16 January – 8 March, 2015

Maskull Lasserre, Lexicon, 2008. Collection: City of Ottawa.

Lisa Nilsson, Shoulders, 2013 (detail)

Artists and scientists have long been fascinated with the internal landscapes of the human body, as well as its fragility, both as a material object and as an ever-changing biomedical representation. Anatomica is a dialogue between contemporary art that explores themes related to anatomical science and historical anatomical atlases, models and artifacts, and highlights the aesthetics, cultural legacies and allure of anatomical imagery.

The contemporary artworks in this exhibition offer new visual and conceptual vocabularies to the study of anatomy and the medicalized body; a number of artworks challenge the rhetorics related to scientific realism, while others emphasize the sensuality, historicity and the performativity of biomedical science. The artworks in Anatomica respond to the materiality of the body’s surfaces and textures—its undulating flows, ripples or vigour. Whether through knitting (Sarah Maloney), carving (Maskull Lasserre), paper quilling (Lisa Nilsson), painting (Garry Neill Kennedy), drawing (Lucy Lyons, Howie Tsui and Kasiu Koski), sculpting (Maura Doyle) or sewing (Lyn Carter), these artworks offer new and exciting visual and tactile responses to anatomical seeing and knowing. This curious embrace of anatomical study is not unlike the pursuits of the surgeon or the dissecting anatomist’s gaze, in that defining minute bodily structures, membranes and parts, all in the most exhaustive descriptions, are fundamental to building collective knowledge and understanding our fragile bodies and their inner workings.

Displayed alongside the contemporary artworks in Anatomica are a selected group of rare anatomical atlases and medical teaching models from Dalhousie University’s Rare Books Collection and its Division of Anatomy within the Department of Medical Neuroscience. In a number of cases, notably the iconic atlas of mezzotint plates by Jacques Gautier D’Agoty and the infamous lithographic atlas by Jean-Marc Bourgery, these esteemed publications allowed physicians an exciting visual territory in which to publish, announce and share their physiological findings at a time when the corpse operated as a new field of origin for the revelation and manifestation of anatomical truth. Anatomica also features a work by the notorious ‘father’ of surgical anatomy, Edinburgh surgeon John Bell, and large-scale chromolithographs of skin diseases dating from the early-19th century. Also included is a collection of intriguing medical artifacts, such as a 19th century surgical kit as well as anatomical models made of wax, early plastics and resin, that converse with the contemporary artworks.   

Anatomica will inspire multiple readings of anatomy and biomedical science from both a historic and contemporary perspective; it ultimately allows anatomical subjects and artifacts to find new life, new interpretations and new audiences through the catalyst of contemporary art.

Contemporary Artists:

Lyn Carter (Grand Valley, ON)

Maura Doyle (Ottawa)

Garry Neil Kennedy (Halifax)

Kaisu Koski (Utrecht, Netherlands)

Maskull Lasserre (Montreal)

Lucy Lyons (London, UK)

Sarah Maloney (Halifax)

Lisa Nilsson (New York, U.S.)

Howie Tsui (Vancouver)

Historical Artifacts:

Dalhousie University’s Rare Books Collection

Dalhousie University’s Division of Anatomy within the Department of Medical Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine

The Medical History Society of Nova Scotia