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Speechless @ Body Worlds

December 27, 2006


Pentel Portrait of Plastinated Foetus

As I stood there frozen in one spot, sketchbook in one hand, wearing my blue museum temporary pass for artists, only my hand and eyes moving rapidly back and forth across the page to the miniature hands, feet, eyelashes before me, I felt like time stopped. I could hear words around me and feel the presence of others but I was intensely focussed.

It was not what I had expected. I heard voices speak of someone they knew who was born prematurely. They guessed at the number of weeks so they could make comparisons. There might have been thirty people, maybe as many as sixty people who passed by during the 90 minutes I spent in that small room with those six glass cases. I heard in their comments what I was thinking and feeling as I drew. Not a single one made an inappropriate comment, not a single joke or smart remark. There was no fear, disgust or disrespect.

I have felt this in front of moving works of art by Rubens, Rembrandt, Jordaens, Escher, Akpaliapik. I have never experienced this in a museum like this before. Where is this situated in terms of museology? or in terms of the Exhibition of Cultures? Science and art have come together here to create a new knowledge system.

There are moments that artists experience while drawing from life, even still life. A detail reveals itself as if it was not there a moment ago. It’s just the way the eye automatically eliminates ‘noise’, the confusion of details that prevent us from seeing the whatness of things. But when you take 30 minutes, an hour, three hours to draw one thing, those hidden details become unforgettable. Suddenly I could see — with complete clarity — fingernails, the balls of the toes, wrinkles like a faint pencil mark creating baby frowns . . . I could imagine the shape of the womb.

I asked myself if the mother or child grieved to see us before this portrayal. No, it was more like a skillfully carved sculpture than an irreverent glance. It was after all created by the hand of God, before it was prepared for this place by scientists, technicians, artists and inventors. I actually silently prayed to see if there was any disrespect in the process of creating or exhibiting these forms. I wanted to feel the presence of a lost soul if there was any. The only souls I felt were living and like me, they were in awe.

Science World, Vancouver, British Columbia where I visited the exhibit and the Institute of Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany where inventor/artist Gunther Von Hagens has his headquarters, require that all artists wear a special pass while drawing in the exhibition space and that they send a copy to them within two weeks of the museum visit. This is the first of four drawings that I will be uploading to fulfill that requirement. The original sketches were done in a sketchbook c. 10″ x 6.5″ using a 0.5mm Pentel P205 pencil. I completed four drawings in c. 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

For more information on Body Worlds 1, 2 and/or 3 and the inventor/artist Gunther Von Hagens (b. 1945) see below:

Von Hagens, Gunther. Body Worlds http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/pages/home.asp

Body Worlds 3 http://www.scienceworld.bc.ca/whats_on/Body-Worlds/overview.htm