Preparing for London…
As Eleanor and I approach our first scheduled trip of the project – 3 days in London – we ponder how best to approach such a wide spectrum of research possibilities. Stretching over the arts, literature, anatomy, pathology and medicine, the places to visit, collections to explore and people to meet is not going to be a small feat, but our hunger for knowledge and inspiration is boundless!
Our itinerary so far looks something like this:
FRIDAY 24th JANUARY:
(p.m) The Gordon Museum of Pathology (by appointment)
SATURDAY 25th JANUARY:
(p.m) Wellcome Collection
Current exhibition: Foreign Bodies, Common Ground
SUNDAY 26TH JANUARY:
(a.m) Saatchi Gallery
Current exhibition: Body Language (20 November 2013 – 23 March 2014)
(p.m) The British Library
We shall be equipped with plenty of writing and drawing materials, cameras, dictaphones and fuel to maintain our energy levels. I anticipate plenty of discussions, if not continuous dialogue responding to what we experience in the museums and galleries, and the ideas that spring from interactions.
As the artist, I will be mainly sketching and photographing to document what I encounter. And for Eleanor as a writer, she’ll be filling pages and pages with streams of written observations and ideas. We both feel that a change of practice would be a challenging yet valuable act, so have agreed to drop tools and try each other’s methods freely throughout the 3 days. As an example, I would like to limit myself to only written words when exploring the medical instruments and artefacts; using emotive language to describe the likely experience of treatment. And Eleanor will try observational drawing to study the jar specimens and preserved bones in the Hunterian Museum.
This exchange of methods will no doubt surface new approaches to researching art and medical collections, and invite one another to experience what it is like to process and communicate ideas through visual and literary forms.
Through my experience of facilitating drawing workshops with medical students in the anatomy lab environment and medical museum, I believe in the values, importance and rewards of drawing and visualisation exercises as effective tools for them to study human material – aesthetically and conceptually – by way of combining conscious thinking with practical experience. I have just submitted a paper abstract for the upcoming conference Collect, Exchange, Display: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum (London, 6 June 2014) about Anatomised Drawing, which was a drawing workshop I delivered at the Surgeons Hall Museum as part of ‘Art and Anatomy Course: Drawing for Medics’ with Edinburgh University. I continue to question how medical museums can play a role in anatomy education using drawing and visualisation techniques as learning methods, and this project trip will no doubt feed this research.
While art and modern medicine are often considered on opposite sides of the humanities-science divide, art and anatomy have shared a long standing relationship. To be an artist during the Renaissance was, for many, to be an anatomist. Artists and anatomists worked together to investigate the body through dissection, producing images of the body that combined medical knowledge and an artistic vision of humanity’s place in the world. Equally, the human body has long been central to Western art, and in order to represent the body in all its manifestations many artists have studied anatomy. It is this relationship between artistic representation and anatomical study that interests Eleanor and I, from the position of a GP who has revised anatomy to treat the human body, and from the position of an artist who has spent time as an artist in residence in anatomy laboratories.
Visiting London is the perfect place to kick start our research; a capital full of human bodies and beings, and a wealth of history of medicine and anatomy.
Our findings shall follow shortly…