culturally regarded, has a lot in common with performing surgery. Further sources of inspiration are atlases of surgical operations and sketches of surgeons. Theoretically we particularly refer to the philosopher Henri Bergson’s „Function of the Leib“ (body). Doris Stelzer and I rehearse the gestures of surgeons in order to develop performative works.

Christina Lammer

(Project leader)


This is a conceptual sketch that the visual artist Barbara Graf, the choreographer Doris Stelzer and I have put together. We develop an artistic research endeavor on the gestures of surgeons. The working title: Performing Surgery. In a test arrangement – a reenactment of hand movements – the plastic surgeon Manfred Frey showed me various standard procedures in his field of practice. In this particular methodological setting the body of the patient was replaced by a white cloth. The surgeon needed to unwrap the fabric that served as a neutral canvas for his distinct gestures. Here is a selection of video stills.

Photographs: Christina Lammer 2014


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