Bodily Matters Seminar Series 2016

Bodily Matters is a new seminar series convened by Gemma Angel and hosted by University College London’s Institute of Advanced Studies. We welcome scholars and artists from all fields, and our broad aim is to explore material, aesthetic and ethical approaches to biomaterial art.

The group will meet for speaker/artist events on the last Wednesday of every month (3rd week in May) from 6-8pm in Common Ground at the Institute of Advanced Studies, South Wing of the Wilkins Building, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

Nearest tubes: Euston, Euston Square, and Warren Street. Cold refreshments and snacks will be provided. All are welcome to attend.

Each seminar will focus on one or two different kinds of biomatter, and adopt a varied format of lectures, screenings, artist talks and panel discussions, with a wide range of interdisciplinary, national and international speakers.

Guests will also have the opportunity to view a small exhibition of specimens from UCL Pathology Collections, which will be on display as part of Dr. Angel’s ongoing research project Looking, Feeling, Knowing: The politics of seeing in medical collections of human remains after the Human Tissue Act.

Please see below for details of the current seminar schedule and session abstracts.

  • Wednesday 27th January: Post-mortem Portraits: Likeness, Technologies & Ethics.

Focusing on the face and the post-mortem body in medical and forensic contexts, Dr. Gemma Angel and forensic artist Kathryn Smith will explore questions of likeness, ethics, artistic practice and aesthetics in relation to representations of the post-mortem face in forensic and contemporary art practice. Chaired by UCL Pathology Museum Curator Subhadra Das.

  • Wednesday 24th February: Architectural Matter: Teeth & Bone

The second in the Bodily Matters seminar series, this session will focus on biomatter that gives the human form strength and structure – bones and teeth. Teeth and bone have powerful symbolic cultural associations with mortality, aging and death, and have been used in the visual arts and medicine as both memento mori and anatomical teaching tools.

In this session, contemporary sculptor and installation artist Gina Czarnecki will discuss her 2012 work Palaces, which incorporates thousands of donated milk teeth. She will be joined by bioethicist and lecturer at Yale Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioethics, Dr. Heidi Nicholl, who will discuss ethical issues surrounding the use of human bones in art practice.

  • Tuesday 22nd March: Generative/Nutritive Matter: Semen & Milk

The third in the Bodily Matters seminar series, this session will focus on generative, nutritive and fluid biomatters – semen and breastmilk. As bodily fluids associated with the gendered body, reproduction, nurturance, sexuality and intimacy, semen and breastmilk are imbued with powerful symbolic value, and are frequently surrounded by cultural taboos.

In this session, artist and lecturer at Camberwell College of Arts Jordan McKenzie will present his semen drawings, Spent (Litmus) in relation to queer bodily production. He will be joined by professor of political aesthetics at Birkbeck, Esther Leslie, and artist and senior lecturer at the Slade School of Art, Melanie Jackson, who will present a lecture on their current collaborative work focused on breastmilk.

  • Wednesday 27th April: Liminal Matter: Skin & Hair

Bodily Matters IV focuses on liminal biomatter at our contact zone – skin and hair. As the most visible markers of gender, race, social class, age and health, skin and hair are both important sites for the inscription of social identity and sensory and cultural mediums of expression. From the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew to the shorn hair of Samson, skin and hair are embued with complex and often contradictory symbolic value in art, literature, myth and medicine. Frequently, these biomaterials posses qualities of ambiguity or liminality, standing at the threshold between the individuated self and other.

In this session, UCL art historian Dr. Mechthild Fend will present on the phenomenon Plica Polonica, or “Polish plait”, which was treated as a medical condition during the 17th century. Plica, or trichoma, is a formation of hair that may refer to a hairstyle as well as European folk medical traditions, in which matted hair was employed as a kind of amulet to “catch” illness leaving the body. UCL Institute of Advanced Studies junior research fellow Dr. Gemma Angel will join the discussion of liminal bodily matters, focusing on the work of Andrew Krasnow in particular, and exploring the use of human skin as a potent symbolic medium in contemporary art and broader cultural practice alike.

Chaired by IAS Director and Durning-Lawrence Chair of History of Art Professor Tamar Garb.

