Textile Metaphors for Anatomy

Karen Fleming, John McLachlan

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


Textile Metaphors for AnatomyBackground- Cross disciplinary, cross institution collaboration between a medical educator and a materials artist. We present 4 different discourses of the body which we identify as – • 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 included vignettes, recorded by ethnographic field techniques (all used by permission). These will 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 3 D material forms. In teaching medical students, the co-authors of this research, have been exploring aesthetic approaches to conveying factual information. One example we will show is a transparent silk gown with multiple zippers, developed by the artist co-author, which conveys major sites of operations. 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.There are hidden aspects of the body that are not well known to the public. Three examples that are focus of our current research are Dermatomes, Langer Lines and Blashko Lines. These can be represented by body painting and body projection. 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. 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). Furthermore, our mapping of Dermatomes, Langer Lines and Blaschko Lines on disparate body morphologies through body painting, and in 3D reconstruction, has identified critical anaomalies and inconsistencies in the leading medical textbook representations of these important phenomena. This research emerges from Flex + Ply a Welcome Trust Funded Arts Award to explore textile metaphors for anatomy. The Current work will culminate in an exhibition in 2010. Flex+Ply Research Assistant: Aoife Ludlow
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Number of pages402
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Apr 2009
EventJoint Conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Associations, PCAACA 2009 - New Orleans Marriott
Duration: 1 Apr 2009 → …


ConferenceJoint Conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Associations, PCAACA 2009
Period1/04/09 → …


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