Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, by Ossian Ward, Head of Content at the Lisson Gallery and former chief art critic at Time Out London.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Art has changed. Familiar styles and movements that characterized art production prior to the twenty-first century have all vanished. Traditional artistic media no longer do what we expect of them.
This book provides a straightforward guide to understanding contemporary art based on the concept of the tabula rasa - a clean slate and a fresh mind. Ossian Ward presents a six-step program that gives readers new ways of looking at some of the most challenging art being produced today. Since artists increasingly work across traditional media and genres, Ward has developed an alternative classification system for contemporary practice such as 'Art as Entertainment', 'Art as Confrontation', 'Art as Joke' -- categories that help to make sense of otherwise obscure-seeming works. There are also 20 'Spotlight' features which guide readers through encounters with key works..
Contemporary art is not what it used to be. The old rules, classifications and movements don't apply anymore. Art can be anything, anywhere, it can even be anyone. You might pass by it on the street and never realize it. The author thus set up to guide us through art appreciation and consumption. Thankfully, Ward is a witty, straightforward and seasoned art critic who realizes that no one needs an encyclopedic knowledge of art history nor a master in art speak to enjoy art. In fact, Ward advises that you come with a fresh mind and a clean slate, calling for a tabula rasa approach where T.A.B.U.L.A. stands for:
Time: just hold on, don't turn your back yet. Stay there for a few minutes before deciding the work is not for you (that's one rule i should follow more often.)
Ward then suggests that we look at today's art through various lenses: entertainment, confrontation, event, message, joke, spectacle and meditation.
The theory is never overwhelming nor dogmatic. The author illustrates each point with a number of artworks which he dissects according to the T.A.B.U.L.A. perspective.
I loved this book. I'm tempted to offer a copy to my many friends who stare at me with a look of "poor loser, that art job must be so BO-RING" in their eyes. I never managed to explain them why what i do for a living makes me want to spring out of bed every morning but this book might be more convincing. But Ways of Looking will be of great help to me as well. I've always thought that i was good at feeling when a work is 'good' or 'bad' but i often struggle to form intelligible thoughts that would help me express what i find so interesting about a particular piece or exhibition.
I particularly liked the tone of the book. While the author sounds genuinely passionate about contemporary art, he doesn't seem to take it too seriously either. From what i could infer, he doesn't suffer sloppy, easy and pompous art. There certainly isn't any of that kind of art in his book.
Some of the works presented and analysed in the book:
This 7-metre-long version of a medieval bronze and steel cruciform sword is suspended in mid-air over the heads of visitors. Like the Sword of Damocles, this memento mori reminds us of the precariousness of all things.
Mohamed Bourouissa's photos look like evidences from a photo reportage about delinquency in French suburbs inhabited by Arab and African communities. Taken between 2005 and 2008, the photos directly echo the 2005 unrest in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
Each image has actually been carefully staged and choreographed to simulate the documentation of tensions and confrontations about to explode. Yet, the composition is so precise and elegant that the photos also evoke Romantic paintings.The series was named after the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring-road surrounding Paris that effectively ostracizes communities that live beyond this physical and metaphorical barrier.
The trilogy And Europe Will Be Stunned follows the activities of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), a utopian political group that calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland.
Views inside the book:
Vice interviewed the author about Ways of Looking.
Image on the homepage: Gregor Schneider, Man With Cock.
100 Ideas that Changed the Web, by Jim Boulton, curator of Digital Archaeology, an organisation that seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation.
Publisher Laurence King writes: This innovative title looks at the history of the Web from its early roots in the research projects of the US government to the interactive online world we know and use today.
Fully illustrated with images of early computing equipment and the inside story of the online world's movers and shakers, the book explains the origins of the Web's key technologies, such as hypertext and mark-up language, the social ideas that underlie its networks, such as open source, and creative commons, and key moments in its development, such as the movement to broadband and the Dotcom Crash. Later ideas look at the origins of social networking and the latest developments on the Web, such as The Cloud and the Semantic Web.
Following the design of the previous titles in the series, this book will be in a new, smaller format. It provides an informed and fascinating illustrated history of our most used and fastest-developing technology.
