Prostate cancer is a common and potentially very serious disease. In the USA, it's the second most common cause of cancer-related death among men. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to discuss it openly and even more reluctant to get tested for it. With this little installation, I'm hoping to at least get people thinking about it.
The sign reads:
Don't let prostate cancer catch you by surprise
1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
1 in 36 men will die from it.
If you're male and over 50, ask your doctor about testing.
So far, I've only made one of these sculptures and installed it in the city of San Francisco, CA. I'd be delighted if other people joined in and made their own sculptures in their own home towns. Let's get people talking about rectal exams!
For full instructions, read on.
A few thoughts on the wording of the sign
I wanted to choose a few key facts that would grab people's attention without overloading them with information. I intentionally chose not to say, "if you are n years old then you should get screened."
While prostate cancer is extremely common, it varies hugely in its severity and need of treatment. The benefits of widespread prostate cancer screening are unclear and controversial. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no evidence that indiscriminate screening leads to any reduction in mortality and it certainly leads to an increase in painful and expensive medical treatments which often later turn out to be unnecessary.
However, certain people are at more risk than others. If you have a strong family history of prostate cancer or have been suffering from any its symptoms and are between 40 and 70 you should consider getting tested. You should certainly have a discussion with your doctor about the merits of testing. The test consists of a simple blood test (prostate serum antigen or PSA*) and a socially awkward but usually painless rectal exam. It might not sound pleasant, but it could save your life. As many surgeons will tell you, "If you don't put your finger in it, you'll put your foot in it."
(*this whole art installation could be thought of as a PSA PSA)
Step 1: Materials
For the hand sculpture:
- Plaster of Paris (or, even better, hard plaster)
- Dental alginate
- Vinyl glove
- Plastic bag
- Adhesive tape
- White primer
- Blue latex paint
- Masking tape
- Enamel varnish
For the accompanying sign:
- White acrylic (1/8" thickness)
- Blue paint
- Mixing bucket for alginate and plaster
- Laser cutter
- Fine sandpaper
Step 2: Hand Casting Box
Step 3: Mixing the Alginate
I poured 4.5 cups of water into my mixing bucket, then sprinkled 3 cups of alginate on top (as with plaster, always add alginate to water rather than water to alginate). As I was going to be getting covered in alginate anyway, I used my hand to mix up the alginate and squeeze out any lumps and stir out any bubbles.
If you're trying this, be warned: you don't have much working time before you're left with a mixing bucket full of solid rubber!
Step 4: Pouring the Alginate
I could tell that the alginate had set by prodding it with my free hand and gingerly wriggling my submerged fingers slightly to see if they came free from their surrounding material.
Step 5: Removing My Hand
Step 6: Pouring Plaster
Remember: always add plaster to water, not vice versa.
I then poured the plaster into the hand-shaped holed in the alginate. To get rid of any bubbles, I tilted the mold to various angles and, since I'd already used my hand to mix the plaster, put my hand back inside the mold and probed its nooks and crannies with my fingers.
I then left the plaster to cure.
Step 7: Liberating the Hand
I then pulled this apart bit by bit, taking care not to put too much stress on the plaster contained within. Eventually, I was left with a plaster copy of my hand. Evidently I hadn't eliminated all the bubbles in the alginate and the plaster, so the result was slightly wartier than my actual hand.
Step 8: Manicure Time
Step 9: Painting
Once this had dried, I masked off everything below the edge of the glove with tape and added a layer of blue latex paint to give the appearance of a latex glove.
I finished off the sculpture with a layer of clear enamel varnish to protect it from the elements.
Step 10: The Plaque
I then sprayed blue paint into the etched surfaces, let it dry and removed the masking to produce a blue and white plaque.
If you do decide to build your own one of these, it will probably be much easier to just print out a sign onto card and laminate it to protect it from rainfall.
Step 11: Mounting the Pieces
To avoid being accused of outright vandalism, I wanted the sculpture to be firmly attached but removable without causing any damage to the bench. This ruled out most adhesives, so I decided to mount the sculptures on pieces of plywood and use zip ties to attach them to the bench.
I traced the outline of the sculpture and the plaque onto the plywood, then cut out the pieces with a jigsaw. I drilled holes for zip ties and used a Dremel to cut channels for the zip ties to lie in, so that the wood would have a flush surface. I drilled and countersunk holes for screws to attach the plaster sculpture, but just glued the plaque in place to its own piece of wood with epoxy resin.
Step 12: The Finished Pieces
Step 13: The Target
Step 14: The Final Result
And let me know if you see it in real life or if you decide to build your own!