Fusing art and science engagement to explore the pathology of Von Hagens plastinates.

By Rachael Allen
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BODY WORLDS Vital made its UK debut at Newcastle’s Centre For Life this year, displaying Dr Gunther Von Hagen’s plastinated human bodies exploring the physiology of human health and wellness. As a visual artist and researcher of anatomy and human sciences residing in the city, this presented the perfect opportunity to consolidate my experiences of science communication thus far, and propose innovative ways of engaging Life visitors with one of the most controversial human exhibitions of all time. A calling some would say, having spent the past 3 years researching anatomical sciences and spending most of my working week inside the anatomy lab or engrossed in the study of disease, illness, decomposition and death (click here).

Through the collective work of myself as visual artist and 3 local histopathologists, The Pathology of BODY WORLDS Vital will fuse art and science engagement, inviting exhibition visitors to explore what the bodies can teach us about disease through histopathology; the examination of human tissue in order to study the manifestations of disease, using sophisticated microscopes and a clinically trained eye. The project has been funded by the Royal College of Pathologist thorough their Public Engagement Innovation Grant Scheme and generously supported by the Centre For Life. The aims of the project and culminating public events are to primarily engage exhibition visitors with the practice of histopathogy as it relates to the diseases exhibited in BODY WORLDS Vital, raise awareness of disease as both a scientific study and human experience, and most importantly, develop science communication skills of pathologists and awareness of the wider science engagement community. In this phase of the project (the very beginning!) we envisage that The Pathology of BODY WORLDS Vital will focus on both microscopic (cellular) and macroscopic (gross examination) approaches to histopathology. Myself as artist and the histopathologists will illustrate information on, and generate discussions about, the journey of human tissue in pathology from retrieval to observation to diagnosis to medical research and it will be explored in its scientific, clinical and personal context the microscope, the patient body, the diagnosis to generate awareness of its breadth of application and importance to everyday health. If you haven’t already visited BODY WORLDS Vital, or you feel compelled to see it again, the show is running till 30th November (more information) with The Pathology of BODY WORLDS Vital events taking place on Wednesday 26th, Thursday 27th and Saturday 29th November (times to be confirmed on the blog).

Rachael Allen is a visual artist and researcher based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, working at the interface between anatomy, human sciences, medicine and arts methodologies as an ongoing Artist in Residence (AIR) in university anatomy labs in North East England. Her practice straddles science communication, participatory arts and involvement in the application of arts in medical education, alongside empirical observational research and evolving drawing methodologies, disseminating findings through art exhibitions, interdisciplinary conferences and publications. Contributing to the emerging Critical Medical Humanities, her work addresses the instrumentalisation of the arts in medical sciences and science communication, advocating deeper critical engagement with visual arts across medical humanities communities through interdisciplinary collaborations.

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