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