Anatomica is a show that will fascinate or frighten or both.
Viewers of this fusion of anatomical art and scientific illustration at the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax leave comments ranging from “cool” to “creepy.”
That’s because perception depends on each individual’s mindset. A pile of bones — 8,000 in unglazed porcelain, hand-sculpted by Ottawa artist Maura Doyle — immediately greets the viewer. Come in with a knowledge of human history and current events and Doyle’s pile of bones immediately evokes genocide. Go in with a pure scientific mind and the historical material — engravings, surgical instruments, a human skull — will be fascinating.
Mortality sweeps in like a nighttime fog at the turn of every corner.
(I’m reading Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda right now and recently saw Judith Thompson’s Lion in the Streets, about a murdered Portuguese girl, so my mind is in a deep and dark winter place.)
The fetal lungs and blood encased in resin are too much for me and send me into the next room to see Sarah Maloney’s hand-knit brain in fleshy pink, which recalls darling hand-knit baby sweaters.
Looking at the knit brain, one thinks of human labour and human thought, the internal made external.
Maloney, currently exhibiting in a solo show of metal sculpture of flowers at Studio 21, also exhibits an exquisite and intricate cotton knit backbone, Vertebrae, Sacrum, Coccyx, 1998-99.
This exhibit is beautifully laid out in a clean, sparse and clinical style, in a way that leads to connections. Montreal artist Maskull Lasserre’s interesting Lexicon, of a spine and ribcage, made out of carved books clamped in a press, is within easy sight of Maloney’s vertebrae. Ideas of knowledge, pain, evolution and devolution, art and science swirl.
There is an element of horror and humour in Vancouver artist Howie Tsui’s pinball machine Musketball! and his grotesque, cartoonish drawings on deer hide parchment of frontier soldiers with gushing blood and injuries.
There are fine artworks of pattern, colour and beauty, including Lyn Carter’s fabric sculptural forms of the heart and lungs and Lisa Nilsson’s gorgeous paper quill renditions of a slice of bone and tissue in her Tissue Series.
Garry Neill Kennedy’s vertical stack of six hot-pink paintings on chipboard, each named for a skin condition, is paired with 19th-century scientific portraits of skin.
Curator Cindy Stelmackowich has paired the art with historical items — rare anatomical atlases and medical teaching models from Dalhousie University’s Killam Memorial Library special collections and its division of anatomy within the medical neuroscience department.
The items include 1860s surgical instruments like knives, bone cutters, bladder probes and obstetrical forceps.
Biomedical Visions is presented by the gallery in collaboration with the Division of Medical Education in the Faculty of Medicine (the Medical Humanities-HEALS program), the medical neuroscience department and the Faculty of Science. Talks begin at 7 p.m.; free admission.
On Tuesday, Nilsson gives a lecture and tour of her works from the Tissue Series, and Maloney talks about her knitted anatomy. On Thursday, there are two talks: Art and Neuroscience by Richard Brown, psychology department, Institute of Neuroscience at Dalhousie, and Teaching the History of Medicine using Great Art Works by Jock Murray, former dean of medicine and professor emeritus of medical humanities at Dalhousie.