May 24, 2013

"the apotheosis of the dissected plate"

The alley leading back to Observatory
The entrance 
The opening slide
Michael Sappol 
White's Physiological Manikin 
Dr. Franke's Phantom 
Doyen's topographic anatomy atlas
A photo documenting Doyen's process
A layered anatomy transparency
The entrance to the Morbid Anatomy Library
A look around the library
One of the cabinets 
"Spectacles of Layering and Transparency in 19-20th Century Anatomy
or
Traversing the Text/Body Binary for Profit and Pleasure"

A lecture by Michael Sappol at Observatory, Brooklyn
May 23, 2013
...

Armed with my new pink galoshes, I made my way over the incredibly stinky Gowanus Canal under threatening skies and lightning strikes to attend this lecture last night on "Anatomical Transparencies. " The talk was at Observatory, an art and event space that is nestled inside a large old box and packing factory building in Brooklyn [Observatory is right next door to The Morbid Anatomy Library, a research library and private collection that has public visiting hours].  I think it probably goes without saying that the topic was right up my alley. Anatomy, layering and transparency? Delightful.

Michael Sappol, a historian in the medicine division at the National Library of Medicine,  opened his talk by saying "this is a story about how you turn books into bodies and bodies into books. There is pleasure in taking the body apart and putting it back together." (I'm pretty sure he wasn't being literal there. Let's hope anyway.)

One of my favorite things that he showed was White's physiological manikin, a full-size, fold-out "book" showing sectional views of the body. Created using hundreds of tabs, the manikin shows the organs and the tissue layers and the various systems of the body, all in a giant book that folds up into its own case. It was published in 1886 and is very rare today – I believe the National Library has one in their collection because it is featured in their book "Hidden Treasure" [there is an interactive slideshow here on the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts website].

Sappol also showed something I had learned about during my visit to the National Museum of Health and Medicine – a visible human data set in the form of a lifesize plexi book, with "pages" that can be turned. It was created from two human specimens that were bathed in gelatin, frozen, and then cut into 1,800 (!) layers. There is a bit of a controversy around the male specimen, because the body came from a man executed for murder in Texas, who had decided to donate his body to science just before he was lethally injected [more about the story here].

The other highlights were Dr Franke's Phantom (published in Berlin, 1891),  a life-size flap anatomy that combined both male and female anatomy and showed 5 or 6 pregnancies; and learning about Doyen, one of the last French showman surgeons. He created a photographic topographical anatomy by mummifying his cadavers instead of freezing them, curing them for 4-6 months, and then placing them on a trolley to be cut with a 5' bandsaw.  An "anatomical theater of cruelty" according to Sappol.

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