Anatomical imagery meets the street at the International Museum of Surgical Science.
Vanessa Ruiz is worrying over an unusual curatorial problem. Stephen J. Shanabrook, one of the artists she included in “Street Anatomy,” contributed an anatomically accurate sculpture called Cop Suicide…in cast chocolate. “I have to make sure the chocolate doesn’t melt,” frets Ruiz, an art director at a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. “Can you imagine?”
Anyone wondering what constitutes “shocking” art today can find it on Ruiz’s Street Anatomy blog, which highlights examples of anatomical imagery in art, design and pop culture. No matter how many skulls you’ve seen in Dutch vanitas still-lifes, the ways Street Anatomy artists remind us of death and the fragile systems under our skin can be deliciously disturbing. Ruiz chose Shanabrook and eight other artists who’ve appeared on her blog for a “Street Anatomy” exhibition, which opens at the International Museum of Surgical Science (IMSS) Friday 3.
Street Anatomy doesn’t just cater to the morbid. Ruiz believes the thrill of seeing the body from new perspectives is what attracts visitors to her blog, which she founded in 2007 as a first-year grad student in biomedical visualization at UIC. “I started off wanting to educate people because nobody really knew about medical illustration,” she says. Biomedical visualization encompasses more than your biology textbook’s diagrams of human digestion and circulation—which “Street Anatomy” artist Jason Freeny adapts, hilariously, to reveal the innards of a LEGO minifig. Today’s medical illustrators use digital imaging, video, 3-D models and other media to convey information about science and medicine.
To fill space between serious articles about her profession, Ruiz posted “really cool images of anatomy” she found online. “People started to respond better to those images than to my articles,” she recalls. Four contributors now help her build on the blog’s substantial archives documenting skeletons, body parts, vital organs and viscera in advertising, fashion, typography and other fields.
The IMSS show reflects Street Anatomy’s variety: Other contributors include tattoo artist Robyn Roth, whose skateboard decks (pictured) are collectors’ items; David Foox, whose vinyl toys promote organ donation; and street artist CAKE. Street art’s become a rich source of anatomical imagery, Ruiz says. (In Chicago, she recommends looking out for Saro’s skull paintings bolted to street signs and Tiptoe’s illustrations of hands clutching a heart.) During the “Street Anatomy” opening, visitors can collaborate on graffiti that will be displayed in the show.
Though our insides have fascinated artists for centuries, even before Leonardo da Vinci made drawings based on his cadaver dissections, Ruiz sees anatomy growing ever trendier, citing Damien Hirst’s bisections and Alexander McQueen’s skull- and rib-cage-inspired designs. “A lot of people grew up seeing anatomical illustrations in their textbooks, and they only saw it as educational,” she says. “Now everyone has rib-cage sweatshirts on, and you see stilettos with backbones on the heels.”
“Street Anatomy” opens at the IMSS Friday 3.