  • Wednesday 18th May: Emotive Matter: Blood & Tears

In this penultimate seminar in the Bodily Matters series, LA-based artist Rose-Lynn Fisher will present on her photographic series Topography of Tears, exploring the myriad emotional states that provoke human tears, and their unique and surprisingly aesthetic microscopic formations. Cambridge University anatomist and medical illustrator Emily Evans will join the discussion on emotive bodily matters, focusing on the visceral potential of human blood to provoke strong emotional reactions, and as a potent symbolic medium in contemporary art practice.

  • Wednesday 22nd June: Micro Matter: Genes, Molecules, Cells

Lecturer in molecular biology Dr. Simon F. Park will discuss his art practice and research exploring the human microbiome. He will be joined by Louise Mackenzie, an artist and researcher at Northumbria University working on evolution and synthetic biology, in collaboration with the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University.

2-7pm, UCL Pathology Museum, Royal Free Hospital, London. Drawing workshop with artist Dr. Lucy Lyons, seminar presentations and panel Q&A with Lucy Lyons, artist Pascal Pollier and anatomist Emily Evans.

Please direct any queries to Dr. Gemma Angel at

Or sign up to the Bodily Matters Mailing List here

Session Abstracts

Bodily Matters I

Kathryn Smith, ID/Inventory, 1998-9 (background) and The Studio Familiar, 2014 (foreground), installation view, 2014. Photo: Kathryn Smith
Kathryn Smith, ID/Inventory, 1998-9 (background) and The Studio Familiar, 2014 (foreground), installation view, 2014. Photo: Kathryn Smith

Wednesday 27th January: Post-mortem Portraits: Likeness, Technologies & Ethics.

Kathryn Smith, Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University – Technologies of the Post-mortem Face 

This presentation will introduce the basic principles of craniofacial identification and depiction – otherwise known as forensic art – focusing on predictions of living appearance of individuals generated from post-mortem remains in both forensic and historical cases. The notion of ‘technology’ is considered in its literal sense with reference to the tools used in facial depiction (including both manual and computer-assisted methods), as well as its connotation within cultural anthropology, as the sum of a group’s practical knowledge expressed through material culture. I will consider the research that supports the practical application of scientific standards in facial prediction/depiction, including current research in facial recognition, in relation to some ideas and expectations we have about portraiture, in the context of a conspicuous lack of theoretical consideration of the visual cultures of forensic work, and how aesthetic choices made by forensic artists may impact on the success or efficacy of facial depictions and vice versa.

Dr. Gemma Angel, Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London – Facing Death. Contemporary Art and the Medical Museum

In 1981, a sixteen-year-old Damien Hirst posed for a photograph next to the disembodied head of an unidentified (but identifiable) cadaver at Leeds Anatomy School, during an art school visit to the dissection laboratories. A decade later, the image was exhibited publicly for the first time at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris; Hirst credits this photograph with the beginning of his art career.

More recent exhibitions of the photograph in London have been met with public and professional outrage amongst museum curators and scholars who work with human remains, reflecting a shift in the perception of human remains held within institutional contexts. Whilst anatomical dissection and artistic practice have gone hand-in-hand for centuries, contemporary relationships between medical institutions and artists such as Hirst who seek to access their collections, have more recently been marked by conflict, controversy and a disjuncture between professional medical codes of ethics, and artistic intentions.

This paper will examine Hirst’s controversial image With Dead Head (1991), in light of ethical questions about access, ownership, treatment, display and visibility of human body parts in both the medical museum, and in contemporary art practice.

Bodily Matters II

Gina Czarnecki - Palaces
Gina Czarnecki, Palaces. Crystal resin and donated human milk teeth (2011-13)

Wednesday 24th February – Architectural Matter: Bone & Teeth

Dr. Heidi NichollIndependent Clinical Ethics Consultant – The Use of Human Bones in Art: A Clinical Ethics Consultation

Frameworks are a useful tool to analyse details of individual cases and to generate pertinent ethical questions and key concepts that require further analysis. One method of undertaking clinical ethics consultancy utilises a framework called ‘The Four Box Method’. In this seminar I will use an adapted version of this case-based approach to explore the ethics of using human bones in art. We will investigate what is at issue, the nature of the ethical conflict (if any) and whether there are previous cases from which to draw inferences. By using this paradigm I seek to explore how human remains can be viewed in a similar way to the un-represented patient.