The book had me at page 8, the one that says "The idea of the internet was born in Belgium.' I was born there too! How thrilling! That idea, thus, was born at the Mundaneum, an institution which Slates calls a 'Proto-Internet made of index cards' and Speigel defines 'an analog version of Google'. Created in 1910, the Mundaneum had the ambition of collecting all human knowledge and classify it according to a system that Belgian lawyer Paul Otlet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri LaFontaine called 'Universal Decimal Classification'. While this networked world relied on index cards and telegraph machines, it nonetheless anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today's Web.
100 Ideas that Changed the Web is a thick, compact book that charts the key moments that made and make the Web. The author presents one idea over two pages. One of them being the short essay, the other is the image that illustrates the concept. The book follows a logical and chronological order. The 20 first ideas are about the vanguard that paved the way for the creation of the Web. Ideas 21 to 53 are about the early days of the Web. These were times of experiments and wild dreams. The following 20-ish ideas deal with the pre-social era of the Web, full of ups (PayPal) and downs (that dot-com bubble). Ideas 74 to 98 brings us into the right here, right now of the web. The last two ideas look into the future.
The book is very upbeat and celebratory. It makes me love the fact that i lived from dial-up modems (don't miss understand me: i'd never ever want to go back there) to the era of Big Data. It also reminded me of the importance of ideas i either take for granted nowadays (eBay!! or real-time reporting) or had almost forgotten (The Blair Witch Project, a film that accumulated a series of 'first time ever', one of them being that its promotion relied heavily on a website.)
I think it's a book anyone might enjoy. It sums up efficiently important concepts and allows readers to take a step back and look at how much their lives have changed in a relatively short period of time.
With that said, i feel that the book is glossing over the unpleasant aspects of the web: the trolls, the spam, the scams, the mass-surveillance, the revenge porn, the platforms that are closing themselves, etc. All are corollaries of those magnificent 100 ideas that changed the web.
More views inside the book:
Publisher Leonardo/Olats writes: Artists have opened new avenues in the art world by employing these developments in biotechnology, synthetic biology and Artificial Life; going from inanimate to autonomous objects to living creatures; exploring the thin border between animate and inanimate; confronting the grown, the evolved, the born and the built; and raising aesthetic but also social, political and ethical issues.
New forms of 'exo-life' may not arrive on Earth from outerspace by hitching a ride on a meteorite, but instead come out of the lab, designed by scientists - or perhaps artists - weaving together biology and computing in a petri dish or bioreactor.
Over the last fifty years our ideas about the nature of life have changed dramatically. Revolutionary advances in genetics and molecular biology have given us new insights into how carbon based life on our planet originates and functions. In more recent years the development of synthetic biology has dramatically expanded our ability to design and modify life forms. At the same time, disruptive developments in computing technologies have led to the possibility of generating digitally-based artificial life. And outside traditional institutions, emerging DIY, bio-hacking and citizen science movements have begun to appropriate laboratory technologies, challenging ideas about the governance of the life sciences.
Meta-Life is an anthology of articles published in Leonardo about the living, the non-living and the 'kind of living' in all their forms. There are 45 articles in total, some date back to the 1990s, others are newly commissioned texts. In fact, the whole DIY Biology - BioHacking section is composed of new commissions.
A quick look at the titles of the sections demonstrates the wide-range of themes explored: Between Bio, Silico and Syhtetic: Life and the Arts reflects on how our notions of life and of art are challenged both by computer technology and biotechnologies; Artificial Life and the Arts as well as the section called BioArt contain theoretical and philosophical texts about both fields, Bio - Fiction, Design, Archictecture explores the thin border between reality and fiction; DIY Bio - BioHacking proposes various points of view on the bio DIY movement.
I haven't been through the whole ebook but i've read most of the articles and so far, so very good. To be blunt, I don't trust Leonardo to publish texts that are approachable and engaging. Intelligent, informative and thought-provoking, they do very well but appealing to broad(ish) audiences? I wasn't not so sure. Well, that's where i was very wrong. There is no abstruse language nor complex theories in this ebook. Trust me, I deliberately looked for it.
