A Toronto art installation takes you inside an MRI machine


MRI: From Behind The Plexi by Naomi Jaye is on display at Merdian Arts Centre (5040 Yonge) from November 11-14. Noon-5 pm. insidemri.com

There is no one right way to approach MRI: From Behind The Plexi. Claustrophobic yet spacious, private yet voyeuristic, the interactive video installation is designed to allow visitors choice in their level of interaction, a direct juxtaposition to the restrictive experience of an MRI.

Designed by film director Naomi Jaye, the immersive installation was born out of her personal experience. Eight years ago, Jaye’s mother died of breast cancer, and as part of a high-risk breast cancer screening program she began having yearly MRIs. The experience was isolating and traumatic, and eventually inspiring for the artist. A vision came to Jaye during one of her MRIs: what would it look like if someone were inside the machine, viewing her from below?

To bring this vision to life, Jaye partnered with Dora Award-winning choreographer Molly Johnson, who developed and performed all the dances for MRI.

The installation space at the Meridian Arts Centre in North York is quiet, sterile and harshly lit. Several rows of chairs surround three cots, each with a pair of headphones on them. Above each cot is a large rectangular screen and various articles of hospital clothing are strewn on the floor. Viewers can choose their vantage point, making each experience of MRI a unique one.

The design of the MRI forces guests to be both witness and participant, as they watch a deeply personal, uncomfortable experience unfold for the dancer/patient trapped in a perpetual MRI scan.

I chose to view from a cot on the end, and as I laid down and put on the headphones I found myself immediately frozen in place by the sound of the MRI machine. My hands on my chest, fingers interlocked, the melodic mechanical droning hypnotizing me and holding me in position.

Nick Lachance

Above me a sheet of plexiglass rolled in with a woman lying on it, face down, staring at me. The sounds of the MRI machine in both our ears, both of us laying completely still not wanting to disturb the scan. Then I saw her foot move ever so slightly, and the dance had begun.

Regardless of where the dance took the patient in the enclosed rectangular space, my focus kept being drawn back to the three holes directly above me. One for a face, and two for breasts, they were the portals between our realities. The dancer reached through them with her feet and arms, she dropped her hospital boots through and they magically appeared on the ground around my cot. In brief moments our eyes would meet and I felt how we were both trapped by the sound of the machine.

Eventually I found myself first peeking at the screen beside me, then staring at it, and then looking further to the third screen. I tried to soak in all the different versions of the dance happening above me. Time disappeared, the droning sound of the MRI machine remained, but when the plexiglass took the patient away from my screen for a second time, I saw my chance and escaped the machine.

I felt guilty leaving, because I knew she would be back and I would be gone. Our connection – our mutual support system – was broken, but she had to remain.

Naomi Jaye's MRI video installation
Nick Lachance




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