Saturday, November 9, 2013

How it Feels to Force-Feed

June 2013

The intubation of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, the use of force-feeding to stifle dissent, took on a disturbing clarity for me in the process of becoming a registered nurse. I had to ask myself how a nurse, in the context of the prison system, could agree to perform an act of torture.

The procedure itself, typically used when a patient is unable to swallow or otherwise maintain adequate oral nutrition, is a familiar one. Supplies are gathered and laid out. The patient or prisoner is positioned at an angle of at least 45 degrees to avoid aspiration of the feeding contents. Physical or chemical restraints may be ordered to prevent self-harm resulting from resistance to the procedure. A flexible plastic nasogastric tube is held and measured from the tip of the nose to the earlobe, from the earlobe to the xyphoid process, to approximate the distance from the nostril to the stomach. The tip of the nasogastric tube is lubricated and inserted through the nare, guided through the nose to the back of the throat. The patient or prisoner may cough and gag when the tube reaches the epiglottis and should be instructed to tuck his chin down toward his chest and swallow to guide the tube into the esophagus. When the tube has been inserted to the measured point and secured to the nose, placement in the stomach must be verified by x-ray. The most accurate bedside technique to verify placement is the extraction of gastric secretions by syringe and testing to confirm an acidic pH. Liquid nutrients are then delivered directly to the stomach by force of gravity. The tube is flushed with 30 cc 's water or normal saline to ensure complete delivery of the feeding contents. The tape is removed from the nose and the patient or prisoner is instructed to hold her breath as the tube is removed.

Violence is not innate in any person, and a nurse does not independently decide that performing torture is compatible with her role. To some, the violation of a prisoner's autonomy and bodily integrity may be justified by concluding that the breach is necessary for the protection of the prisoner's life. In no other context is it considered justifiable to force-feed a patient who will not consent to eat, whether or not it is necessary for the preservation of life. I believe another force is at work here. In treating patients under a privatized medical system organized by profit, nurses are regularly asked to place speed of production over quality of care. Performing all necessary procedures in a timely manner on a floor with a low nurse-to-patient ratio may require that a nurse treat each patient as a set of necessary tasks to be completed and documented. Guidelines for the use of restraint and the acquisition of consent are set in state Nurse Practice Acts and clarified in a facility's Policy and Procedure Manual. This provides a baseline of ethical practice, but it may also distance nurses from daily engagement with ethical reasoning. Selective dehumanization of prisoners or patients is more conceivable in this context.

The insertion of a tube through the narrow nasal passages, along the length of the esophagus and into the stomach is uncomfortable at best, and by circumstance, technique, or a patient’s condition, painful and terrifying. The ease of the procedure is determined largely by the patient's cooperation; positioning of the head and forceful swallowing guide the nasogastric tube into place. In 1914, Djuna Barnes underwent the procedure, then used on hunger-striking suffragists, as a journalistic experiment: "All of life's problems had now been reduced to one simple act-- to swallow or to choke." I cannot claim understanding of how it feels to be tortured for having performed a medical procedure on myself in the safety of my apartment. I have no means of identification with a prisoner held in indefinite detention, denied confidential counsel, stripped of consent. In performing the procedure of nasogastric tube feeding on myself, I did not attempt to understand the impossible contradiction of being forcibly fed by my own hand, but rather, sought a relationship with the experience of a nurse acting as a torturer.

"Limits surely there are to the subservience even of those who must sternly execute the law." --Djuna Barnes

Untitled, 2013

toilet paper tubes, polyurethane, hair, leather, acrylic paint, jar, caulk 

A friend told me that the bricks used to build most of Chicago around the turn of century were softer, fired in kilns to a lower core temperature. The city’s older, soft-bricked buildings have been repaired with mortar intended for the newer, harder bricks, leading to the cracks and buckling that are as critical to the city’s architectural landscape as the bricks themselves. The overgrown lots reclaiming bricks from 1893 and 1963 into the soil and the cinderblock condo buildings built at the peak of the housing bubble with sheets of artificial brick sealed onto their facades and already crumbling are also critical to that landscape, how we read it and relate to it. 

My intimacy with the city and its landscape is the same intimacy I share with friends and lovers— emotional commitment lacing into ideological critique, history into fantasy, structural material into garbage. This pair of objects embodies that intimacy and provides a tool for seeing and building these relationships. 

Yelp Reviews of Correctional Centers written by Formerly Incarcerated Americans

screen print on birch plywood, red wriggler compost in plexiglass box, printer paper, wheat-paste, ceramic plates, compost liquids 

In the United States, 1 in every 32 residents is on parole, on probation, or currently incarcerated, and 1 in every 5 adults has a criminal record. Those who are tied into the prison system by incarceration, probation, or parole are its products; formerly incarcerated Americans who are tied in by a criminal record, probation, or parole are, like all non-incarcerated Americans, its consumers. 

Our identities as consumers under late capitalism are our most visible and clearly defined identities. Consumption at its most basic — how and what we eat — may be the most divisive aspect of those identities, separating the foodies and the locavores from the junk-foodies in the food deserts. Yelp, as a consumer-created product, is a website that depends on self-selected consumptive identities, and in turn, gives consumers a sense of creative control over systems in which they have no other role. The reviews of jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers on Yelp, written by those who have lived as the products of this system and live now as its most disenfranchised consumers, are digital relics of not just the fact of lining up at 4 a.m. for “Shit on a Shingle” but the meaning of that experience and a means of controlling the uncontrollable. 

The cycle of incarceration in the U.S. can appear to be a closed system, a loop defined by lack of choices and bad luck (it is unlucky to be a young black man in a major city, where your chance of incarceration is as high as 3 out of 4), recidivism or reincarceration a near inevitability. Conscientious consumer choice is defined by its polarity with choicelessness, and its relation to limitations of choice. The non-incarcerated, the incarcerated, and the formerly incarcerated are also connected by this polarity and relativity. 

Robin Hustle at Woman Made Gallery, July 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

SLIPPERY SLOPE event and installation photos by Ruby Thorkelson

SLIPPERY SLOPE at Woman Made Gallery, July 2013. A group porn show curated by Robin Hustle with work by Virginia Aberle, Margaret Bobo-Dancy, Clothilde, Megan Diddie, Mikey Estes, Darcy Fangi, Sarah Faux, Ektor Maria Garcia, Vanessa Harris, Alyssa Herlocher, Young Joon Kwak, Daniel Luedtke, Noelle Mason, Ulrike Müller, Betsy Odom, Caroline Picard, Ruby Thorkelson, Xara Thustra, Lainey Waugh, Shoshanna Weinberger, Dustin Yager
Noelle Mason gives a talk about trauma in her work.

Anne Wells presents sexy title sequence typography from the Chicago Film Archives
Megan Milks (center) reads from her Traumarama Project.

Sarah Weis (right) performs Intimate Chats

An intimate engagement with Ruby Thorkelson's Spit Mixer (Robin Hustle, left; Ruby Thorkelson, right).

Left to right: neon sign by Robin Hustle, Fond (Fingerbang) by Noelle Mason, Anxious Accidents by Megan Diddie, and Ruby's Spit Mixer.

Daniel Luedtke's Cheap Douche (L) and Shoshanna Weinberger's Menage a Trois

Installed work by Alyssa Herlocher, Betsy Odom, Xara Thustra, Ektor Maria Garcia, and Sarah Faux

Left to right: Alyssa Herlocher's Scrotal Mountains, Margaret Bobo-Dancy's Conch Critter, Dustin Yager's FUCKFACE, and painting installation by Xara Thustra