Wednesday, 20 June 2012

'Death and Dissection', studio 41, Glasgow

Let Be Be Finale of Seem
A series of events presenting work about death and the way it structures life

Friday, 25th May 2012  - workshop and viewing 12-5pm, preview event 6- 8pm
Saturday, 26th May 2012  - viewing 12-5pm

 “The dead body harbours the great mysteries of creation and humanity: the hidden beauty and intricacy of function, the insistence of individuality, the inevitability of decline, the incontrovertibility of death set up against the ill-defined boundaries of like.”

(Body of Work: Meditations of Mortality From The Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross)

The dissection of human cadavers for medical education has been practiced since the 14th century. Today, dissection and cadaver studies are frequently seen as serving purposes of personal development in promoting humanistic values; providing an opportunity to introduce students to death in a controlled manner, especially in conjunction with education on death and dying.

Both students and society alike are spared from the body’s unpleasantaries during anatomy dissection and funeral customs in our modern culture, whose death rituals, if they even involve the corpse, centre on a body embalmed and made up to prevent any unfavourable signs of decay. The elaborate preparation of our bodies enables us to separate from the totality of death more easily, and thus, distances us from the corporality of our fate.

Death and Dissection contemplates moral issues associated with the practice of human dissection, and offer a view into the anatomy lab through a sensual screen. Paying homage to the 16th-18th century medical students who would bear witness to bodily decomposition, and thus, were closer to death, the workshop invites one to view, and handle, the vital process without which life would not be possible – decay.

To view the full exhibition, visit Death and Dissection and The anatomy lab

Curator of studio 41, Magdalen Chua
Vistor drawing Still Life (death)
Vistor drawing Still Life (death)

Create a death plaque

For the medical students in the 16th-18th century, bodily decomposition was a regular encounter.  As observers from the tiers of traditional anatomy theatres, they would witness and sensually experience unpreserved bodies in various states of decomposition, and thus, where closer to death than those in modern anatomy labs.

“My lab partners and I use our own hands, our own strength to reach into the body, to feel its cold wetness, to pull apart its layers and cut away its packing. We touch and cut the body and change its shape in a way that previous generations of students did not. But we deal with far fewer of the realities of the corpse. Our cadavers’ host no signs of decay. It harbours no timeline of rot, no trace of earth clinging to the skin, harking back to an abandoned grave.”

(Body of Work: Meditations of Mortality From The Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross)

The workshop invites you to examine the vital process without which life would not be possible. The organic material that surrounds you in the space decays by intervention of fungi and bacteria.  Besides the occasional abandoned rotten apple in the bottom of the fruit bowl, we aren’t accustomed to handling or consuming decaying material, by means of conserving health.

The activity will urge you to examine the morphology of the natural matter through dissection, and inspect the changing state of its decay. This sensualised study will lead to the creation of a ‘death plaque’ from the cross section or longitudinal cuts of your chosen fruit or vegetable. Casting in plaster will form a positive replica of the matter, evoking the concept of a human death mask.

The death plaque precedes the vibrant, sumptuous still life paintings of plump, ripe fruit and vegetables that typically adorn modern kitchen interiors. Colourless and odourless, the plaques have a clean, sterile appearance, which offer an aesthetic of beauty and purity. Although often, the products of decay adhere to the plaster during the casting process, leaving a trace of the rotting matter behind. These plaques embody a contaminated, diseased appearance, and echo the death of decaying material more profoundly.

(Images below, photo credit: Lin Chau)

Special thanks goes to Magdalen Chua for all her support and assistance throughout, and all those that participated in the workshop. The experience certainly gave me 'food for thought'!

studio 41 – 41 West Graham St – Glasgow G4 9LJ –
studio 41 is a not-for-profit space for contemporary curating and art that supports the development and presentation of curatorial projects.

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