KNOWING


The human body has been a source of enduring fascination and intense study for millennia, and artists have contributed significant insight and knowledge in this arena. Some of the artists represented in this section focus on the therapeutic value of art-making in alleviating and destigmatizing mental illness, while others illustrate how embodied experiences can be communicated through artistic practice. Many have engaged in sustained and meaningful collaborations with medical professionals. Their work demonstrates the creative potential artists bring to conversations about vital but contested issues in healthcare today, including vaccination, organ transplantation, and barriers to access.  

These works of art raise important questions. How can techniques and tools used in Western medicine be integrated into art-making, and, conversely, how might artistic practice inform scientific thinking toward the advancement of patient care and health outcomes? What kind of medical research is currently being undertaken, and how is it made visible and accessible to the public and patients?

Knowing

The human body has been a source of enduring fascination and intense study for millennia, and artists have contributed significant insight and knowledge in this arena. Some of the artists represented in this section focus on the therapeutic value of art-making in alleviating and destigmatizing mental illness, while others illustrate how embodied experiences can be communicated through artistic practice. Many have engaged in sustained and meaningful collaborations with medical professionals. Their work demonstrates the creative potential artists bring to conversations about vital but contested issues in healthcare today, including vaccination, organ transplantation, and barriers to access.  

These works of art raise important questions. How can techniques and tools used in Western medicine be integrated into art-making, and, conversely, how might artistic practice inform scientific thinking toward the advancement of patient care and health outcomes? What kind of medical research is currently being undertaken, and how is it made visible and accessible to the public and patients?


How can expressing our bodily experiences contribute to an inclusive dialogue about health, illness, and wellbeing?


Sean Caulfield
born 1967, Westerly, Rhode Island, United States
active Canada

The Anatomy Table, 2018
screen print, inkjet print, drafting film, Plexiglas, Photo Tex
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.025.a-m

Sean Caulfield produced The Anatomy Table as part of the transdisciplinary project <ImmuneNations>, which focused on researching the diverse cultural ideas around the safety and efficacy of vaccines. This series of prints combines two layers of images. The first consists of illustrations by the renowned 16th-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, whose work you can explore in the section on Seeing. The title of the work and presentation of the central figure lying flat and exposed further recall the careful dissections Vesalius is known for performing in anatomy theaters. The second layer comprises Caulfield’s own fantastical drawings inspired by scientific descriptions of viruses. By juxtaposing these two sources and uniting them visually, Caulfield invites us to consider the problematic divide between scientific/objective/empirical and cultural/emotional/artistic representations of the body.


Sean Caulfield produced The Anatomy Table as part of the transdisciplinary project <ImmuneNations>, which focused on researching the diverse cultural ideas around the safety and efficacy of vaccines. This series of prints combines two layers of images. The first consists of illustrations by the renowned 16th-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, whose work you can explore in the section on Seeing. The title of the work and presentation of the central figure lying flat and exposed further recall the careful dissections Vesalius is known for performing in anatomy theaters. The second layer comprises Caulfield’s own fantastical drawings inspired by scientific descriptions of viruses. By juxtaposing these two sources and uniting them visually, Caulfield invites us to consider the problematic divide between scientific/objective/empirical and cultural/emotional/artistic representations of the body.



Ingrid Bachmann
born 1958, London, Ontario, Canada

Pelt, 2012
neoprene rubber, two motors, felt, steel, nylon substrate, custom electronics
Courtesy of Ingrid Bachmann, IA2020.001

The human body is a central focus of much of Ingrid Bachmann’s work. In Pelt, she raises questions about the relationship of our bodies to technology. Originally one of six animal-like kinetic sculptures, this work seeks to humanize technology through rhythmic inhalations and exhalations. Its organic, almost sentient movements encourage us to consider where our bodies end and where technology begins—a question not only relevant in the medical sciences, where implants, transplants, prostheses, and other procedures can permanently alter our bodies—but also in day-to-day life as we interact with technologies that can at once connect and alienate us from one another.


The human body is a central focus of much of Ingrid Bachmann’s work. In Pelt, she raises questions about the relationship of our bodies to technology. Originally one of six animal-like kinetic sculptures, this work seeks to humanize technology through rhythmic inhalations and exhalations. Its organic, almost sentient movements encourage us to consider where our bodies end and where technology begins—a question not only relevant in the medical sciences, where implants, transplants, prostheses, and other procedures can permanently alter our bodies—but also in day-to-day life as we interact with technologies that can at once connect and alienate us from one another.


Hear the artist talk about this work
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Transcript

Pelt is part of a larger group of work called Pelt Bestiary. And in that work I was really thinking about the human, animal, and machine interface. I've always been struck by the nature of the hardware we use in technology and how it's framed to us. Everything is hard, cold, and elegant. Nothing leaks. It's tidy. I felt that technology had lost its fur, had lost its pelt. I wanted to create a kind of origin story for technology.

