|Maureen Cummins, Anatomy of Insanity (2001-2008)|
My day job is a student of early modern literature, so I have a special affinity for Maureen Cummins’s fascinating piece of book art. Anatomy of Insanity—written, printed, illustrated, bound, and published all by Cummins—uses reproduced images from the 16th century anatomic drawings of Andreas Vesalius, whose groundbreaking De Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) was essential to the Renaissance understanding of the human body. Interspersed throughout these images are also photo-engravings from 19th century trade cuts, also from medical and anatomy books. These images are more accurate, but still have the incredible feel of going through an old book, ones where detailed drawings took the place of photographs and the titles under pictures were written in an unevenly spaced Latin.
|Diagnosis: Old Age|
Cummins’s piece—which is divided into two sides, one for male and one for female—feels like a mixture of a first edition of Henry Gray’s Anatomy and the clipboard medical records of contemporary patients. Each page, which folds above the top of the book as if it really were attached to a patient report on a clipboard, also includes the details of each diagrammed patient. The patient number, date received (usually the 1830s and 1840s), age, and illness are all described in neat boxes on the top of each page. One of the best parts of Cummin’s Anatomy is how each diagnosis is presented. In the image above, the man of the left is suffering from “Gradual Decay from Ill Health,” written in clean text beneath his feet. The woman on the above right, however, is suffering from “Hysteria, Old Maidism,” written in a straight line between her legs.What is wonderful about this is that Cummin really did her research. Hysteria was indeed a medical term, while “old-maidism” was coined by witty author George Eliot to describe the illnesses of spinsters. Whether or not it appears in any medical textbook of the time, Cummins made sure she had a handle on the terminology of the first half of the 19th Century.
The translucent pages, which Cummins also meticulously printed to look like graph paper, are made from Trace 51, a heavy-weight type of tracing paper. Using this paper allows the viewer to see beyond the first page and into the ones beneath it, as seen above with the birds perched on the shoulders of a man behind the one we see. These layers can have a startling effect, from the birds and snakes (seen right) that can appear to be devouring the skeleton to the above birds that can appear inside the man’s ear. They can also be used to bring the diagnosis upfront, hiding the patient’s image behind it. The image of the woman above appears muted, blurry almost, as she is hidden beneath the page announcing her illness as “Hysteria, Old-Maidism” placed almost like a censor bar (or, perhaps, an arrow) right between her legs.
Cummins’s Anatomy of Insanity is a part of the CBA’s main exhibition, Fine & Dirty. You can see it, as well as many others (including everything in our past Wednesday Exhibitions!) until the exhibition closes this Saturday on March 31st, 2012. As always, admission to our exhibits is free, so stop on by Monday-Saturday and see them before they’re gone!
For more information about Fine & Dirty and other exhibitions currently on display, visit http://www.centerforbookarts.org/exhibits/
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