“Items 1-2000” by Paul Vanouse

  • ©, Paul Vanouse, Items 1-2000


    Items 1-2000

Artist(s) and People Involved:


Artist Statement:

    Items 1-2,000 collapses western medicine’s fracturization of the body with industrial itemization techniques into a strange rationalization apparatus. A human body is half submerged in a block of wax, in a manner reminiscent of how biological specimens are fixed in a “microtome” (a machine which cuts wax embedded specimens into thin slices). A sheet of glass rests inches above the figure like a cover slide used atop specimens in microscopy. This glass is affixed with barcodes, which correspond to internal organ locations of the figure underneath. Participants interact with the work as anatomy students would a cadaver: They use a stainless steel barcode scanner much like a scalpel—slicing horizontally across the figure to reveal the hidden target organ on twin video monitors. These video sources seemingly shuffle though digitized body slices from the location of one scan to the next.The more familiar use of barcodes and scanning procedures however are not lost, and this surgical role blurs with that of cashier—commodifying and extracting value through the denial of the body as whole (rather a rational composite of itemized parts.) Certain scans access animated recollections from my experiences as a student in the anatomy morgue.These recollections are somewhat poetic and address the phenomena of de-humanization of the corpse as it is de-constructed and subsequently re-configured through dissection.These musings question the rationalization processes of western bio-medical practice and search for a point of empathy with the human subject.The sliced human data-set used for Items 1-2,000 is exported from the National Institute of Health’s Visible Human Project: a multimillion dollar endeavor, in which a death-row inmate was given lethal injection, embedded in a wax-like gelatin, and sliced into 2,000 slices which were photographed and digitized. Certainly Foucault would have found the Visible Human project fascinating as the disciplined body of the prisoner is subjected to the ultimate surveillance process (minute dissection) and his body, essentially”drawn and quartered” in the ultimate spectacular punishment. The recollection movies contain varied image sources. Some diagrams are appropriated from student dissection manuals; other images are scanned from my own sketchbooks (near the end of my pre-med studies, I often returned to the anatomy lab after hours to make pen and ink drawings of the corpse); while others utilize medical data sets which I have de-convolved using bio-medical software, at Pittsburgh’s Science and Technology Center.


    Thanks to Ryan Douglass, who performs during the installation, and the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.