A note before we start: some of this information has been copied pretty directly from Wikipedia and other sites. That information is italicized. Also, I use the phrase ‘some say’ as an abbreviated way to tell you that this all happened a long time ago, and there are various theories on exactly what happened. At the end of this post, I will give you links to websites with more information, OK?
Mondino de Luzzi, (ca. 1270 – 1326), was an Italian professor of surgery. His major work, Anathomia Corporis Humani, written in 1316, is considered the first example of a modern dissection manual. He made lasting, (if not completely accurate) contributions to the field of anatomy. This is the image that comes up when you google:
For anatomy classes, the professor would sit in a large, ornate elevated chair, reading from an anatomical text, while a demonstrator actually performed the dissection.
So, he did dissections and wrote about them, which was a very big deal at the time.
Today, I can google ‘dissections’ and get a very detailed photo of the human body being opened and displayed. Before my husband had surgery, he was able to see a video of the procedure online! However, for most of history, dissections were forbidden, which made for some very inaccurate anatomical knowledge. The ancient Egyptians (who mummified bodies, which included opening and rummaging around inside) had a pretty good knowledge of anatomy. Some say when Alexander the Great ruled Egypt, around 330BCE, a change in attitude allowed two Greek scientists, Herophilus and Erasistratus, to do dissections. As a member of the well-known scholastic community in the newly founded city of Alexandria during the single, brief period in Greek medical history when the ban on human dissection was lifted.
They did many dissections. Some say they did vivisections (cutting open people while still alive).There doesn’t seem to be anything definitive, but 1. They gained a great deal of information and 2. the charges of vivisection stopped dissections for centuries. No more human dissections. Some say the Catholic Church was responsible for the ban but, as I read further, it looks like they’re probably off the hook for this one. Around 200 AD Galen copied (?) as much as he could of the knowledge gained by Herophilus and Erasistratus, and added what he could from dissecting animals….which caused mistakes that were taken as fact for centuries. And that was that until 1316….when Mondino reintroduced the practice of public human dissection and wrote the first modern anatomical text.
Images from various copies of the book. I started my composition with the dissection scene for the center one (above) and the reader-in-the-chair from the first picture.
Mondino lead the dissection from a chair situated on a podium and read aloud from Galen’s books. If the findings did not match the descriptions, they were interpreted as morphological transmutation …does this mean that words have changed meaning in translation, or that this particular body is different than the norm presented by Galen?
Anyhow, I gathered up a few more supporting players and re-cast…
Still a lot of empty space there, Diane. How about we cram in some guts?
There are some truly gruesome images from old medical texts..
The final corpse is a composite.
Anatomical instruments and a human heart…..
…which I put in the hands of the crowd.
And a first, totally dreadful attempt at color.
Again, I’ve copied from the masters to get my colors. In this case, a painting by Benjamin West: “Erasistratus the Physician Discovers the Love of Antiochus for Stratonice” was painted in 1772. The painting derives its subject from a legend loosely based on Greek history. West’s picture tells the story of Seleucus, the king of Syria, who has summoned the eminent Greek physician Erasistratus to diagnose a mysterious ailment afflicting his son Antiochus. After observing the prince’s behavior, the doctor concludes that Antiochus is suffering from unrequited love. West depicts the moment when Erasistratus—taking Antiochus’s pulse—discovers that Antiochus longs for his own stepmother, Stratonice. According to legend, the king gave his wife to his beloved son, saving his life.
Did you catch that tile? Erastratus the Physician? That’s right, one of the two men who did all those dissections in ancient Greece (or Alexandria). No, that’s not why I chose this particular painting, but it’s a delightful little connection.
Damn: even when copying I can’t get it right! Why did I change my plan and paint him YELLOW? (or did the dye I painted just give me a different result??)
Originally, the guy in the bright orange clothing was cutting with a horizontal knife. I changed that into a perpendicular probing tool to make it more visually comprehensible.
Sewing, sewing, sewing. OK, here’s how far I’ve gotten:
Well I’ll be darned: the yellow works! It creates a bright center, drawing in your eye. Not finished, but coming along well. Some details:
If you’re interested, here are some websites to learn more:
As usual, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2015, I was asked to guest curate a textile show by Dorrie Papademetriou, the exhibitions director at The Noyes Museum of Art, NJ. We decided on a show of textile artists who focus on science, and I spent months researching and contacting artists all over the world. This was the statement:
Many textile artists are concerned with design, stitches and dyes.
Some textile artists are deeply immersed in science, producing felted fossils, knitted organisms and embroidered mathematics, allowing viewers to appreciate even microscopic life forms. These artists are more obsessed with cell forms than stitches. They research the biology/paleontology/numbers before they plan the material work.
The result is art that illuminates science beyond the capacity of any photograph. Cellular forms are explicated in lace, fossil forms are definitively quilted, and numbers are clarified in stitch. The work of these international artist/scientists will be presented in the show Scientifically Stitched at the Noyes Museum.
The show never happened. I always thought it was a shame that it was never seen...and now I have a venue to show it all right here on my blog! So here is all the art that I wanted to show - the pieces that would have been included, the ones I couldn't get, the ones we never could have afforded to ship. Enjoy.