And so with Pelt Bestiary I wanted to make a material that was hopefully beautiful and repellant. The material is black neoprene. It's definitely highly synthetic but it's tufted so it looks very much like fur.

The other important thing about Pelt is that it moves. It looks a little akin to breathing. I wanted to give a kind of liveliness to this creature or sculpture. But in the context of kind of media art where anything mechanical tends to have a whiz factor – like, "What does it do? How many lights can it make? How much sound can it make?" – I wanted to see how subtle I could be and how slow a movement could be that would suggest a kind of life or liveliness.


Andrew Carnie
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active Winchester England, United Kingdom

Heart and Mind, 2020
paper
Museum purchase: Letha Churchill Walker Memorial Art Fund, 2020.0049.a-d


The pages of this book are laser cut with two images of a human heart, inspired by Andrew Carnie’s research as part of Hybrid Bodies, a transdisciplinary team investigating the social and psychological dimensions of heart transplantation in Canada. Carnie intends for the image to be legible as a human heart, but also allow for the viewer to question what might be missing, referencing the anonymity that accompanies organ transplants. The pages are stitched along the side to recall the ways that new organs are stitched into a recipient’s body.  



Patrick A. Nagatani (1945-2017)
born Chicago, Illinois, United States; died Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States
active United States

Chromo-Therapy, 1981
silver-dye bleach print (Cibachrome™)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Franklin D. Murphy, 1983.0012.19


Chromotherapy, which involves directing colored light at afflicted areas of the human body to cure disease, has roots in ancient Egypt and China. The practice was introduced in the United States in the 19th century as an alternative to Western medicine’s often aggressive and invasive methods. After a surgical procedure, and influenced by his close attention to color in his photography practice, Nagatani was drawn to chromotherapy treatment and pursued extensive research to learn more. In this work, he engages the ongoing debates between the supposedly objective science of Western medicine and the pseudoscience surrounding alternative healing practices such as chromotherapy.



Metalsmith Holland Houdek has partnered extensively with the medical industry, including the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, MedWish International, and the Cleveland Clinic. As a result of these collaborations, Houdek recognizes the ways that medical implants save lives, but she also acknowledges that there are many who cannot access these treatments. As part of her series Of a Particular Kind, Houdek uses painstaking hand-fabrication techniques and intricate—rather than purely functional—forms to explore tensions between the well-publicized benefits of medical technologies and the unseen challenges that billions of people worldwide face in securing them. These implants seek to personalize the hardship, devastation, and futility that so many face in their efforts to improve their life through medical intervention.  

The names in the titles refer to fictional patients the artist imagined, inspired by her own friends and families and stories told by people who have received implants themselves. To create the images, Houdek used Photoshop to insert her implant into x-rays that were donated, with patient permission, by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.


Shoulder Replacement – Mrs. Bjerk

Holland Houdek
born 1985, Palo Alto, California, United States
active United States

Shoulder Replacement – Mrs. Bjerk, 2013
copper, nickel plating
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.064

x-ray image of Shoulder Replacement – Mrs. Bjerk

Holland Houdek
born 1985, Palo Alto, California, United States
active United States

x-ray image of Shoulder Replacement – Mrs. Bjerk, 2020
inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.066


Hear from the artist
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Transcript

These two pieces were heavily influenced by the donations that I received from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and Cleveland Clinic and MedWish International. While they've never been implanted into the body, they are actually of the right size, scale, and even down to the weight of the actual objects that would go into the body.

Conceptualizing this body of work was all about the story that is represented by each person. So I have a hip replacement in this series that was inspired by my grandmother's hip replacement and the experience that she had to go through. But I also imagine hyperbolic people for the implants. Like for example. Miss Bjerk. I do not know that person. That is a name that I ended up just making up. Whether or not I know them, having that name with the implant makes you think, "Okay. Who is this person? What happened? Why is this implant so glorified?"

The X-rays were released to me by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 'Cause I wanted to keep that partnership going with them. And so, those X-rays were actually patients that had approved that I could have access to those and Photoshop my pieces into them as well. Things like that give each piece, that individualized characteristic, that personal narrative. Because, implants, they really tell a moment in someone's life. They speak to an experience that somebody went through.


