The body beyond the anatomy lab

Article text
Death, Art & Anatomy Conference, University of Winchester, 3-6 June, 2016

Bearing witness to corpses ‘in the flesh’ is rooted in the cultural history of human anatomy and dissection. For 21st century medicine, whose ethics determine the display of anatomised bodies to be limited to ‘neutralised’ scientific and scholarly contexts[1], first-hand experience of dissection has become a guarded professional ritual that depends on the violation of the taboo (access to the interior of the body and to death). Why then, am I here in the anatomy lab as an artist if my role is other than to integrate artistic methodologies to profit education?

Drawing on my experiences as artist in residence in anatomy laboratories, and my broader practice investigating anatomical material to explore the dead body, I discuss how my research inside the lab is wholly valuable to generating lines of enquiry about the anatomised, pathologised and medicalised body in contexts beyond the lab – the foreign body, the vulnerable body, the dead body, the operative body, the body as material – which become subjects (and objects) for my visual artwork. I argue that the visual arts should not be a means to an end of humanising medical practice – a defining movement of medical humanities – but be pioneering in interdisciplinary collaborations to offer new ways of thinking about the body aesthetically, ethically, politically and globally, in life and death.

[1] Ludmilla Jordonova, ‘Happy Marriages and Dangerous Liaisons: Artists and Anatomy’, in Deanna Petherbridge and Ludmilla Jordonova, The Quick and the Dead: Artists and Anatomy (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1997), pp. 96

Death, Art and Anatomy Conference