‘Sausages, dog bones and tomato ketchup reminded us of the viscera; … our images also reflect the beauty we have seen in many of the images, particularly those relating to nature. Fake flowers and plants became useful props in contrasting the body with nature.’ (Alice Ryrie, MSc Medical Humanities, participant in the Art, Medicine, and Knowledge Project.)

‘Imagining Medicine’ at the John Rylands Library in Manchester from 14 October – 22 December 2016

During 2014-2015, Dr Sian Bonnell (Manchester Metrpolitan University) and Dr Cordelia Warr (Art History and Visual Studies), supported by funding from the University of Manchester (Art and Science Collaborations), started to work with a group of seven medical and art history students to produce a body of work which reflects on the visual imagery of surgical intervention. The ‘Art, Medicine, and Knowledge’ project aims to encourage participants to question the ways in which medical knowledge can be disseminated through visual means and to consider new ways in which the complexities of medical procedures can be communicated to non-specialists and specialists.

Sian Bonnell

With the help of Stella Halkyard (Visual Collections and Academic Engagement Manager, The John Rylands Library), the students carried out research into the early medical collection in The John Rylands Library. Professor Tony Freemont and Dr Peter Mohr arranged a visit to the Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health, currently housed in the Stopford Building, so that students could see a range of historical medical instruments and begin to gain an understanding of medical illustration during the twentieth century. This research culminated with a week during which the students worked with Dr Bonnell in the Clinical Skills Learning Centre to re-enact the images which they had researched in the early medical collection. Images from Paul Barbette’s Surgical and Anatomical Works (1676) were chosen showing, for example, leg amputation. Participants were asked to provide props for the photographs and chose items such as vacuum cleaners, sausages, hammers, and artificial flowers. This resulted in a series of photographs and videos in which the students took the part of patient and medical practitioner and which juxtaposed the modern medical environment with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century methods of surgical intervention.

Sian Bonnell working with Florence Badley (a student in Art History and Visual Studies, UoM)

The work is intended to prompt viewers into re-thinking ideas about medical practice, medical illustration and medical procedures in ways that are fun and accessible to a non-specialist audience. The photographs encourage reflection on medical illustration and intervention through a deliberate mismatch between operation, situation, and instruments. This body of work will be used in an exhibition at The John Rylands Library which runs from 14 October to 22 December 2016 to coincide with the Manchester Science Festival and Manchester as European City of Science 2016.Imagining Medicine