Thursday, August 26, 2010

'Skin,' Wellcome Collection, Through September 26, 2010

The last decade has revealed a burgeoning interest and fascination with human skin, particularly among philosophers, writers, artists and designers. Meanwhile, regenerative medicine has seen major advances in the development of artificial skin designed to improve the structure, function and appearance of the body surface that has been damaged by disease, injury or ageing. So there couldn't be a better time to get under the surface of this subject.--Lucy Shanahan, Wellcome Collection Curator and co-curator of 'Skin'
I have been hearing excellent reports from scores of people about the new Wellcome Collection exhibition entitled, simply, 'Skin.' Sadly, I will not be able to see it in person (as it closes on September 2th), but the images above--most drawn from the exhibition website--and the web exhibition text make it clear that the Wellcome has done it again: a thoughtful, broadly considered, and lovely investigation and survey into the science, meaning, art, and implications of the notion of 'skin.'

More about the show, from the press release:
The skin is our largest organ. It gives us a vital protective layer, is crucial for our sense of touch and provides us with a highly sensitive and visible interface between our inner body and the outside world. Spots, scars, moles, wrinkles, tans and tattoos: the look of skin can reveal much about an individual's lifestyle, health, age and personality, as well as their cultural and religious background. The skin is also remarkable for its ability to regenerate and repair itself.

The multidisciplinary exhibition 'Skin' takes a predominantly historical approach, beginning with early anatomical thought in the 16th and 17th centuries, when, for anatomists, the skin was simply something to be removed and discarded in order to study the internal organs. The story continues through the 18th and 19th centuries and approaches its conclusion in the 20th century, by which time the skin was considered to be of much greater significance and studied as an organ in its own right.

The exhibition will incorporate early medical drawings, 19th-century paintings, anatomical models and cultural artefacts juxtaposed with sculpture, photography and film works by artists including Damien Hirst, Helen Chadwick and Wim Delvoye.

The 'Skin' exhibition will be complemented by the 'Skin Lab', which features artistic responses to developments in plastic surgery, scar treatments and synthetic skin technologies, including two newly commissioned works by the artists Rhian Solomon and Gemma Anderson. Visitors are invited to participate in an interactive and sensory experience - experimenting with skin-flap models used in plastic surgery, trying on latex skin-suits or studying biological jewelery.
For more about the exhibition including hours and visiting information, visit the Wellcome Collection website by clicking here. You can visit the image galleries--from which most of the above images were pulled and which contain many more riches--by clicking here.; Credits and captions for images follow. Also, if you are, like me, a fan of the Wellcome and its work, you won't want to miss tonight's lecture at Observatory featuring Wellcome Collection curator Kate Forde; click here for more on that.

  1. Wax Model, Tiña favosa generalizada (Widespread tinea favosa), c. 1881, by Enrique Zofío Dávila, courtesy of Olavide Museum, Madrid
  2. Xteriors VIII' by Desiree Dolron, 2001-08. Reminiscent of Dutch Old Master painting, this ethereal photograph seamlessly blends the everyday with the historical and the mythical. It creates an atmosphere of melancholy associated with death, which is implied in the gaunt form and ghostly pallor of the child's skin, though the true narrative remains a mystery.
  3. Superficial blood vessels of the head and neck. Coloured mezzotint by J F Gautier d'Agoty, 1748. In some écorché drawings, the skin is only partially removed.
  4. Vertebral column with dissections of nerves and blood vessels, with skin in the background, and (left) the figure of a man representing Ecclesiastes. After Johann Georg Pintz, 1731.
  5. Vagina, perineum and anus, from 'Nouvelles Demonstrations d'Accouchemens'. Jacques-Pierre Maygrier, 1822-25.
  6. Human skin hanging in a frame. Thomas Bartholin, 1651.
  7. Démence Précoce Catatonique Dermographisme. L Trepsat, 1893. From 'Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière', 1904. During the second hald of the 19th century, the belief spread that the phenomenon of dermatographism (or 'dermographism', or 'skin writing') was linked to hysteria and other mental or nervous disorders. Here a female patient at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris has had her diagnosis 'Démence précoce' (dementia praecox) 'written' on her back.
  8. Areas of psoriasis on the back of a 30-year-old man, c. 1905.
  9. A notebook allegedly covered in human skin, c. 1770-1850. The label reads: "The cover of this book is made of Tanned skin of the Negro whose Execution caused the War of Independence". This presumably refers to Crispus Attucks, who was the only black victim of the Boston Massacre of 1770, and who was immediately celebrated as an American hero. In 1888 a memorial to him was erected on Boston Common. If authentic, this exhibit might therefore, somewhat couterintuitively, suggest an act of honour and acclaim. Close examination suggests that the cover is probably not made of human skin.
  10. A selection of tattoos on human skin. Anonymous, 1850-1920. Selected from over 300 examples of human skin collected by Henry Wellcome, these specimens are most likely to be French in origin and date from 1850 to1920. The tattoos were bought in Paris in June 1929 by Peter Johnston-Saint, one of Wellcome's purchasing agents. The seller was osteologist and anatomist, La Vallete, who had obtained some of his collection of specimens through his work at Parisian military establishments and prisons. The crude designs in this selection are mainly of nude female figures, which were often worn by prostitutes as markers of their trade, but were also popular among seamen, soldiers and prisoners as reminders of a woman left behind, or as general sexual fantasies.


Anonymous said...

fabulous I am writing a book on skin and surface anatomy and found these images fascinating thank you you

Suzanne said...

'Tis funny.. I've only read raving reviews about the show too which is why I went down, but I was quite disappointed, to be honest.

While it might be of interest to someone who's never seen the Medicine Man permanent collection upstairs, it really doesn't reveal that much if you're already familiar with Wellcome. But then again, I might just have a massive overload of medical mental imagery anyways. :)

However, the pictures you posted here are really the crème de la crème of the show. So don't feel like you're missing out on anything.

Hope all is well. x

emmagibney said...

This is such an amazing exhibition, definitely one not to miss!