Here's just a couple of examples of the essays i've enjoyed, in no particular order:
Dr Craig Hilton writes about his collaboration with artists Billy Apple® to create what is simultaneously a subject of art and of scientific endeavor. This project consisted in growing the first biological tissue made available for artists and the first biological tissue for science research made available by an artist as art. The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® is a work of art that lives, multiplies and has the potential to create other works of art ad infinitum, especially because there is no restriction placed on the use of the Billy Apple® 's tissue.
The flamboyant Adam Zaretsky authors a sex-infused manifesto about the utopias surrounding the art (manipulation) of the living.
Following the exhibition GROW YOUR OWN ... Life After Nature, Michael John Gorman offers a coherent and crystal-clear introduction to synthetic biology, in which he also manages to include a few reflections on intellectual property, ethical and regulatory framework, media frenzy, and market interests.
Anna Dumitriu explores the relationship between bacterial and digital communications networks through the lessons she learnt while working on her project Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0.
Steve Tomasula places bio art into the context of the tradition of manipulating nature for aesthetic reason.
Oron Cats investigates the concept of being alive or 'just kind of living.' He makes some important points about the absence of a cultural language that would help audiences deal with tissue culture and other fragments of life. How should we culturally articulate and position lab-grown life when we have no cultural reference that would allow us to relate to it?
David Benqué has an enlightening conversation with independent synthetic biologist Cathal Garvey. The discussion explores the difference between DIY biology and BioHacking, the fear of biotechnology escaping the labs, the cost of creativity in biology, etc.
The first text i ran to was actually Alessandro Delfanti's research about DIY biology and its position in the world of science, the world of the market and the state.
I think i could go on and on. I carried Meta-Life in my e-reader throughout the Summer and enjoyed dipping in and out of it. I think that this collection of texts by illustrious artists, designers, and researchers constitutes a great reference to anyone who has a mild-to-strong interest in how the art world is exploring the synthetic and the aesthetic, the artificial and the new natural, the fictional and the ethical dimensions of life.
Get that one for your Kindle, it's a gem.
Image on the homepage: Brandon Ballengée. Malamp Reliquaries, 1996-ongoing. Unique IRIS prints on water-colour paper. 2003-07.
Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, by Justin McGuirk.
Publisher Verso Books writes: What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?
In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.
Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world's murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-storey Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.
Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.
It's mid July and this might already be my favourite book of the year 2014 (unless Jo Nesbo publishes a new one before December.) It is lively, daring, insightful and it might actually be one of the very few books about future cities that make sense to me.
While we (in Europe) are still proudly exhibiting in biennials 3D printed visions of what the city of tomorrow might look like, cities in South and Central America are already experiencing elements of our future urban conditions. Countries in Latin America have not only gone through mass urbanization long before China and Africa, they've also given rise to a new generation of architects who believe that architecture can be used as a tool for social change. These men (who are not only architects but also in some cases squatters and politicians) have had to respond to housing crisis, traffic congestion, segregation, lack of political participation and other effects of rapid unplanned urbanization.
The urban experiments described in Radical Cities should teach European and North American urban planners and architects valuable lessons about conceiving and managing the mega cities of the future. Such as what happens when you value adaptability over perfect order, acknowledge the informal city as a vital part of the urban ecosystem, include the citizen into collective efforts of imagination and construction or embrace and work with the dynamic force that is precariousness.
Among the cases explored:
Alejandro Aravena created social housing for a poor community living in the north of Chile. He simply provided families with half a house and they built the rest, within a defined structural framework. The project was self-initiated and the final dwellers of the houses were involved in the design process.
In Colombia, it's a new radicalized political class that took the initiative of improving the quality of life of all urban dwellers. The movement started in the 1990s when Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogotá used tactics of performance artists to tackle violence and instil a new civic culture. He reduced road accidents by hiring mime artists to mock bad behaviour on the road and to direct traffic, he set up a scheme allowing people to exchange their guns for toys and he dressed as Superciudadano (SuperCitizen) to urge his fellow citizen to take care of their urban environment. The results of his unorthodox social experiments included homicide rate dropping by 70% and traffic fatalities by more than 50%.
