The Weight of the Word is an extensive and in-depth documentation work by photographer Piero Martinello and historian Piero Casentini on the eponymy cases of nine Nazi doctors and researchers.
An eponym in medicine is a disorder or syndrome that bears the name of the doctor who isolated and described it. Eponyms in medicine are numerous and it is a great honour for clinicians to see their name to that of a pathology. Even today there are many eponyms that perpetuate the memory of doctors who operated during the Nazi regime and were guilty of crimes and ethically dishonourable behaviour and who went as far as in some cases prisoners of the extermination camps as lab rats for their medical research. The scientific successes of these doctors, which led to the discovery of new diseases or otherwise to the advancement of medical science, have, however, also provided a special immunity to these eponyms, and only in recent years it has been deemed appropriate to remove the name of the physician from the name of the pathology.
The collection of textual and visual material from libraries and archives or from medical texts still in use, as in the case of the anatomical atlas by Pernkopf, allows us to reconstruct the personal history of these doctors, their research, and, in some cases, the damnatio memoriae that followed the condemnation of their work and their direct responsibility. The documentary material collected, which will feed into a forthcoming book, directs the observer to a synoptic vision, whereby the link between the human and biography of the nine doctors, the crimes they committed and the scientific success they achieved is stitched together, to prevent us from keeping human responsibility separate, medical methodology and the successes of their research. The work of Martinello and Casentini invites us to reflect on the deontological and ethical dimension in the field of science and the immunity that science sometimes enjoys.
Translating The Weight of the World into an exhibition is a risky operation as the visual material has an attractive form that can distract us from its obscure origin. And this is another knot that the work incidentally addresses, namely how to trace the visual documentary forms back to a circumstantial history that can contain the effect of fascination that the otherwise isolated document exerts on us. The exhibition thus aims to stimulate reflection on the unification of causes and effects, where otherwise there would only be a disposition to forgetful enjoyment of the form.