Holland Houdek suggests that medical devices and surgical tools carry conflicting messages: they can provoke fear and terror, hope for healing, and a “macabre fascination” about how they would feel when used on a living body. These sculptural pieces are also meant to elicit bodily responses in viewers and make them aware of their corporeality. Both evocative of biomedical enhancements and prostheses—Nelumbo Mastoplasty, for instance, incorporates a silicone breast implant—the works encourage viewers to visualize the implants and imagine that the correlating anatomies (heart, veins, breasts) were missing in their own bodies. For Houdek, this work also blurs past and present, existing “in the future by conceptualizing a new type of anatomy and ways to mend the body, while also gesturing to the historical genre of memento mori”–objects that serve as reminders of mortality and death, such as skulls.  


Nelumbo Mastoplasty, Lotus Breast Implant Replacement Neckpiece

Holland Houdek
born 1985, Palo Alto, California, United States
active United States

Nelumbo Mastoplasty, Lotus Breast Implant Replacement Neckpiece, 2017
copper, piercing, silicone breast implant, bead blasting, patina, Swarovski crystals
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.030

Device 39C, Insulin Pumps

Holland Houdek
born 1985, Palo Alto, California, United States
active United States

Device 39C, Insulin Pumps, 2019
copper, piercing, insulin pumps, powder coating, patina, Swarovski crystals
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.063

Cardiovascular Complex, Heart and Vein Implant

Holland Houdek
born 1985, Palo Alto, California, United States
active United States

Cardiovascular Complex, Heart and Vein Implant, 2017
copper, piercing, bead blasting, patina, Swarovski crystals
Courtesy of the artist, EL2020.065


Hear from the artist
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Transcript

Hyperbolic is a body of work that comments on the fragile nature of the human form. But it's also meant to glorify the highly individual and personal nature of prosthesis and surgeries.

Using real medical implants as inspiration, I hand-fabricate my own implants which have been completely reimagined and/or exaggerated. Seeing as they are objects for the body, I wanted my hand to be the one to actually physically make them.

I approach my process through medical research and speaking alongside the medical community, looking into basic anatomy, doing research on different cancers, infections, diseases. All of these investigations not only determine how I make each of my pieces but also how I title them as well.

These hybrid implants speak to our fear of aging. And they also speak to our fear of death. They are meant to question the absent anatomies implied by the work but also for viewers to be considering their own physicalities. So each piece in this body of work comments on medical solutions yet to be found or illnesses yet to be cured.


Junctures of a Haphazard Kind

For the past two years, UK-based artist Andrew Carnie has worked with a network of artists in the UK to produce Junctures of a Haphazard Kind. Building from his role in the transdisciplinary project Hybrid Bodies, which examines the non-medical effects of organ transplantation on recipients and donor families, this series of collaborative works explore notions of anonymity, consent, and responsibility by inviting artists to use works of art by Carnie to create a new, hybrid piece.

Spencer Curator Cassandra Mesick Braun invited four regional artists to participate in Junctures of a Haphazard Kind based on a variety of factors, including their work with textiles and mixed media, commitment to collaborative art-making, and interest in exploring the body and embodiment through art. Their diverse contributions were undertaken during the first weeks and months of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Mary Anne Jordan , artist
born 1957, Toledo, Ohio, United States
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

Plea, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, embroidering, fabric, stitching
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.074

Mary Anne Jordan , artist
born 1957, Toledo, Ohio, United States
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

untitled, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, embroidering, fabric, stitching
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.075

Contributing to Junctures of a Haphazard Kind prompted textile artist and University of Kansas professor Mary Anne Jordan to muse on “the fragility of life yet the amazing resiliency of our bodies to regenerate and heal…especially since this work was done during the precarious and uncertain time of a pandemic.” In these pieces, she explores metaphorical links between textiles and the body. In Plea, she relates the skilled handwork required to create domestic textiles like doilies, lace, and quilts to the complex structures of the body and dexterity required to perform surgeries; here, stitches function as sutures to repair and connect.  

In the untitled piece, Jordan considers clothing not as a cover or protector, but rather as a disguise for the body. She deliberately chose transparent fabric to illustrate how close our flesh, blood, and organs are to the outside world. Here, clothing, imagined skin, and organs are all criss-crossed with thread and veins—words that themselves have strong links to lineage, family, and physical corporeality.



"The skilled, intricate, and complicated handwork involved in making domestic textiles is used as a metaphor for the complex structures of the body or even the dexterity of surgery." — Mary Anne Jordan


Nazanin Amiri Meers , artist
born, Mashad, Iran

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

untitled, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, beads, thread
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.076

Nazanin Amiri Meers , artist
born, Mashad, Iran

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

untitled, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, paint
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.077

After working on Junctures of a Haphazard Kind, Naznin Amiri Meers reflected that she felt like she’d been entrusted with a gift. She states that the process of collaboration prompted her to reflect on care, compassion, connection, and the responsibility we should all feel toward one another—sentiments that felt particularly timely in the early spring, during the first phases of lockdowns and social distancing caused by Covid-19.