Torre David which the author calls 'a pirate utopia' is the third tallest skyscraper in Caracas. Built in the business district to host luxury offices, the building had stood empty for 13 years until 2007 when squatters moved in. Some 3000 people now live in "the tallest squat in the world.' Inhabitants managed to organize a legitimate electricity distribution, they enjoy spectacular views over the city and live in apartments that range from the barely inhabitable to well furnished flats with all commodities. The building has developed its own community rules and even houses convenience stores and bodegas every two floors. On the other hand, there is no elevator so going to the top floor with the grocery can quickly turn into a fitness challenge. There are open facades and holes in the floor and accidents happen if you don't stay away from the edge.
Art & Ecology Now by Andrew Brown.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: 'Eco' awareness has had an enormous impact, not least in the art world. This accessible and thought-provoking book is the first in-depth exploration of the ways in which contemporary artists are confronting nature, the environment, climate change and ecology.
The book moves through the various levels of artists' engagement, from those who act as independent commentators, documenting and reflecting on nature, to those who use the physical environment as the raw material for their art, and those committed activists who set out to make art that transforms both our attitudes and our habits.
Don't judge a book by its hideous cover and its rather bland title, Art & Ecology Now is a timely, inspiring and exciting book.
Concerned that we are today about the increased surveillance of our online existence, the financial crisis, legal and illegal immigration or the lack of bright prospects for many young graduates, we might forget to look at what lays directly below our feet and what hangs above our head. 5 or 6 years ago, ecology was a hot topic in major museums and art galleries, sustainability was the magical word and many still believed that we could go back to some Arcadian state. Or at least that the dire consequences of global warming and the over exploitation of natural resources were distant in time and place. Nowadays, we know that the world as we know and despair of right now is probably very different from the one that awaits us.
The artists in this book remind us that everything is interconnected. That immigration, business and politics are affected by change in environmental equilibrium and that any disruption taking place in Mongolia might sooner or later have ecological and thus economical repercussions at the other end of the world.
Art & Ecology Now organizes artworks in 6 chapters that deals with the level and type of personal engagement with nature:
re/view highlights the work of artists (mostly photographers) who document the ecological challenges the world is going through. The author of the book compared their work to the one of war artists and investigative journalists. And indeed what these artists offer us are worrying reports and frightening images that show nature hovering between power and vulnerability.
The re/form section introduces us to artists who use the physical environment as a raw matter from which to make art. Their works take the form of permanent interventions or very light actions that leave only ephemeral traces.
re/search looks at artists who attempt to explore and understand the inner working of the natural world. Either out of personal curiosity or because they want to offer alternative ways to consider important ecological challenges.
The re/use section present artists who are concerned with the Earth's resources and who cast a critical look at how our throwaway culture disrupts the equilibrium of the environment.
Packed with novel ideas, prototype, experiments, beta tests and hypotheses, re/create offers a selection of artworks that emerged out of a quest to propose solutions to environmental problems.
Finally, re/act presents what might be the most ambitious projects in the book. The artists featured in the pages are actively seeking to transform the world in modest but tangible ways.
I've already expressed my dislike of the very underwhelming cover, I'm not sure i see the point in mentioning the year of birth of each artist under their name and i would have liked to see more pioneering works from past decades (even if i realize that this is probably not the point of a book that focuses on contemporary practice) but otherwise Art & Ecology Now is an inspiring and exciting book. I was very impressed with the selection of artworks, many of which i didn't know and almost of which i found truly relevant and stimulating.
Here's a quick tour of some of the works i discovered in the book:
Benoît Aquin 's The Chinese Dust Bowl series explores the impact of disastrous agrarian policies that have turned the grasslands of central China into desert. Frequent and violent dust storms affect three hundred million people in China. And beyond since winds carry the barren topsoil to North Korea, South Korea, and Japan and as far as North America.
In China's Qinhai Province there were once 4,077 lakes. In the last 20 years, more than 2,000 have disappeared. In Hebei Province, surrounding Beijing, 969 of the regions 1,052 lakes are now gone. And in Africa, Lake Chad, once a landmark for astronauts in space, is just about gone.
The Tar Machines photo series reflects Ravi Agarwal's fascination with issues of labour and industrial machines. He found these iron tar-boiling machines (i had no idea such devices even existed) in the street and presents them as if they were sculptures, giving them nobility and life.
