Art takes no prisoners

By Helen Gavaghan, 21st August, 2016



Exhibition: "The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics"
21st July - 23rd October, 2016, The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Medicine may have to be circumspect, coy even: art does not.

Take one central exhibit. Its individual parts could not be understood to be head, feet or entrails, but when taken as a whole there is little room for misinterpretation. Interestingly this body's proportions are satisfying - as one would expect from artwork - yet they are probably not governed by "The Golden Ratio".

Running through autumn, the exhibition - "Sculpture and Prosthetics" - , from the prosthetic devices at the beginning, complete with elegant and polished wooden presentation boxes, through to the cartoon film at the end, explains clearly what medicine might find difficult to put into words. I doubt that was the intent, because, to labour the point, this is an artistic exhibition: humanity through an artist's eye - not the eyes of a medical illustrator, but the eyes of artists and art curators.

On loan from the Annet Gelink Gallery in Amsterdam and Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, is a cartoon film entitled "Degenerate Art Lives", by Yael Bartana. It begins in understated fashion, and builds to encompass an army steadily moving forward. As though panning out with Google World, the individuals, pushed in wheel chairs and dragging themselves across the screen on prosthetics, to the steady sound of mechanical movements, merge to an indistinguishable and uncountable crowd.

To reach the corner of the gallery showing the film one must move through and around the rest of the exhibition spaces. They are elegant. Clean, white and satisfyingly proportioned, with lovely lighting - so much so that as I look back at my experience yesterday afternoon I cannot recall whether it was natural or artificial lighting. Sculptures, paintings and glass-encased medical exhibits, on loan from such places as The Thackray (medical) Museum in Leeds, are positioned to make an artistic whole greater than the sum of each individual piece.

Finger extensions - which one can but hope were not used to correct such genetic conditions as Dupuytren's contracture - sit near artwork depicting the beautiful extended lines made by ballerinas. Imagine a photographic exhibition, and this is sculpture not photography, comprised of photojournalism, photo sociology, photo history and fine art photography, and one gains a sense of what the curatorial layout intent may have been.

Those who have both an abstract and relentlessly literal side to their nature will probably find satisfying this art exhibition, which as a whole is, to my mind, itself a sculpture.

Helen Gavaghan, 21st August, 2016.

This item on 26th August will be moved into Issue 3 of Science, People & Politics