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Theatre performance by the Centre for Public Health at the Tanzquartier Wien

(Vienna, 9th 06 2011) Klaus Spiess from the Centre for Public Health at the Medical University of Vienna is working on translating medical topics into film and theatre, and is cooperating with arts colleges and cultural institutions in the process. He is following in the footsteps of many other international universities, such as Yale or Stanford, by bringing together the science of medicine and art. The group led by Klaus Spiess will be performing a play from the 16th to the 18th of June in the Tanzquartier Wien – one of Europe’s most prestigious theatre venues.
 
The human immune system as the plot
The current theatre performance entitled “Fictional Offender” starts with the question of what influence social networks such as YouTube or weblogs have on patients with immune diseases. The work explores the key issue of what happens if “virtual” characters on the Internet suddenly become real, “tangible” people. Supported by videos and texts from the Internet, the production shows how self image and the perceptions of others change, and what influence the international nature of the World Wide Web has on the people affected and how they perceive their immune system.
 
This artistic exploration of the issue makes clear just what sort of complexity the research work by the Public Health sector involves, and how the results of this research can increase public interest in health-related issues.
Spiess spoke about the approach and intent of the new production: “Ahead of the production, we investigated the narrative and image patterns of self-portrayals by people with immunological diseases on the Internet. We included social platforms, blogs, but also those "self-exam shows". Our question in all of this was how the lack of territorialism on the web influences the language of immunological characteristics such as invasion, defence, deception and tolerance, and how this is reflected in the self-perceptions of the people affected.
 
As characters reproduced on the stage, the figures extracted from the media had to develop new behavioural patterns as they were linked to the live bodies of the actors. The actors had to use their bodies and their voices to close the gaps between biology, the media and the subjective character. 
With the direct evidence achievable in the scene, we practised during rehearsals with exemplification, supplementation, relocation and falsification until the hidden mutual dependence of subjective, biological and media-related identities was portrayed.
Our aim here is to define the interface between the biological body present and the absent body in the media using artistic means. This is intended to create an appropriate, imaginary figure from both a scientific and an artistic perspective with whom the public and those affected can identify.”
 
‘Fictional Offender’
The group led by Spiess has now been invited, following a competitive selection process, to develop the current production ‘Fictional Offender’ in the Tanzquartier Wien.

Scientists and artists involved
The group’s stage designer Lucie Strecker (D) was the director, while Salka Ardal Rosengren (S) and Nicholas Hoffmann (USA) were employed as actors. The overall concept for the work was developed by Klaus Spiess. Philippe Riéra, member of the Superamas performance collective, supported the work’s development in his role as coach. Superamas collaborated with Professor Emeritus R. Trappl from the Medical University of Vienna in 2002.  The current production is being sponsored by the Austrian Ministry for Education and Art's interdisciplinary projects department. 
The performance will be given as part of the ‘Patchwork’ (Stückwerk) series (format for young choreographic creativity) together with other short pieces from the 16th to the 18th of June 2011 in the Tanzquartier’s studios (» www.tqw.at).
 
From intention to tradition
As far back as 2000, the group led by Klaus Spiess began tackling the issues of filming on hospital wards as part of an FWF project, and later made students aware of how to communicate with patients through dramaturgical media. The collaboration with arts and film colleges as well as cultural institutions both in Austria and abroad has allowed the use of artistic material in the portrayal of medical topics to be systematically handled for the public, patients and students. Films by the team have now not only been shown at various medical congresses, but they are also viewable online on the web channel of the highly-respected British “Tate Modern”. A reworked video still of a scene involving doctors and medical students was crowned “Picture of the Year” in 2009 as part of the Art and Science focus by the Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research (FWF).
Extraordinary University Professor Dr. Klaus Spiess works at the MedUni Vienna in the Centre for Public Health (Institute of Clinical Psychology). The focus of his professional career is the field of Arts and Humanities in Medicine.
 
Centre for Public Health at the Medical University of Vienna
“Public Health” is a multi-disciplinary domain that encompasses natural, social and cultural sciences. On the basis of biomedical knowledge and as a logical addition to this, quantitative methods such as those used in epidemiology or bio-statistics, as well as qualitative methods from social and cultural sciences are used to capture health-related data, uncover the current and historical influences of society and the environment on health and illness, analyse their significance for the overall population and facilitate the development of population-related measures for prevention, health promotion, improved medical care, changes in behaviour and control of environmental conditions.
The aim of Public Health is to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the population through health-related initiatives in research, development, education and public relations as well as through the provision of advice to national and international committees. Research in “Public Health” creates the scientific basis required to achieve these goals.

MedUni Vienna, Center for Public Health
» www.meduniwien.ac.at/zph