Haubitz+Zoche painted a blue line running through Copenhagen's city center. The line delineates the city's new waterfront if the inland ice of Greenland were to melt, prompting water levels to rise by seven meters.
Atlantis, a collaboration between Halldor Ulfarsson and Tea Makipa, appears as a wooden cabin sinking in the middle of a lake or river. The work reminds us that our current lifestyle isn't as secure as some of us might like to think.
To passersby, the house will looks as if it is inhabited: there's light inside and the sound of family life can be heard from the street.
Allee der Schlaflosigkeit [Avenue of Wakefulness] was a 1:2.45 scale model for a botanical pavilion accessible to visitors. The structure was a long corridor lined with Angel Trumpet trees, a hallucinogenic plant with ties to shamanistic rites and valued for its ability to induce powerfully vivid dreams. Three beehives were added at the end of the 'avenue'. During the exhibition, bees collected nectar from the trees and produced pure Angel Trumpet honey.
We usually associate water consumption with the water that we drink, use for washing, use in the toilet or watering plants. On average this amounts to about 150L of water per person per day in the UK. Yet, if we consider the 'virtual' or embodied water used to produce the goods and food we consume, our daily average is much closer to 3,400 litres of water per person per day. This 'hidden' water accounts for nearly 96% of our daily consumption! Hidden explores the virtual water present in manufactured goods and industrial materials. It includes a set of glass vessels designed to communicate the differing amounts of water required to produce a range of industrial materials. The stopper in each bottle is manufactured from a different material: steel, aluminium, epoxy, glass and ceramic. The vessels are sized to contain the amount of water used to produce that bottle's cap.
The Clean Air Machine improves the air quality of indoor environment by cleaning the air of dust, viruses, fungus, bacteria, toxic gases, malodorous gases, organic solvents, smog, carbon monoxide etc.
The Tabernas Desert in Andalucia is the only 'true desert' in Europe. Growing in size each year due to climate change and poor land management, the land is home to both the film studios of the Spaghetti Westerns era and the Plataforma Solar de Almería, a research facility developing the use of solar energy for the desalination of sea water.
On the 9th September 2004, Starling travelled 41 miles across the Tabernas Desert on an electric bicycle. The bicycle was driven by a 900 watt electric motor that was in turn powered by electricity produced in a portable fuel cell fitted into its frame, generating power using only compressed bottled hydrogen and oxygen from the desert air. The only waste product from the moped's desert crossing was pure water of which 600ml was captured in a water bottle mounted below the fuel cell. Starling has used the captured water to produce a 'botanical' painting of an Opuntia cactus. The painting of this most 'ergonomic' of plants refers back to the site of the journey and to film-maker Leone (who introduced cacti into the area as part of the film sets), while also parodying the somewhat clumsy prototype moped. Sealed in a perspex vitrine, the project has become a kind of closed, symbiotic system, referring in part to Hans Haacke's Condensation Cube. The work makes a direct reference to Chris Burden's 1977 Death Valley Run, a desert crossing made in the real wild west on a bike powered with a tiny petrol engine. (via)
During the UN Global Climate Summit in Copenhagen 2009, SUPERFLEX offered a hypnotic group session in which the participants were hypnotized in order to perceive the climate change as cockroach. Further sessions were then scheduled to take place in other locations, this time with other animals that are either extinct, about to become extinct, are spreading rapidly or carry dangerous diseases.
The Canary Project, founded by Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris in 2006, uses photography and other media to highlight evidence of global climate change and the devastation that has already occurred.
One of their ongoing projects, Increase Your Albedo!, invites people to wear white to help cool the planet. Albedo, or reflection coefficient, is the measurement of the Earth's ability to reflect the radiation of the sun. The more reflective the Earth, the less sun is absorbed and the cooler it stays. Ice and snow are white. When they melt, the earth gets less reflective, warmer. More ice melts, and it gets even warmer. We want you to increase the overall reflectivity of the earth by wearing white. Albedo is the measurement of the earth's reflectivity.
The introduction to the book contained a number of pioneering works from the 1960s and 70s.
From 1965 to 1978, Alan Sonfist planted a garden in Manhattan. The artwork consisted of plants that were native to the New York City area in pre-colonial times. Conceived in 1965 the Time Landscape was among the first prominent art works in the Land Art movement and is still an inspiration to create Natural urban landscapes.
