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Crossings: Art, Medicine, Visual Culture

Suzannah Biernoff
Birkbeck, University of London

Claudia Stein
University of Warwick

Medical images occupy one of the discomfort zones of modern Western visual culture. Medicine doesn't just deal with the body – it deals with the body as ephemeral, flawed, vulnerable and ultimately mortal: the very bodies that deviate most radically from the Classical ideal, and that have tended to occupy the margins of 'high' art and culture. This session will bring together historians of art, visual culture and medicine, and potentially practicing artists and curators, in order to explore the changing role of the visual in western medicine, and the place of medical representations within the visual arts. Participants will be encouraged to reflect on the methodological, intellectual, ethical and creative value of these interdisciplinary crossings: their as yet uncharted territories as well as their limitations. What does the history of medicine stand to gain from an engagement with art history and visual culture studies? And conversely, what have artists and art historians taken from the history of medicine, given the latter's privileged access to the body, and the corporeal subject matter of so much art.

Possible themes and topics include: artists' uses (or misuses) of medical imagery; the politics of exhibiting bodies and the ethics of spectatorship; biomedical futures, technoscience and the post-human; the sensory practices and epistemological priorities of modern and pre-modern medicine; the relationship between bodily signs or symptoms and concepts of disease; changing meanings of the 'image' in medical discourse and practice; the aesthetic surplus or excess of medical representations. Proposals for presentations on other related topics are also welcome.