16 June 2010

Miles and miles and miles of skin

As part of my "get out of the house more" programme, I'm trying to visit one museum or gallery a week, and so this morning I've been to the Wellcome Collection to see the temporary display on Skin. It's really interesting to see the crossover between medical science and art. For me this was best illustrated by this piece:
It's "Examination" by Heather Barnett, and, sadly, seeing it onscreen doesn't do justice to the warmth and tenderness of the images. But, what's perhaps disturbing is that these photographs were staged reconstructions of illustrations from medical textbooks. It's possibly fatuous to say that context determines meaning, but this demonstrates it so clearly by removing context. All that's left is the detail of the physical contact, opening up a range of interpretations. There are better versions of these on the artist's website:

There's also a couple of pinturas de castas. I'd never heard of these before. Literally meaning paintings of castes, they were produced under the Spanish empire to classify and name the children that might result from a mixed race relationship.
Here's one (not from the display) that shows that the child of a Spanish man and a mulatta woman would be a morisco. That urge to label seems to combine outright colonialism with a (pseudo-)scientific thirst for knowledge. There's more about this on wikipedia. I'd say it seems typical of imperial Spain's obsession with limpieza de sangre, but that would be tempting fate.

Anyway, the exhibition is well worth a visit, and it's free.

1 comment :

Clive said...

Actually if you are selective and have a freedom pass you can fit in three museums or exhibtions in one day