TEDMED speaker Lisa Nilsson to show new bodies of art

TEDMED 2012 speaker Lisa Nilsson, who wowed the audience with her fantastic paper sculptures of human anatomy, will show her latest work,  a series called “Connective Tissue” in New York City from October 10 through November 9th at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery.

Nilsson constructs the pieces with tightly curled, 1/4-inch-thick strips of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books, using a centuries-old process called quilling, or paper filigree. This painstaking technique — larger pieces take Nilsson about two months to complete — was popular with nuns and the aristocracy from the 13th through 18th centuries.

Angelico (detail) 2012,  mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books. Photo: John Polak

Angelico (detail) 2012, mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books. Photo: John Polak

As she explained in her TEDMED talk,  the “fleshy” quality of the coiled paper drew her mind towards picturing anatomy, and hand-colored illustrations in an ancient French medical book inspired her first piece, a transverse view of female torso.

Nilsson uses a variety of sources for her work, including aged hand-painted French and German anatomy texts, as well as images from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Visible Human Project. The male cadaver for that project is that of a 38-year-old Texas murderer who was executed by lethal injection.

“I do notice, especially with that male figure, that his body is very thick and imposing. He’s not a delicate individual, and I wonder if that has something to do with the life he led,” she says.

The resulting pieces are lush yet, upon closer inspection, intricate, delicate and fragile, like the human body.  Nilsson says her work is popular with surgeons – for obvious reasons – but that non-medical folk also appreciate it’s unique and visceral vantage point.

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In an interview with Installation magazine, Nilsson said:

Attention to detail and careful observation are, for me, a means of practicing devotion, a practice common to the scientists and makers of religious art that I admire.  I am inspired, aesthetically, by scientific imagery and objects.  My approach to my work is “play-scientific.”  I use tweezers and scalpels and pretend I’m a surgeon from time to time, but without any of the intense responsibility of the real thing, for which I would be decidedly ill-suited.

For more, visit www.lisanilssonart.com and watch TEDMED Curator Jay Walker’s Q&A with Nilsson.

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