Monday, 14 November 2016

In a jar, part two



    After my visit to the Gordon Museum I went to the Hunterian museum on Lincolns Inn Fields. This is a public museum but still not to be taken lightly. As I mentioned in the previous post I knew that I would find this difficult .
    I had come to see the Evelyn anatomical tables.These are seventeenth century wooden boards with the veins,nerves and arteries of a body laid out on each like a strange piece of lace.So delicate and so unnerving, you are looking at the wiring of a human who walked and talked set against a dark wooden board with knot holes looking out at you from between the vessels.The rest of the body had been dissected away from them rather like cutting away the fabric from the seams of clothes instead of unpicking them.
   Much of the museum consists of displays of wax topped glass specimen jars with beautiful hand written labels and it was these that moved me most. I found that I was mourning the puss moth in a jar and thinking of the hyacinth flower that never was, floating like a strange jelly fish with its' long white roots.I kept asking myself if it was necessary to truncate so much life in order to study it but answered straight away that it must have been.
    Knowledge is made up of tiny stitches, like Charlotte Waite's cross-stitch celebrating her survival of chloroform. And like the film I watched three times upstairs of  a coronary bypass. And the latex skin pads for students to practise suturing which resemble trapunto quilting. Fragments of knowledge made from lives and sewn together.
 The next day I sat in my studio and sobbed.

Monday, 7 November 2016

In a jar, part one.



    I was given the opportunity the other day to visit the Gordon Museum in London. This is a large pathology museum not open to the public but as artist in residence at Imperial college I was allowed. 
    For a sensitive soul whose emotional field often extends over to others this was not something I undertook lightly. In fact I was on emotional lock down so that I could process what I was to see. A pathology museum is no freak show, all is regulated and specimens are all displayed anonymously in glass vitrines.It is however a museum of pain where everything you see is an example of disease in every organ of the body. 
   I had come to look at the vascular corrosive casts. This technique is similar to the lost wax process in silversmithing whereby something very delicate can be cast without damage, in this case blood vessels.On their own arteries and veins resemble ferny seaweed floating in a jar of water.
  It was difficult however to walk past faces and hands in jars and not think of the lives attached.So many people have given their bodies to science and it was very moving. At times I had to dive into the nextdoor Life Sciences museum for a break!
   Here was a beautiful little natural history museum with wooden cabinets and birds nests and bones. You can look at a row of skulls showing the evolution of man and blithely consider millions of years of time sitting on a shelf in front of you.
  What lies between the two museums is a corridor where a piece of medical 'folk art' lives. Wood carvings done by bored medical students as they waited on call in a maternity unit, some of them explicit, all celebrating new life. It was a between world.
  There was so much to consider it was dizzying and also an emotional slalom. There was a strange removal of emotion about it all and yet I kept wondering who here was unloved and who beloved.