Emily Stoneking, in Vermont, knits animal dissections, showing the anatomy without cruelty. Her website is http://www.emilystoneking.com/
Alvena Hall, in Australia, celebrates the Ediacaran fossils ( found in the Flinders Ranges), in lace. Her website is https://alvenahall.weebly.com/
Karen Norberg in Boston, MA, knitted an anatomically correct brain. No website, but you can read about her in these two articles: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/4245919/Psychiatrist-knits-anatomically-correct-woolly-brain.html https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/abby-normal-nope-psychiatrist-knits-2009-01-16/
Anna Dumitriu, in the UK, embroidered the various germs found on clothing in Lab Coat Flora. Her website is http://www.medinart.eu/works/anna-dumitriu/
Simone Pheulpin, in France, creates fossil forms by folding cotton. She uses only pins and non starched local fabric. Good article about her work here: https://parisdiarybylaure.com/simone-pheulpin-sculpts-folded-cotton/
Ruth Tabancay, in California: 'An assemblage of hand-felted pellets affixed across a wall. The viewer is first grabbed by the pellets' vibrant spectrum of pinks and reds, and then drawn into their disarray. The actual inspiration for the piece is scientifically grounded in Serratiamarcescens, a bacterium that was released over San Francisco by the US military in 1950 to test the population's vulnerability to germ warfare'. Go to her website http://www.ruthtabancay.com/ to see her newest work.
Anita Bruce, In the UK, knits forms of plankton with fine wire. Go to here website, http://www.anitabruce.co.uk/ to see much better images of her wonderful work.
Caitlin McCormack, in Philadephia, PA, crochets animal skeletons. Her website is https://caitlintmccormack.com/home.html
Heather Komus, in Canada, does 'unique embroideries on pig intestine that explore the role of parasitism and the microscopic in an ecosystem'. see more on her website: http://www.heatherkomus.com/
Gabriele Meyer of Madison, WI, says "I like to crochet hyperbolic surfaces. The shapes are inspired by sea shells and nature in general and not surprisingly turn out to relate to mathematics, in particular geometry and topology. After starting out with hyperbolic discs and half planes, I am now interested in more random hyperbolic shapes". Her website: http://www.math.wisc.edu/~meyer/airsculpt/hyperbolic2.html
Daryl Lancaster of Lincoln Park, NJ, is a weaver who made a series of chromosomal images with needle felting slices of wet-felted wool. https://www.daryllancaster.com/index.html
Betty Busby of New Mexico, quilts "Her large and often spectacularly detailed pieces represent biological processes, including cell division and the growth of plants and other organisms". More at her website: http://bbusbyarts.com/
Meliors Simms, in New Zealand, "Dispersantis a reflective example from Meliors Simms’ larger body of work, Living in the Anthropecene, where her art epitomizes a “thoughtful materialization” of our current geological age through social issues concerning the environment". No website, but she has a blog: http://meliors.blogspot.com/
Rogan Brown, in the UK, "His latest paper artwork titled Outbreak, a piece he describes as an exploration “of the microbiological sublime.” Over four months in the making, the work depicts an array of interconnected sculptures—entirely hand cut from paper—based on the smallest structures found within the human body: cells, microbes, pathogens, and neurons". Website: https://roganbrown.com/home.html
Meredith Woolnough, in Australia, does "elegant embroidered traceries capture the delicate beauty of nature in knotted embroidery threads. Through a delicate system of tiny stitches she creates intricate and complex openwork compositions that are then carefully pinned in shadowboxes, just like preserved specimens". Her website, http://meredithwoolnough.com.au/, has an amazing gallery of her art.
Emily Barletta, in Brooklyn, NY, "it’s like a biology text book and a ball of yarn fell madly in love, got married and had a few babies". See her wonderful website: https://emilybarletta.com/home.html
...and saving (one of) the best for last....
Eleanor Beth Haswell, in the UK, and her anatomically correct underwear. Read about this 18 year old at https://www.marieclaire.com/fashion/interviews/a10190/eleanor-beth-haswell-anatomy-vagina-underwear-bra/
Next week, another new Tablet. Contact me at email@example.com
My family was very, very Catholic. No meat on Fridays, confession on Saturday, church on Sunday…. and that was the least of it. The church dictated what books we read, what movies we saw. Sin could be in thought, word or deed. In high school, when I realized that the church also thought they could rule how I had sex when I was married, I realized that any potential hell wasn’t worth giving up life here and now. I was on to their con game, and I was pissed. I still am.
In this kitchen towel tribute to my mom, I show her life as a cluster of minutia held tightly by a rosary.
My grandmother (left) and my mother as a child (lower right), with the family philosophy.
When my mother died, I constructed a Reliquary with all the scapulars and holy medals in her underwear drawer.
My father had a cherry tree, and each year he did battle with the birds. I took a photo of the two of us, placed it in front of a green lace ‘tree’……
… and created a frame of multi-cultural birds, all set to attack the cherries. Watch out for those new ideas!
Children’s Games 41” h x 30”w (2006) detail below:
The women of my family are seen in angry red here. They’re reaching out to grab my brother, looking back at them in his cowboy hat. On my tricycle, I’m getting away, going up in the air, higher, escaping to smile in the top right corner.
My earlier art was full of this anger. Now, I’d like to claim that I’m past all that. My art has moved on. But still…
I’m writing a post on an upcoming tablet. It’s called Anathomia Corporis Humani - an early medical text. It was the first after medical research was held back for centuries by the pope’s ban on dissections. And I start to fume.
The Magdalene convents in Ireland, the sex abuse scandals all over the world, the hypocrisy, the greed. The dirty bastards.
OK. Enough. You now know the background that informs my art.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org