Gina Czarnecki, Visual Artist – Palaces 

Milk teeth have a particular multi-cultural significance as a symbol of transition and of progress. Stem cells can, allegedly, be extracted from these teeth and may in the future be used to repair or remake damaged organs. Palaces was formed, like much of my works,  from numerous inputs that are a melting of present and past experiences, knowledge, memory. A palace or a castle represents ancient power systems. They represent protection, a refuge, a place of dreams and magic. Architectural constructs and constructs of the imagined. Palace represents too our belief in these constructs and in established systems of authority.  It alludes to belief systems and what we hold to be true or fantasy.

As more teeth are donated, the sculpture will begin to grow like coral as I continue to add teeth. There will be clusters of teeth forming in parts of the palace just like barnacles gather in areas and spread, or crystals form and grow. The crystal resin structure will always be visible. As more donations of teeth arrive this will gradually cover more and more of the crystal resin structure but will never completely cover this form.

Bodily Matters III

Jordan McKenzie, Spent (Litmus). Universal Litmus Paper, artist's semen (2009)
Jordan McKenzie, Spent (Litmus). Universal Litmus Paper, artist’s semen (2009)

Tuesday 22nd March: Generative/Nutritive Matter: Semen & Breastmilk

Jordan McKenzie, Camberwell College of Arts – Getting Jizzy With It: Auto-drawing and Queer Bodily Production. 

Jordan McKenzie will talk about his practice of queering the canon, attempting to find ways of inserting acts of queerness into the heart of art production and its historical framings. Using satire and performative actions, his work around drawing and the wider series of interventions into Minimalism deliberately highjack claims to originality and authenticity in arts practice.

Professor Esther Leslie, Birkbeck University, & Melanie Jackson, Slade School of Art, UCL – Unreliable Matriarchs

In the mythic origin stories of the Milky Way, breastmilk is violently sprayed across the heavens in a struggle between Gods and wives over the control of the supply of milk and of reproduction. Through history, it becomes no less contested a substance. The efforts to separate milk from the body are sustained, as attested, for example, in the debates around wet-nursing. Certain bodies are charged with milk production, others dissuaded. But there is a more fundamental separation of milk from the body, in order to ensure supply as an industrial staple. Through milk formula, milk emerges  as a cipher of industrial modernity. Milk is the only human ‘fluid’ that in the recent past was perceived to have been ‘transcended’ by a technologised counterpart. Today it is one of the most variously technologised substances on earth. Only now are its biodynamic adaptive properties beginning to be fully apprehended. This illustrated talk will explore representations of lactation, of giving suck, and its powdery reformulations, across a wide historical span.

A collaborative lecture based on material from the forthcoming book by Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie.

Bodily Matters IV

Andrew Krasnow, Hollow Muscle, 2005, lithograph print, 20 x 15 cm, edition of 31. Image courtesy of the Artist and GV Art gallery.
Andrew Krasnow, Hollow Muscle. Lithograph print of sculptural work made of human skin, 20 x 15 cm, edition of 31 (2005). Image courtesy of the Artist and GV Art gallery.

Wednesday 27th April: Liminal Matter: Skin & Hair

Dr. Mechthild Fend, History of Art Department, University College London – Medusa’s Hair

This presentation will engage with images of a curious hair condition – consisting of braided hair – which was considered a disease between c1600 and 1900, associated with Poland, and usually called Plica Polonica. It will focus on the visual and verbal accounts of the condiition in an illustrated dermatology atlas  produced at the Hôpital Saint Louis in Paris by Jean-Louis Alibert. In an uncharacteristically pejorative manner, Alibert associated the Plique multiforme with Polish beggars who look like furies when drunk. The images and accompanying descriptions conjure up the spectre of the serpent haired Medusa, a figure that was at that time also mobilised to invoke the violent aspects of the French Revolution. Along this liminal disease I will discuss issues of skin, hair, the bodies’ uncertain boderlines.

