The human body and its anatomy may have been a source of interest across many fields for thousands of years, from science and philosophy to the arts. Whilst society and scientists alike may know many more of the details of how the body works in the modern world, how humans use the body in life – and indeed beyond life — may still be a source of intrigue to many individuals.
One way by which this fascination may be expressed is through the use of the human body and bones in art, and how artists may represent contemporary culture and society through them. One of the most prolific and pioneering artists in this field may be Gunther Von Hagens, the inventor of the Plastination process and anatomist from Germany. Originally born in 1945 Posen (now known as Poland), Hagens’ life seems to have been shaped by a series of unique and stimulating events, leading to a potentially equally intriguing interaction with the human body and art.
Following his unorthodox creation of Plastination in order to preserve the soft tissues and delicate structures within the body, Hagens began to explore the art of structure, sculpture and visual displays in order to communicate his distinctive understanding of the human body and experience. Through his exhibition project Body Worlds, Hagens endeavors to represent health and bodily conditions as well as the functions of the human body, dedicating itself to the “interior face” of humans through bones, plastic blood vessels and preserved muscles.
Following the potential resurgence of interest in the human body as art garnered by the work of Hagens and his contemporaries in both science and art, other artists may have followed suit in recent years in order to channel and communicate their own individual messages and visions.
One such example may be Francois Robert, the Swiss-born photographer who aims to use his art to address some elements of 21st century life and provoke conversation about human life and experience. One way in which he attempts to do this is through a series of photos in which he arranges human bones into various icons of institutions and organisations, considering the potential effect of the way humanity presents itself in relation to human bodies and nature.
Another artist who aims to use human bones in order to channel their artistic ambitions may be Christine Borland, who aims to use scientific methods and fascination in order to further explore humanity and human bodies. For example, one of her earliest projects, From Life (1994), endeavors to explore the relationship between the body and the person in life. Borland attempted to achieve this examination by presenting a skeleton purchased from a medical supplies company alongside a bronze portrait bust, which used the forensic facial reconstruction process in order to establish the relationship between the skeleton and the person which it once supported.
Later in 2015, Borland emerged once more to use the body and anatomy in an effort to communicate an artistic ambition, teaming up with Brody Condon to produce an exhibit featuring many facets of anatomy and bodily preservation. The work, titled The Circles of Focus, aimed to draw on the historical methods of bodily preservation and exploration, once more using forensic technique in order to recreate the life experience held in human bodies.
Whilst it may seem unconventional and unorthodox to some, it appears as though the use of the human body in art may provide an interesting and unique window into human life and experience when explored. Whether it is through iconography, subtle allusions or the literal representation of bodily functions and actions, it may become apparent how artists who use human bones and bodies for inspiration provide a new and thought-provoking art form for those wishing to expand their understanding away from classical art works.
How may artists continue to use the human body and nature in order to provoke conversation about and among societies?