Anatomy Lesson No.1 – In the solitary hours of the spirit (1996)
This assemblage is laid out in a shallow box with a painted frame. The whole space is bisected by a glass shelf just below center. The shelf itself cuts through two central etched illustrations mounted on card, one etching of the human anatomy showing mainly the muscles and the other a close-up of an abdominal surgical incision showing veins and arteries. A watch gear is attached to the anatomical illustration, and two plastic flies are attached to the surgical picture. A corner section in the top left features a frame with a grid of microscope slide, color drawings. A rectangular opening in this section has a toy, plastic, grinning head of a fantasy figure wearing a pointed cap. The background of this opening is a color illustration of a medieval castle wall. There is a boxed section on the top right covered with an etched illustration entitled “The Organs of Digestion” with accompanying text. Atop the illustration is a glass fuse. The bottom left of this inset box is open with an angled mirror inside The mirror allows us to see a game die set slightly back from the opening. The outer sides of this internal box are covered with a red paisley-patterned fabric which is also used as trim for two sections of the assemblage. The background of this upper section is a page of text about a Renaissance master painter. The lower part of this assemblage is sided by two facades, each featuring etched illustrations from stories of the Arabian Nights. Behind each of these panels are sections of mirror set on the sides. The background of this lower section is a color illustration of a landscape with prehistoric foliage and a dinosaur. A blue plastic figure of a dinosaur and a row of brown plastic chickens are set on the bottom of the assemblage. The bottom, top, and side sections of the box interior are covered with color US road maps from the 1940s.
This is the first of a ten-piece series exploring our understanding of the human body. The title of this series, Anatomy Lesson, is partly a reference to my use of turn-of-the-century medical illustrations, which are featured in all the pieces of this series. The notion of “lesson” is turned inside out in that this assemblage is a lesson on questioning what is a lesson. It is through a series of lessons that we take the human body and convert it to an anatomy as a way of understanding it. I hope that the playful nature of the pieces in this series is obvious. As with much of my work, the use of humor is a guide toward reaching an understanding, and it especially resonates here, since the root of the word humor pertains to conditions of the body. Each box assemblage from the first set of five of this ten-part series has a subtitle taken from the opening stanza lines from the poem “Helian” by Georg Trakl. This lengthy poem is divided up among these five boxes and featured on their backs.