The understanding of the human body is an area where art and science have a long history of collaboration and cross-fertilisation. Since the Renaissance with polymaths, such as Leonardo DaVinci and Andreas Vesalius, art has enhanced our understanding of the human body in both the literal and metaphorical senses. A new exhibition, Me, You, or the Other Person, at GV Art highlights three female artists who explore the human body in very different ways.
Pascale Pollier – The body physical
The physical aspects of the body are, indeed, the most obvious and most immediately conducive to sculpture and portraiture—but it is a rare artist who can make us feel them. It’s not just about skill in re-representing what we see in the mirror, it’s about what’s beneath the surface of the skin. Female Ecorche by Pascale Pollier is an unusual self-portrait, one that – literally – penetrates beneath the skin, with the muscles of the body exposed in exquisite detail. In the sculpture, headphones are set on the ears but the wire is connected to the heart; it seems to inhabit that inner world we experience when in contemplation, or just trying to block out the external world on the Tube. Pollier’s Day of the Lipids was moving in an entirely different way: dealing with plastic surgery in Western culture, liposuction needles are connected to a network of tubes pumping something resembling blood. It is a visceral installation that makes us feel the body through seeing it. The experience isn’t entirely pleasant, but then neither are our bodies, necessarily, when it comes down to it.
Eleanor Crook – Our Psyche
Of course, human complexity does not just reside in the body, it also lies in our stories, our histories, and how they are embodied in us. Eleanor Crook has a knack for picking obscure but fascinating subjects whose stories are integrated with representations of their physical bodies in creative and intriguing artworks. The waxwork How I Wrote Certain of your Books explores the process of creativity through a figure of surrealist writer Raymond Roussel, who invented methods of generating vast volumes of potential literature. Nietzche-Hirsch is a wooden bust of Nietzche brimming with references to both his philosophy and eventual decline into madness as
a result of syphilis. Dyonisian goat eyes stare at you with a piercing gaze and a deer jaw, elm burr and religious medallion adorn the sculpture. Her final piece, a delicate waxwork bust of an unnamed figure, is inspired by the mummies of the Palermo catacombs. With small shells embedded in his skull, a tuft of hair, and pearly teeth still in place, you can’t help but wonder who he might have been. Crook’s sculptures bring together masterful craft with a depth that I find unusual in figurative (and particularly anatomical) sculpture. The curiosities and peculiarities of these individuals rise to the surface, along with the weaknesses of the human body and flesh.
Katharine Dowson – Silent Stories
What do we do when confronted by serious illness? How do we cope not just with an assault on our bodies, but also on our sense of self? Katharine Dowson delicately explores these inner depths in Silent Stories 2, where a series of glass busts created from casts of individuals who underwent, and survived, radiotherapy for cancers of the neck and head. The busts – created from plaster casts used to make the masks that patients wear during radiotherapy – confront the visitor as they enter the gallery. There is depth and texture to the glass since it embodies both the beauty and imperfections of the patients themselves. In this work, Dowson tells us the ‘silent stories’ of these people and brings us face-to-face with their inner strength.
In medicine, you can’t afford to get away with sloppy practice—and so it is with medical art. In spite of Lucian Freud’s best efforts, the desire to idealise the human body remains strong in contemporary art. That is, of course, the artistic prerogative. And in spite of some of plastic surgery’s best efforts, medicine remains much more about the imperfections and frailty of real bodies. Both Pollier and Crook have extensive links with the medical community and this is evident in their attention to detail; however, a perfectly executed anatomical replica does not make interesting art (in my opinion). All of the artists in this exhibition aptly demonstrate that we are much more than the sum of our parts.
Me, You, or the Other Person is on exhibition at GV Art, London, until 18 May 2013