Understanding the Anatomy of Value

The Cultural Institute Parallel Practices residences, in partnership with the Crafts Council, will see the first artists in residence in the College’s Dissecting Room. Dr Richard Wingate (MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s) and textile maker Celia Pym share their thoughts on working together to explore ‘mending’ in anatomy.

Celia Pym: Darning is filling in holes, preventing them getting bigger, repairing loved (or not so loved) garments

I have been mending and darning the holes in other people’s clothes since 2007. It’s work I really enjoy. Often garments that people want mended are very important to them for personal reasons. The most common holes I encounter are from wear and tear, old age and moths. I encourage making the repair in a contrasting colour to the original textile so that you can see evidence of the hole. Not everyone fancies this some people like their darns invisible.

Image by Celia Pym

The largest darn I have ever done was a very ragged and chewed up sweater from Annemor Sundbo’s Ragpile collection in Norway. It took 4 months and the repair work looked like scars.

I like the feel of clothes, the warmth of wool, silk and cotton, smoothness of acrylic. I like seeing how something is made how it works, holes show you this. Sometimes darning can be tender and tenderness is important. Darning helps you understand the thing you are mending.

The plan for this residency is to set up a table in the Dissecting Room and offer to mend things belonging to staff and students, teach darning and do my own research (drawing, knitting). I am very excited to start the residency, meet staff and students and see what holes turn up.

Richard Wingate: Why invite a mender into the dissecting room?

Image by Celia Pym

Image by Celia Pym

The dissecting room is far from an impersonal or soulless place: at the core of its purpose is the gift by an individual of their material remains. This generosity seals the continuity of a pattern of education that dates back to the Enlightenment. Far from a quirky paradox, notions of mending and repair seem part and parcel of this intimate and unusual territory.

The dissection of the human body is something that many undergraduate medical students and their teachers feel is an essential rite of passage. Although questioned in recent years both for its utility and cost, it is an experience that defines, in particular, entry into the world of clinical practice. Alongside the teaching of anatomy through dissection are elements of learning and teaching that go beyond the acquisition of knowledge. Students must negotiate desensitising feelings and depersonalising actions and come face-to-face with the emotional challenges of a career of fixing broken bodies. This part of the meaning of the dissecting room is easily neglected and, to me, this residency will serve as a reminder of this and a reflection on its significance. Celia’s work embodies notions of care that are an important part of what may seem superficially a destructive process. It is also reinforces the motives behind the gift of a body and the aims of a biomedical education.

You can read more blogs about Parallel Practices on the Crafts Council website.

Image by Celia Pym

Smoke and mirrors


Alison Duthie, Director of the Cultural Institute, reflects on the current exhibition Art & Life: The Paintings of Beryl Bainbridge in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing

When you go into the last room in Art & Life, a re-imagining of one of Beryl Bainbridge’s rooms from her legendary home in Albert Street, which includes her stuffed animals and beloved chaise longue, you can almost smell the cigarette smoke hanging in time, and in fact we were tempted to create a sensory space with tobacco aromas thrown in.

Aaron and Jojo, 1960s © the Estate of Beryl Bainbridge

From touching portraits of her children to compellingly surreal images of Beryl Bainbridge’s bohemian coterie, this exhibition in the Inigo Rooms has proved Beryl’s enduring pulling power, with over 5,000 members of the public visiting the Inigo Rooms in the last ten weeks to explore the eccentric nooks and crannies of her life and work, as curated by Dr Susie Christensen from the Department of English at King’s.

Research, deep knowledge and intellectual curiosity, combined with the generosity and support of Beryl’s close family and friends, and a partnership with the British Library, who hold the Bainbridge archive, have created the heart of this exhibition, which uses Beryl’s less known visual art as a starting point for a journey through her creative life. The very nature of this extraordinary artist’s work, which saw her creative work peppered with characters from her personal life and from history, meant that we could use the physical layout of the Inigo Rooms to interesting narrative effect, in essence telling the story of her life, and creating elements of theatre through film and design.

Boarding the Titanic, 1992 © the Estate of Beryl Bainbridge

The feedback from our audiences has been enthusiastic – they’ve been engaged and fascinated by the approach and content of the show. At the same time as applying her research background, partnering with the British Library and Bainbridge’s close friend and biographer Psiche Hughes, has allowed Christensen to explore the work through a new lens, and bring real depth and resonance to the subject.

This isn’t just about the paintings, films and manuscripts – it’s about how you communicate the essence of someone’s creative life, and the ways in which this translated into child care, friendship, parties and art, as made in Beryl’s kitchen while cooking up spaghetti for her children. It’s inspiring stuff, and we will be taking lessons from this into future exhibitions and projects being developed by the Cultural Institute.

The Inigo Rooms at King’s are an interface between the rich tapestry of academic research and knowledge at King’s, and this wonderful location in the heart of the West End, facing onto the teeming Somerset House public spaces. Over the last two years we’ve shown ten exhibitions and installations in these spaces, and they’re only a subset of the outcomes of a range of cultural and academic collaborations that are running across King’s every year. It’s wonderful to invite audiences into these projects, and as we go forward we anticipate creating more opportunities for the public to directly interact with and begin to inform research practice, as our very active partners.

The exhibition runs until 19 October and we still have some events coming up with a group of Beryl aficionados – see www.kcl.ac.uk/cultural for more details.

Still from film showing Charlie and Beryl © Charlie Russell