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Breathe, Fibres of Papers Past

Solo exhibition at the International Museum of Surgical Science
March 12 - June 13, 2021

The International Museum of Surgical Science is housed in a four-story landmarked Chicago mansion built in 1917 for socialite and philanthropist Eleanor Robinson Countiss as a family home. The design for the mansion was inspired by the Le Petit Trianon chateau on the grounds of Versailles completed in 1770, which Eleanor had visited during her travels to Europe. The fortune to fund the construction of the home was provided by her father, John Kelly Robinson, an executive at The Diamond Match Company. The Diamond Match Company was founded by Eleanor’s grandfather George Barber in Ohio and became the largest match manufacturer in the late 19th century.

The mansion was later acquired from the family in the early 1950s by the International College of Surgeons (ICS) founded in 1935 by surgeon Dr. Max Thorek and headquartered next door. The goal of the ICS was to promote a global exchange of surgical knowledge. Initially conceived as the ICS Hall of Fame, the museum eventually expanded to become a repository for its growing collection of historically significant surgical instrumentation, artworks and manuscripts from surgeons, collectors and institutions.

Together with Dr. Solomon Greenspahn, Dr. Thorek founded the American Hospital primarily to support low-income patients in 1917 – the same year the Countiss Mansion was completed. His professional endeavors are chronicled in his autobiography, A Surgeon’s World. Dr. Thorek was also an accomplished photographer, participating in photography salons worldwide. He published two photography books, Creative Camera Art (1937) and Camera Art as a Means of Self-Expression (1947), detailing the technical aspects of the paper negative process and aesthetic concerns of the Pictorialist photographer.

Breathe, Fibres of Papers Past begins with an homage to these two historical narratives and continues throughout the four floors of the museum. The exhibition responds to these intertwined histories by engaging objects from the museum’s permanent collection, which include original blueprints of the mansion and a variety of medicinal and photographic material. By pulling together varied physical and textual sources, Aoki reveals the layered architectural, historical, and haptic relationships that compose a place.

Exhibition supported in part by the Illinois Arts Council 

Diamond Tin Series. 
photographs of Countiss Mansion created with artist-made Diamond Tin pinhole camera.
gelatin silver prints

Anatomy Of - sectional cyanotypes created from original 1916 architectural drawings of the Countiss Mansion


Appears to Be - series of sequential images where exposure is determined by the number of breaths taken, ascending from one to twelve. Frames created by former respiratory therapist Steve Ducklow.
gelatin silver prints

Sightline Siteline – panorama photographed from mansion rooftop with Henry Clay Camera, belonging to IMSS permanent collection.
gelatin silver prints

Signature Bun – photograms of artist hair hung at artist bun height.

gelatin silver prints & artist hair

photograms on x-ray film

digital projection 16mm film

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