Blood, semen, urine, feces, tears, nasal mucus, breast milk, skin, bone and even cremated human ashes have all formed media for artists to use in their work. Ever since Piero Manzoni canned his own excrement in 1961 and Andy Warhol invited friends to urinate on canvas in 1977, there’s nothing we like more than being shocked by art made from bodily fluids.
The upcoming conference ‘Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art’ at University College London in July 2016 proves to be a hot plate of controversial discussions about art generated from human material.
One thing is certain, where body fluids & tissue is used in art, controversy is never far behind.
A Few Key Pieces
To whet your appetite, I’ve chosen a few key pieces as a brief introduction to this media:
Vomit – Millie Brown (2011)
Millie swallows dyed milk, only to then throw it up on anything from canvases or clothing to pop stars! It’s no wonder Millie’s colourful vomit used on stage to cover Lady Gaga and for fashion label Martina Spetlova sparked controversy, but the artist denies glamorising bulimia.
“I hadn’t eaten in days because I didn’t know how long it took for my stomach to clean out food. And I don’t think having chunks of food within the paint is necessarily beautiful.”
Urine – Helen Chadwick: Piss Flowers (1991-92)
By urinating into snow surrounded by a flower shaped metal cutter, Chadwick then casts the cavity that was formed in plaster and then bronze. The resulting flowers make a substance seen as polluting and smelly into something pretty and playful.
Ashes – Wieki Somers: Consume or Conserve? (2010)
Somers 3D prints her art with the ashes of donated human remains. She describes the excess of human ash waste from cremation as “worldwide some 465.000 liters per day”, and see’s her art as a means to “offer Grandpa a second life as a useful rocking chair or even as a vacuum cleaner or a toaster.”
Skin – Andrew Krasnow: Hollow Muscle (2000)
Using skins from white men who donated their bodies to medical science, Kraskow uses skin like leather to create objects he says is a commentary on human cruelty and America’s ethics and morality.
Semen – Andres Serrano: Blood and Semen III (1990)
Who can forget Piss Christ? the controversial 1987 piece by Serrano in which a small plastic crucifix is submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. Equally as polarizing in opinion was his Semen works where he mixed his own semen with cow’s blood, the image of which made it to the front cover of Metallica’s 1996 album, Load.
Blood – Mark Quinn: “Self” (1991, 1996, 2001, 2006)
Made form 4.5 litres of his own blood taken over a period of 5 months, “Self” is a frozen cast of the artists head. Said to reflect the fragility of existence, it’s a piece that was made every 5 years to document Quinn’s own mortality.
The Bodily Matters Conference
Leading up to the conference and to bring artists interested in these disciplines together in conversation, there is a series of seminars. I will be talking about the use of Human Blood in Art on 18th May.
I’ll be talking alongside artist Rose-Lynn Fisher who’s photographic series ‘Topography of Tears’ looks at the microscopic patterns of tear formation.
Tears – Rose-Lynn Fisher: Topography of Tears: Last tear I ever cry for you
About our Guest Author
Emily Evans, BSC PGCE MMAA RMIP
Emily is an Anatomist and Medical illustrator. She has been working as a Medical Illustrator for the last 12 years and works from her studio in London UK. Emily is also senior demonstrator of anatomy at Cambridge University, UK, teaching the medical students human dissection and anatomy.
Additionally, Emily is the author and illustrator of ‘Anatomy in Black’, owner and designer at Anatomy Boutique, Anatomist and Artist in Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York and a Member of the Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain, the Institute of Anatomical Sciences and the Anatomical Society. View her medical illustration and art at emilyevansillustration.com.