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"A New Lease"

Colored pencil, 17" X 24"
By Benjamin Blais

Given how complex our bodies are—from the level of cells to tissues to organs and body systems—it's extraordinary that we don't have things going wrong all of the time. In fact, our bodies function well and they function for decades—better than most machines.

My work deals with the fact that our bodies were designed rather logically, with each part functioning in concert with the others quite beautifully yet maintaining a unique individuality. The heart is not only a great example, it is arguably one of the most central. It is hard at work contracting and relaxing without rest for our entire lifetime in order to ensure the rest of the body is supplied with the nutrients it needs to function. By retirement age, the heart has beat about 2.5 billion times. It is no surprise that this organ often shows signs of wear and tear as one ages.

However, just like man-made machines, its level of function is just the sum of its parts. The exciting point, and the basis for this piece, is that medicine is learning how to fix those parts in order to extend the functioning life of the machine and the individual that it serves. This drawing depicts an aortic valve replacement, in which the existing valve could not be repaired. It has been removed entirely and is being replaced with a bovine tissue valve.

My work uses bright, saturated colors to appear more visceral and real. The trompe l'oeil style of drawing, in which the drawing is seemingly not confined to the page, makes the image feel more like the actual surgery. The reasoning is that this is real; it is done from photographs and images of the actual procedure. My work is meant to express the idea that just as parts of our body can fail, they can also be fixed or replaced. It also attempts to accurately and brutally expose what these procedures really look like to the general public—people who are often the subjects but rarely the spectators of this scene. I like to wonder, if one of the most crucial organs in our body can be repaired or replaced, what is in our future? What parts of us give us our identity in a world where heart transplants, even successful face transplants, are a reality?

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Geisel School of Medicine at DartmouthDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College