In 1968, Nicolás Garcia Uriburu dyed the Grand Canal in Venice bright green to protest its pollution. He was arrested by the police, but was released when he demonstrated that the substance he had used was not toxic. Uriburu then proceeded to tour the world in search of polluted waterways to colour: the East River in New York, the Seine in Paris, the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires. Joseph Beuys joined him in coloring the Rhine. In London, he was fined £25 for "offending the British Empire" when he colored the fountains of Trafalgar Square. The work has as much relevance and strength as ever.
Touch Sanitation is probably my favourite work in the book.
In 1976, Mierle Laderman Ukeles accepted an unsalaried position as artist-in-residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation to raise public awareness of urban waste management issues.
For the 11 month-long performance Touch Sanitation, Ukeles traveled sections of New York City to meet over 8500 sanitation employees and shake their hands. Ukeles documented the conversations she had with the workers, their private stories, concerns, and public humiliations.
Views inside the book:
Related stories: Radical Nature - Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009.
The Sick Rose" Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration, by academic medical historian Dr Richard Barnett.
Publisher Thames and Hudson writes: The Sick Rose is a visual tour through the golden age of medical illustration. The nineteenth century experienced an explosion of epidemics such as cholera and diphtheria, driven by industrialization, urbanization and poor hygiene. In this pre-color-photography era, accurate images were relied upon to teach students and aid diagnosis. The best examples, featured here, are remarkable pieces of art that attempted to elucidate the mysteries of the body, and the successive onset of each affliction. Bizarre and captivating images, including close-up details and revealing cross-sections, make all too clear the fascinations of both doctors and artists of the time. Barnett illuminates the fears and obsessions of a society gripped by disease, yet slowly coming to understand and combat it. The age also saw the acceptance of vaccination and the germ theory, and notable diagrams that transformed public health, such as John Snow's cholera map and Florence Nightingale's pioneering histograms, are included and explained. Organized by disease, The Sick Rose ranges from little-known ailments now all but forgotten to the epidemics that shaped the modern age.
The images in the book might not be to everyone's taste. They date back from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, a time when medicine was moving away from the principles of Hippocratic humoralism that saw the body as unified whole and starting to see disease as a form of specific physical disorder. It's no coincidence that in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley would imagine Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who subverted the integrity of the body and created his living creature by assembling parts originating from various human corpses.
The period also saw the beginning of the mass-production of books for the education of medicine students. The medical images these books contained were the result of a collaboration between several professions. Physicians, surgeons and anatomists would first secure, dissect and prepare bodies. Draughtsmen would then be called to reproduce the subject in great details and under the guidance of the medicine man. Finally, engravers would cut woodblocks or copper plates as mirror images of the illustration. The anatomical reality would thus have to be filtered by the minds, eyes and hands of subjective humans. That's without taking into account any further involvement of the printers and publishers.
The Sick Rose is a wonderful book. Not just because of the eye-catching illustrations but because Richard Barnett is a talented narrator. And the stories he tells are fascinating.
First of all, there is the origin of the corpses to dissect and portray. At first, they came from the gallows. Starting in 1752, the sentence for murder in English courts included indeed public dissection. Body snatchers would supply corpses of pregnant women and foetus and any extra cadaver if needed. The 1832 Anatomy Act, however, abolished the dissection of executed criminals but allowed anatomy schools to use the body of anyone who had died unclaimed in hospitals. Which means that it was no longer crime that lead you to the dissection table, it was poverty.
Then there are the stories that accompany each disease studied in the book. Leprosy, aka the "Imperial Danger", that reappeared in the 19th century when doctors and missionaries traveled to tropical colonies. Smallpox and how the first vaccine was successfully developed with the help of pretty milkmaids. Venereal diseases and syphilis in particular which was treated by injection or ingestion of mercury. Et cetera.
My favourite page in the book may well be page 246, aka "Places of Interest", a list of the pathology museums, anatomy museums, medical history centers and other public collections of all things bodily and gruesome. I'm definitely going to drop by some of those in the coming weeks.
Views inside the book:
The Guardian has a photo gallery.
Related story: Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men.