Vesalius Continuum Conference - 2014

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Climbing into the sky with Zakynthos and its aqua ribbon of beaches far below, the magnitude of ‘Vesalius Continuum’ starts to sink in.

zakynthos1This was a conference initiated and delivered by Pascale Pollier, the acting President of AEIMS, Mark Gardiner, Emeritus Professor of University College, London and Theo Dirix, Consul, Embassy of Belguim in Athens, with help and sponsorship support from many others. Delegates numbered +- 200 from 17 countries. Their disciplines ranged across Medical Illustration, art, sculpture, archaeology, clinical medicine, surgery, anatomy, medical history, classics, politics, physics, writers and publishing. Over 4 days, speakers, many of great distinction in their field of interest, engaged us with their knowledge, enthusiasm and original thought. Since the conference was timed and focused on the birth of Andreas Vesalius, many experts on the subject, presented and initiated animated discussion of actual and presumed facts relating to the Fabrica and the understanding of human anatomy 400 years ago.

This meeting was hugely supported by the Belgian Embassy and the Mayor of Zakynthos. It was opened by the Greek Minister of Tourism; Mrs Olga Kefaloyianni before we were all transported to the city square to witness the unveiling of a fine bronze sculpture of Vesalius: it is particularly significant that the statue was created by Pascale Pollier and Richard Neave, UK medical artists and sculptors. Its stance is very dignified revealing muscular and anatomical detail, and it is supported by an imposing plinth carved from Zakynthian stone by Chantal Pollier who also sculpted a Coat of Arms Plaque from black Belgian marble. Andreas Vesalius’s name was beautifully carved in the same black marble by Lida Kindersley, from Kindersley Workshops in Cambridge, UK.

DSC 0322On the other side of the square, the Zakynthos Cultural Centre is to be found; within its walls is ‘Fabrica Vitae’, an exhibition of medical and installation art. We were all invited to witness its opening and enjoy a reception whilst viewing the works including an excellent poetic performance by Bryan Green.

Much focus has been directed on the life and death of Versalius, whose place in history as the founder of anatomical understanding as expressed in the Fabrica, is accepted. However, historical findings as well as recent work surrounding his last voyage, his death and grave site has thrown up more questions than answers. For 2 days we absorbed these fascinating facts and assumptions presented to us by authors and experts on the subject of Vesalius.

The program followed a logical progression from the time of Vesalius to the present day, considering relations between art and the science of anatomy. Our progression touched on the work of Leonardo da Vinci (Frank Wells), Gray’s Anatomy (Ruth Richardson), Brain Imaging (Marco Catani), the Importance of Dissection (Bernard Moxham), Further Contempory Developments of Gray’s Anatomy (Susan Standring), Radiology and Imaging (Marios Loukas), and Latest Technology in Apps (Robert Trelease, Richard Tunstall, and Brion Benninger) to name but a few.

Then on the last day of lectures it was the turn of the artists to present. The first session was looking at the role of the medical artist in the 21st century, together with strategies for the education of medical artists and medical students. A wider view of medical art in the forensic field, in the research field and in the publishing world and literature was explored, with a close look at European art and science courses and collaboration.

zakynthos3Eleanor Crook, as we have become accustomed to hear, spoke eloquently and, in my view, reinforced the need for body dissection in anatomical training. Various of these subjects were addressed by Rachel Allen, Lisa Temple-Cox , Tonya Hines who is currently Chairman of the American Medical Illustrators’ Association, Lucy Lyons, Margot Cooper and Cat Sulzmann. The lectures ranged over self-directed projects, providing 3D models for the changing medical training environment, open access publishing, and tracking encounters with pathologies within the medical museum.

Following was a session devoted to a variety of cultural events at the interface between the human body science and technology, sci-art, the cyborg body, quantum physics, encompassing performance art, theatre, music and poetry. Lectures included humanoid robots (Stelarc), optics of anatomy and light (Nina Sellars), Geotherapy, art that addressed the link between our biological and cultural evolution (Mara Haseltine), setting up a Morbid Anatomy Museum (Joanna Ebenstein), and a Heart project (Andrew Carnie)

The whole program was aptly wrapped up by the eminent Art Historian, Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, UK. His lecture, titled ‘Rhetorics of the real : word and image in the Fabrica’ really rounded off our understanding of Andreas Vesalius.

That was daytime: what about the evenings?
There was plenty on offer. During each evening marvellous events took place. We were spoiled.

Warm Mediterranean evenings afforded an outside concert of music performed by gifted young Belgium musicians- soprano, piano, trumpet and fugal horn playing Handel, Bach, Vivaldi and Poulanc. Quite stunning.

zakynthos2A sumptuous moonlit dinner, outside again, beside the sea encouraged indulgence on all sides; we were guests of the Belgium Embassy who played a leading role in the planning and support of the Conference. Various films have been made to mark this event, one being ‘The Art of Vesalius’ featuring Francis Van Glabbeek about the life and work of Andreas Vesalius. A pilot of the film Fabrica Vitae by Jelle Janssens, Sofie hanegreefs and Pascale Pollier was shown as a premiere, and a beautiful poetic film Liminality by Valentina Lari about the future of anatomical collections was received very well. The new film of Jan Fabre, do we feel with our brain and think with our heart , was also shown. An evening session was devoted to viewing these excellent works. For those who missed the evening, there was the opportunity to catch up on viewings during the meeting at other times. during break times and at the exhibition performance artist Stelarc’s digital work was shown as was Vasia Hatzis collection of Medin Art artists work.

To be able to spend time with collegues from so many countries in such a stimulating environment was a treat. Many American collegues, travelling under the banner of ‘The Vesalius Trust’, members, students and friends of MAA, AEIMS, BIOMED, were there to enjoy each other’s company: delegates flew in from all over the world including Korea, Israel and Portugal.

At this point, all that we can do is thank all the organisers, especially Pascale and Theo Dirix, and reflect on this amazing event.  

 More information can be found here

Vesalius conference gallery