January 7th, 2008

“Dad, what’s going on in that one?” “I don’t know, son, but it looks like a whole mess of organs.”

I hope you all had a lovely Xmas and/or New Year’s, filled with lots of sex and/or tech-related presents. As for me, I’m back from a week and a half in Italy, where Scott and I were touristing it up in Florence, then farming it up on, well, a farm. We built fences and mashed berries and carried baby lambs down mountains. Okay, that last one only happened once. But still, it was pretty awesome.

One of my favorite things in Florence–because I’m strange, and because Renaissance art doesn’t interest me nearly as much as dissected, wax bodies–was the exhibit of old anatomical models at the History of Science Museum. Most of the museum is dedicated to things like physics and astronomy (made slightly less boring by the fact that they’ve got Galileo’s finger in a jar). This one room, however, was full of once “cutting edge” 18th and 19th-century models of the female body in various stages of pregnancy and labor. Truncated to little more than a hunks of flesh surrounding a uterus, these bodies had been cut open and exposed, making their bellies tiny viewing rooms.

Granted, I’m predisposed to think stuff like this is cool. As part of my thesis last spring, I was working with similar images by always creepy, always wonderful German surrealist artist Hans Bellmer–except that those were images of little girls. Ah, the endless fun of sex/gender analysis! Still, I didn’t expect to get quite so many strange looks (I was standing there sketching for a good hour) from the American father and son pairs who were wandering the museum, making wholesome observations about science. The best were their comments as they passed uncomfortably through the room. Besides the “mess of organs” jewel quoted above, there was the dad who said, “Can you imagine having seven of those?” and the son who decided that was enough, he was leaving the museum altogether.

The thing that really fascinates me about these figures, of course, isn’t their creepiness; it’s how they capture a set of historical ideas about sex, gender, and the female body in the form of “science.” It makes you wonder about scientific technology we have today. How is it biased? How does it reveal our own assumptions about sex and gender in between the lines of “fact”? And will it look quite so grotesque to museum-goers in another two or three hundred years?

Tags: Bonnie speaks, sex/gender imagery

One Response to “Sex Tech Gets Old-School in Florence”

  1. kookimebux Says:

    Hello. And Bye. :)

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