Dr. Gemma Angel, Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London – Not So Empty Vessels: The Flayed Skin in Contemporary Art

The theme of flaying recurs in the ancient myths and legends of many cultures from the Aztecs to the Ancient Greeks. In contemporary culture, flaying continues to be a powerful phantasm, appearing in horror films such as The Martyrs (2008), and in popular fiction as an extreme form or torture, as well as a theme within artworks that explore the interstices of identity, skin, self and body. The cultural significance of the skin is frequently most legible were it is breached, broken and stripped away; the skin can be both mask and mirror, simultaneously concealing and exposing the interior; protective armour or vulnerable membrane; a garment imbued with powers of renewal or destruction. This presentation will chart the myriad meanings of skin via an exploration of contemporary artworks that use human skin as medium, focusing in particular on Andrew Krasnow’s series of sculptural/installation works made using preserved skin.


Bodily Matters V

Rose-Lynn Fisher, Liberation Tears. Human tears viewed through optical microscope (2013)

Wednesday 18th May – Emotive Matter: Blood & Tears

Emily Evans, Anatomist & Medical Illustrator, University of Cambridge – Bloody Good Art

From medicine to the macabre, horror movies to the holy, it’s undeniable that we love to be shocked by blood. In this talk, Emily Evans will explore a range of artworks by artists who use human blood in their work. Drawing on her own experiences of working with blood, she discusses why it’s such an emotive medium. From surgeons who create sketches with their patients’ blood, to artists who use the blood of gay men as a political statement, we ask the question; is it’s beauty and validity of use in art outweighed by it’s power?

Rose-Lynn Fisher, Visual Artist – Topography of Tears

Topography of Tears is a study of 100 tears photographed through an optical microscope. The project began in a period of personal change, loss, and copious tears. The series comprises a wide range of my own and others’ tears, from elation to onions, as well as sorrow, frustration, rejection, resolution, laughing, yawning, birth and rebirth, and many more, each a tiny history. The random compositions I find in magnified tears often evoke a sense of place, like aerial views of emotional terrain. Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series is like an ephemeral atlas.

Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis: shedding tears, shedding old skin. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

Bodily Matters VI

Simon Park, Cellfie. Biopsy stained with methylene blue.
Simon Park, Cellfie. Biopsy stained with methylene blue.

Wednesday 22nd June – Micro Matter: Genes, Molecules, Cells

Dr. Simon Park, Department of Microbial Sciences, University of Surrey – Body Fluids – the Default to Order

Often treated with disgust, bodily fluids such as urine, saliva and sweat are highly complex forms of soft matter. Take for example saliva, which comprises 99.5% water. Its activity, however, resides in the other functional 0.5%, which comprises a complex mixture of electrolytes, glycoproteins, lubricants, enzymes, and antibacterial compounds. Simon Park will talk about his practice in which he seeks to explore and reveal the complexity of these human fluids. His explorations have been diverse, ranging from the development of simple and readily accessible DIY staining techniques for the analysis of bodily fluids, to more introspective works as follows.

The soft matter which escapes the body, either through deliberate and unconscious expulsion, or via intentional extraction, reveals vital and intimate signatures of our health and also our hidden biology. In all of these liquids, water is by far the majority, and acting as an inert carrier it supports and jostles hidden chemistries into action. When it is removed, and the molecules within the bodily fluids consequently stilled, complex biochemistries are revealed in the form of autogenic, and multifaceted crystallineformations, as if the water in the samples had possessed some entropic quality, that once removed, had allowed life’s molecules to default into a defining order.

Louise Mackenzie, Visual Artist, Northumbria University  – Pithos

As part of my ongoing art science research collaboration with the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, Pithos (working title) is a live bio art research project and audiovisual installation.  In this work I practice transgenic art in the tradition of Joe Davis, Christian Bök and Eduardo Kac by comparing the genetic code to language and constructing a cypher that enables me to place a sentence, in the form of synthetic DNA, within the body of the organism E. coli as vessel.  Reflecting the Pandora myth, the synthetic DNA construct (a question to the microbial other) is worked into a physical clay vessel and it’s predicted evolution within E. coli is sonified as an audio work.  As an ongoing live element, generations of the living organism containing the synthetic DNA construct are nurtured and monitored for actual evolutionary change.



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