Tucked away in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, down the long spiral staircase, is the Dalhousie Art Gallery, which is currently hosting a very unique exhibit, Anatomica.
There isn’t much chance you’ve heard about this exhibit. And chances are, unless you have had a class in the Rebecca Cohn, you probably aren’t aware this gallery exists.
Curated by Cindy Stelmackowich, this exhibit brings together the concepts of science and art in a way you may not have experienced before. Based in Ottawa, Cindy focuses her art on how we conceptualize science, which lets us question how and what we know about science through an artistic medium.
I found the first part of the exhibit darkly humorous. There was a pinball machine that allows you to play with a musket ball shot into the body of a soldier. Next to that was a lithograph which showed the detailed photo of a lieutenant’s healed leg after the removal of a musket pellet, which is replicated in a box next to the drawing.
While Stelmackowich was not present to explain the humorous juxtaposition, I was joined by Wes Johnston of the Gallery who spent an hour with me discussing the deeply interwoven questions behind the exhibit.
As Wes points out, Anatomica makes us question the “onto-logical factor of science”: how we know what we know. He pointed to a model from the Dalhousie medicine department that was originally a teaching tool. He asks why the arteries are blue. Why is the spleen the brown? Wes drew me over to a brain knitted by Sarah Maloney. It was a bright pink colour, how we often think of the human brain. Yet next to it, enclosed in a glass case, was another detailed chromolithograph with the model of a brain beside it. This brain was green.
As you wander through the exhibit, you are reminded that you’re inside a gallery, looking at artistic pieces. Other times, you are staring at a text book of medicine feeling like there should be what Wes calls a “didactic voice of authority”, blurbs on the walls describing the textbook in length, providing factual information about western medicine.
The use of western medicine tools of teaching are the founding aspects of the exhibit. This prompts us to wonder how it is that western medicine has become the dominate form of accepted medicine across the globe. This is especially poignant when taking into context the deer skin pieces, which depict the archaic ways in which we practiced medicine, as the soldiers on the deer skin cut off their own hands, fingers, and other extremities, in order to save themselves from infection and more. The crude ways in which western medicine was practiced is seen in various displays, and yet when we consider the delicate intricacies of the text books on display we know that western medicine, today, is incredibly knowledgeable. These questions, concepts and more are brought forward in the exhibit.
While the gallery is small, it’s filled with interesting pieces that leave you questioning things you thought you knew about science and art in new and sometimes disturbing ways.