I make therefore I am

Catherine Truman Hybrids 2011 Carved English Lime wood,paint. largest dimension 150mm

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.



About Catherine Truman

Biographical Statement 2011 Catherine Truman is co-founder and current partner of Gray Street Workshop in Adelaide, South Australia. Established in 1985, it is one of Australia's longest running artists' co-operatives. She has traveled and exhibited widely nationally and internationally and is represented in a number of major national and international collections including the Pinakothek Moderne Munich, Museum of Auckland, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Powerhouse Museum Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia and Artbank In 2007 she was awarded an Australia Council Fellowship and selected as a Master of Australian Craft 2008-2010. Truman qualified as a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method in 1999 and uses the body as a starting point in her work. Her work has always been informed by a strong political consciousness. Current interests lie in the ways in which human anatomy has been translated through artistic process and scientific method – specifically how the experience of living inside a body has been given meaning and the role of new technologies in the translation, expression and expansion of our individual and shared experiences of the human body. She has researched historical and contemporary anatomical collections world-wide and has participated in a number of art/science- based projects such as Reskin an ANAT Wearable technology Lab, Australian National University, With the Body in Mind (a multidisciplinary art/sciences forum presented through Arts in Health, Flinders Medical Centre and Not Absolute an exhibition of collaborative works by artists and medical researchers and scientists held at Flinders University Art Museum, 2009. In 2008 Truman was invited to participate in Thinking Through the Body (ARTLAB) –an interdisciplinary research project exploring the use and potential of touch, movement and proprioception in body-focused interactive art practices co-coordinated by Dr George Khut and Dr Lizzie Muller. The first public presentation of this research was held in Performance Space, Sydney, 2009. Thinking Through the Body continues to operate as a research ensemble. Since 2009 Truman has been artist in residence in the Autonomic Neurotransmission Laboratory, Anatomy and Histology, Flinders University, Adelaide. In 2010 Truman and neuroscientist, Professor Ian Gibbins were awarded a Teaching and Learning Innovation grant (Flinders University) to carry our their research project entitled: Translating the Body: the choreography of representation in anatomy teaching. Truman has just been awarded a ANAT Synapse residency to further her collaboration with Gibbins. Their research is focused on the exploration of the role of two and three dimensional forms of representation in the communication of functional human anatomy to students of medical science.
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