[Paleopsych] NYT: What Leonardo Could Have Done With a CAT Scan
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Tue Apr 19 13:15:41 UTC 2005
What Leonardo Could Have Done With a CAT Scan
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
If art and science mix, then the field of anatomy has long been a
For centuries, the anatomist relied on the artist to record the dry
details of the human body, inside and out. There was no other way to
do it save through pencil, pen and brush.
But photography, X-rays, CAT scans and newer imaging technologies have
replaced the artist in helping scientists understand the human form.
Artists haven't given up, however; they've moved on.
One result is "Visionary Anatomies," an exhibition at the National
Academy of Sciences in Washington through May 20 (information at
It includes paintings, prints, collages and other works by 11 artists
who use anatomical and medical concepts to illustrate their own ideas.
For these artists, the body is often just a jumping-off point.
Many of the works begin with something technical - an old X-ray,
perhaps, or an angiogram - but become something else, often a very
personal statement, said the exhibition's curator, J. D. Talasek, the
director of the academy's office of exhibitions and cultural programs.
"Art doesn't require you to be completely rational and logical," Mr.
Talasek said. "It allows you to be personal and see how these
technologies affect you."
A case in point is "Unfathomable Logic," a large mixed-media canvas by
Katherine Sherwood, a San Francisco artist.
It combines a lithograph of an angiogram taken after a stroke with
paint marks that echo symbols from a 17th-century sorcerer's handbook.
The effect is made more powerful when you know that the angiogram
shows the blood vessels in Ms. Sherwood's own brain.
In "Figure 2055," an oil with gold leaf by Tatiana Garmendia of
Seattle, it's not the medical element that is personal, but what is
added to it.
The painting resembles an X-ray of a human skeleton. But the added
gold leaf is a symbol of the Santeria religion that Ms. Garmendia, a
native of Cuba, was raised in. "It alludes to the religious icons she
grew up with," Mr. Talasek said.
Not all the works are so personal. Some play tricks with the observer,
Mr. Talasek said. "Panorama Paris," a pair of photographs by a Berlin
photographer, Stefanie Bürkle, juxtaposes an image of an anatomical
model of a man in a room full of other creatures at the National
Museum of Natural History with one of a terminal at Charles de Gaulle
At first glance, "Blot Out the Sun No. 1," paired inkjet prints on
paper with wax and encaustic by Mike and Doug Starn, Brooklyn artists,
looks like two enlarged images of capillaries or nerve cells,
branching off to nothingness in a very treelike way. In fact, both
images are of trees.
Sometimes the trick is on scientists. Katherine Du Tiel, photographer
in San Francisco, projects images from old anatomy textbooks onto
mannequins and real bodies.
She makes deliberate errors, like projecting the musculature of the
palm on the back of a real hand, that only someone who knows anatomy
"She's taking some artistic liberties," Mr. Talasek said. "I enjoy
watching scientists get disgruntled by it. They'll say, 'This is
wrong.' But she does this intentionally; it's a kind of playfulness."
When he gets that kind of reaction, Mr. Talasek feels he is doing his
job. "Our whole mission is to encourage cross-disciplinary
discussions," he said. "I find scientists to be very open to what the
artists represent. Who's to say whether there's an effective dialogue
yet, but we're heading in the right direction."
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