The second blog from Dr Richard Wingate (MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s) and textile maker Celia Pym from the Cultural Institute’s Parallel Practices residences, in partnership with the Crafts Council, which sees the first artists in residence in the College’s Dissecting Room.
Celia Pym: ‘Is this a thing?’
The Dissecting Room staff and students have been very welcoming.
So far I have mended 15 items and have three things – a backpack, a cape and a cardigan – waiting to be repaired. I have mended sweaters, a knitted heart, pyjamas, a bag lining, shirt pockets, belt loops and a sports jacket.
‘Is this a thing?’ one student asked me – I wasn’t sure what he meant – ‘A thing – menders working in dissecting rooms?’ he said. No, I explained, this was a special thing, only happening in this Dissecting Room.
I am in on Mondays and Wednesdays. I have a table set up with yarns and equipment near the sinks and where students drop their bags and put on their lab coats. I have a board for displaying work in progress and photographs.
The smell of preserving fluids in the Dissecting Room is strong. I was told I would get used to it within a couple of weeks. This is true.
It’s a surprisingly cosy place. One former demonstrator said this to me and I agree.
There have been some tears and sore eyes and a couple students have mentioned feeling nervous about beginning to learn dissection from human bodies.
Students seem to take the gifts the donor make of their bodies very seriously and talk about this often. My offer to them for being allowed to work in the Dissecting Room is to mend holes in their clothes or anything made of textiles. There is definitely something about gifts and giving in here.
My notes in my notebook say make something lumpy, tender and heavy. I have started paying attention to the back of the darning and back of things, back of heads, back of ears.
One mysterious towel turned up on my desk. The towel was a frayed in three places at the edges and the edging was coming away. It is light blue and pretty well worn. Don’t know who it belongs to – am fixing the holes and strengthening it with light coloured embroidery.
I have learnt:
- That nerves have no give – arteries have give – this is a good way to tell them apart
- What lungs feel like
- That the liver is high up in the chest cavity
- That there is a cavity in your brain with beautiful curly fibers that produce cerebrospinal fluid
Richard Wingate: Learning on the job
Celia’s pitch to the students has evolved over the weeks into a tightly argued case for mending, a gift for a gift, which makes eminent sense to the class. Each session with a new batch of students is an unintended opportunity for Celia to develop her message and an increasingly refined reflection of her role in the Dissecting Room. Her table in the corner of the DR is a ‘station’, a way-point on a journey, where students and staff pause to fill in a mending slip that explains the damage, small or large, to a deposited towel, sock or sweater. It makes sense.
Last week, we wondered whether we might hit a plateau where accepted might equal mundane: a point where we can’t really imagine the Dissecting Room without a mender. Almost as soon as this thought emerged, we moved on to contemplating what the project will look like as a completed piece. What will it record and how will it be recorded? Suddenly, the time seems short and a little more precious.
You can read more blogs about Parallel Practices on the Crafts Council website.