When is the body no longer human, but a machine? The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds exhibited artist works of prosthetics from the nineteenth-century to present-day.
My favourite piece in the exhibition is Yael Bartana’s ‘Degenerate Art Lives’ (2010). Bartana’s short film is incredibly unnerving and thought-provoking. The grotesque, disturbing illustrations of soldiers slowly creeping along the screen elongates the feeling of time spent watching the animation. Upon inspection the soldiers look as though they are pieced together like a mosaic. As their limbs move, a mechanical sound can be heard with each movement. Complemented by the sound of the film reel behind the audience, the machine imagery intensifies. The same four characters are replicated hundreds of times and, therefore, lose any form of identity they could possess. This was the last piece I saw in the gallery and I think the build-up of the other pieces made ‘Degenerate Art Lives’ even more powerful. Viewing Horace Nicholls’ photography and Stuart Brisley’s ‘Louise Bourgeois’ Leg’ first built up my understanding of prosthetic work as an art work and Bartana’s work applied what I gained from the previous art pieces I viewed.
The collision between art and science creates an unsettling viewing and has left me deep in thought long after my visit to the institute. Prosthetic work serves as a reminder of World War One and experimentation in a post-Frankenstein world. It is not just art or science, it is history. Prosthetics not only allow us to be more than human, but to feel human again.
The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics was on until 23rd October 2016 at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.