"Knowing that other artists were collaborating gave me a kind of reassurance—as if I could imagine myself sitting in the same room and working with others on such a meaningful project about generosity and caring for others in the worst times. No matter how independent we think we are, we rely on each other, and this project could not come in a better time to remind me about our mortality, our need for each other, and hope." — Nazanin Amiri Meers


Sydney Jane Brooke Campbell Maybrier Pursel (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska), artist
born 1988, Kansas City, Missouri, United States
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

Eye Heart Kidneys, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, beading
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.078

Sydney Jane Brooke Campbell Maybrier Pursel (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska), artist
born 1988, Kansas City, Missouri, United States
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

Organ Donation Operation, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, printing, paint, plastic, metal, wire
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.079.a-e

Participating in Junctures of a Haphazard Kind prompted Sydney Jane Brooke Campbell Maybrier Pursel to conduct research about organ transplantation and donation, a topic about which she had little prior knowledge. Her work references the most surprising fact she learned as part of her research: that over 80% of people on transplant lists are waiting for kidneys, more than for any other organ. Since Pursel often aims to educate viewers on complex social problems, she also repurposed a functional game of Operation, transforming Carnie’s works into an interactive experience that teaches players about organ donation.



"I was surprised that kidneys are in such high demand. Over 80% of people waiting for an organ are waiting for a kidney. I didn’t know livers could regenerate. I also didn’t realize how many people are waiting for more than one organ. Now, every time I hear a story on organ donation, my ears perk up." — Sydney Jane Brooke Campbell Maybrier Pursel


Juan José Castaño-Márquez , artist
born 1987, Rionegro, Colombia
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

untitled, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, embroidering, fabric, stitching, natural dyeing, pearls, thread
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.080

Juan José Castaño-Márquez , artist
born 1987, Rionegro, Colombia
active United States

Andrew Carnie , artist
born 1957, London, England, United Kingdom
active England, United Kingdom

untitled, 2020
watercolor, paper, cutting, embroidering, fabric, natural dyeing, stitching
Courtesy of Andrew Carnie, EL2020.081

Expanded media artist Juan José Castaño-Marquez was surprised by the fear he felt when faced with modifying another artist’s work, and he spent the first six weeks thinking about issues of organ transplantation and human connection abstractly, without translating his concepts into artwork. Once he overcame this paralysis, however, the process caused him to think deeply about organ donation—and the many ways humans are connected to one another. An artist who regularly explores hybridity, gender, and performance in Catholic rituals, Castaño-Márquez draws fascinating connections between organ transplantation and asks whether traces of identity, knowledge, and existence can transcend death.



"The project made me realize that there are different ways of being connected, even beyond organ donation. More simple ways of being connected, through our ideas, thoughts, and feelings." — Juan José Castaño-Márquez


Elizabeth Layton (1909–1993)
born Wellsville, Kansas, United States; died Olathe, Kansas, United States

Fear, November 4, 1981
colored pencil, pencil
Gift of Lynn Bretz and Janet Hamburg, 2011.0477


Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experienced profound depression for much of her life, leading to several psychiatric hospitalizations and rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. Yet it was not these interventions but rather drawing that provided Layton with lasting therapeutic benefits. Nevertheless, her struggles with mental health often appear in her drawings. In Fear, Layton portrays herself wide-eyed and cowering in a closet. Next to her, a door is padlocked from the inside, keys hanging nearby, suggesting that the literal key to her escape from the fear is within reach, but that she is unable to grasp it. An empty prescription bottle indicates that Layton manages her condition through medication, but that it may not be effective or has worsened because she ran out of pills. 



unknown Potawatomi maker
active Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Kansas, United States; and Ontario, Canada

prescription stick, circa 1865
wood, carving, incising
Gift from the Menninger Foundation, 2007.5810


Indigenous communities from the Midwest recorded plant-based recipes on “prescription sticks” like this one. Read from left to right, these recipes could be used to concoct herbal remedies for illness and injury. This particular stick was carved following the federally forced relocation of the Potawatomi from their ancestral homelands in the Great Lakes to what is now Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, changing plant morphology and a sharp decline in native language speakers due to colonization and assimilation make it impossible to identify the plant species or recipes recorded here. This object serves as an example of the importance of the plant world to the Potawatomi—but also as a reminder of the vast loss of Indigenous healing knowledge. 

The historical and intergenerational trauma perpetuated by centuries of removal and assimilation has had lasting effects on health and well-being. For instance, Native Americans suffer severe psychological distress at rates 1.5 times greater than the general population and experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more than twice as often. Reconnecting to cultural traditions can ease such historical and intergenerational trauma by giving individuals a stronger sense of self, purpose, and community.