“Tactility, Object and Knowledge: Art and Anatomy Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration”

Karen Fleming, John McLachlan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Flex + Ply is a Wellcome Trust funded collaboration artists, radiographers and medical educators at 2 UK Universities. We aim to challenge culturally constructed views of the body and expose the narrative implications of movement, change and degeneration within the body through the creation of textile structures and forms. This paper will focus on the culture of the body in medical and art environments and how we are using objects and interaction with artifacts within medical teaching and as communication aids between practitioners and patients. We are interested in four different discourses of the body. These are:• The Aesthetic• The Erotic• The Scientific• The Symbolic. By ‘Scientific’, we mean the rationalist approach, and include the medical body. By ‘symbolic’, we mean the body as possession (‘My Body’) and the body as identity (‘Myself’). We acknowledge the concepts of the male and the medical gaze, but prefer the term discourse since, in our thinking and practice, the recipient of the gaze is an active rather than a passive partner in the development of meaning.Overlap between the erotic and the aesthetic body is well recognized and documented. However, other overlaps seem to us to have been less well recognized, and lead to the occurrence of cultural dissonance. The introduction will include vignettes, recorded by ethnographic field techniques (all used by permission). These identify and illustrate clear overlap between the symbolic meaning of the body to the individual and the medico-scientific meaning, leading to the expression of resentment and possible of erotic elements.The focus of the presentation is on the neglected overlap between the scientific and the aesthetic through the realization of medical and anatomical phenomena in 2D and 3D material forms. In teaching medical students, the co-authors of this research, have been exploring aesthetic approaches to conveying factual information. FOUR purposes will be described- information, empathy, explanatory and narrative- through the description of THREE interventions of tactility and object in learning situations - 1. Incision Gown- a gown developed by the artist co-author that combines material metaphor with medico-scientific data. We will show how the gown, as we have used it in specialist medical and in public environments, adopts a set of symbolic meanings, a cultural noise, alongside the literal and factual content. The symbolic significance, in this case, relates to the body through anonymity, through violation and through exposure. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7213757.stm .2. Body Painting - Body painting turns the body into a handcrafted object. The presentation will show how such body painting can overcome embarrassment about the body, which we propose is due to the aesthetic experience defusing the symbolic body (for both the painter and the painted). We will illustrate the operation of body projection and propose that this (projecting underlying structures onto the surface of the body) has an aesthetic impact that viewing the structures themselves (projected, for instance, on to a flat screen) lacks. 3. Body Mapping- In pursuit of the overlap between the aesthetic and scientific, there are hidden aspects of the body that are not well known to the public. Three examples are Dermatomes, Langer Lines and Blashko Lines. We are translating internationally accepted 2D ‘norms’ in text books to real 3D form of varying body morphology. Our mapping on disparate body morphologies has identified critical anomalies and inconsistencies in the representations of these important phenomena.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Number of pages0
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2009
EventInternational Popular Culture Conference Summer 2009 - Turku Finland
Duration: 1 Jan 2009 → …


ConferenceInternational Popular Culture Conference Summer 2009
Period1/01/09 → …


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