I have just been pondering the relationship between my understanding of the practical anatomy classroom and my practice as an artist.
My practice affords me the chance to both engage and reflect upon my experience of the human body. Conceptually, the works I make are derived from a personal interpretation of anatomy rather than a clinical one- influenced by contemporary and historical anatomical representation and the slippages that occur in translation from person to person, body to body in an attempt to render something of a life lived, questioned, observed.
The processes I choose allow me to interpret and express both ephemeral and long-felt concepts and sensations into tangible forms. I choose to hand-make objects and a single work can take days or months to complete. Nowadays I am much more conscious of the fact that if I really want to engage in the experience in a pleasurable way I must remain aware of the role of my own physicality in the entire process. I must be conscious of my own body whilst expressing notions of the body. In a way it is like being immersed in a multi-sensory feedback loop.
It’s compelling- I make therefore I am and visa-versa
After over thirty years of making objects I realize that there is the potential to become absorbed in exploring something completely new, expanding an understanding of something known or reaffirming something quite familiar.
Also, when I have the privilege of mentoring someone in my own practice I always begin from the premise that there is value in gaining an awareness of the threads that have led that person to the works they currently make. Sounds simple, but it’s always a time of revelation and an aspect of professional arts practise that is somewhat overlooked- the simple process of getting to know oneself a little better and learning ways to review and reflect on a regular basis. It is after all what makes us distinctly human.
Medical students usually learn about human anatomy in quite prescribed ways with specific intention.
At Flinders, over the last three years, I’ve observed that the 2nd year medical students actively engage in learning the body within a teaching and learning environment that focuses upon physical experience. Hands-on interactions between the students and the various forms of representation present in the anatomy laboratory are designed to build a student’s experience and understanding of highly complex forms, physiology and inter-relationships. It is necessary to learn hundreds of names of structures and their reason for being and every individual has a different approach and different learning needs. It is clear that there are many ways to embody the subject matter and that rote learning plays a part but it is not as straight forward as just looking at something, or reading it, or being told the facts and automatically understanding and remembering the information. Comprehension and appreciation of the complexities of human anatomy also require multiple sensory feed-back loops. It is a process of embodiment.
After watching the students handle the wet specimens, feel their weight, turn them over, peel back the layers, squeeze a muscle, cup a skull, trace a nerve, pull apart a plastic model and piece it back together again and again like a jigsaw puzzle, hold a long bone to their own thigh for comparison, and touch the small bones of the hand naming each one as they go- I know that this is a special kind of learning experience. These hands-on experiences are all consuming. My senses tell me they can be likened to the experiences I have whilst translating my thoughts into something tangible whilst I reference my own body to make objects about the body.