Dr Tulp and the Theatre of Zoom

Authors: Westling, C., Bevan-Mogg, W. and Neumann, A.

https://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/3291878

Start date: 16 July 2020

Annja Neumann, CDH Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, Carina Westling, Lecturer in Cross-Platform media and Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Lecturer in Film Production, both of Bournemouth University

‘It’s hard to judge a life by its body. Maybe it’s a side effect of the job, but I quite like my bodies to have a bit more movement in them.’

There have always been parallels between medical performances (the operating theatre) and those undertaken in other theatres; and in both cases a key issue concerns how bodies are staged, laid out, anatomized, mapped and how they materialize. Nowhere is this parallel made clearer than in Rembrandt’s canonical painting De anatomische les van Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632), and in re-workings associated with it spanning the early nineteenth century to the present day: Arthur Schnitzler’s medical drama Professor Bernhardi (1912), for instance, Christian Petzold’s film Barbara (2012) or Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living (2016). Across the last two centuries, such reworkings re-appear across different media, often at points of crisis.

In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have adapted Rembrandt’s powerful theatrical setting to the virtual environment now used by so many to interact with each other to produce an on-line series of performances and a workshop. As it takes place within Dr Tulp’s Zoom theatre, this unfolding autopsy will expose the tissues that demarcate the interior and the exterior. The focus shifts, in the process, between the audience and the object of investigation, each gradually becoming more unstable. Four participants at a time will meet digital Tulp in a twelve-minute performance, repeated four times per hour.

Inspired by the mass shift to online spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, the co-producers Annja Neuman, Carina Westling and Wendy Bevan-Mogg seek to examine how online interaction ‘de-abjectifies’ the human body (Lemma, 2015), by banishing its messy form and leaked fluids, and how Zoom promotes the illusion of interpersonal transparency and immediate communication.

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