“embodiments: medicine, metaphor, metaphysics” at la specola

Janice Gordon

Janice Gordon is a New York City artist working in various media, including sculpture, collage, assemblage and installation. Through the end of the month, her exhibition entitled Embodiments: Medice, Metaphor, Metaphysics can be seen while visiting Florence’s Museum of Natural History Department of Zoology, “La Specola, ” founded in 1775 and the oldest scientific museum in Europe. It boasts the largest collection of anatomical waxworks in the world, manufactured between 1770 and 1850 and over 3.500.000 animals, of which only 5.000 are in view to the public. The anatomic models once used to educate medical students inspired this artist’s body of work.

Janice Gordon, Embodiments @ La Specola

Janice Gordon: Embodiments @ La Specola

Gordon gives new life and context to found objects that she collects and various natural materials used in her work, creating fragile surface layers as well as conceptual ideas related to these materials and to her experience. Found objects bring along their own history and unknown stories. With genetic heart desease in her family, Gordon herself had heart failure which prompted her creative efforts to focus research of the heart itself, to better understand its anatomy and physiology. In her series Matters of the Heart, she is combining art with science, the physical with the sentimental, and the internal with the external. Through her research, she has had collaborative support from cardiologists giving her the opportunity to observe medical procedures, and to incorporate biomedical supplies in her constructions. Each piece is a delicate creation, poetically constructed representations of unique hearts using both organic materials along with artificial elements creating visceral and elegant metaphorical forms.

Embodiments @ La Specola

In the Torsos and Amulets series, the artist cast her own torso and covered the form with thin layers of Japanese paper embedded with mica fragments. Each torso, which could potentially be a protective breast plate, if it weren’t for its delicate material nature, is adorned with an amulet which, according to ancient beliefs, held the power to heal and protect. Gordon’s amulets, however, are more like apocalyptic jewels assembled with salvaged technical parts, discarded watch faces and movements, electrical devices, and biomedical bits that might give a false impression of the power of science and technology to protect us, at least in a spiritual way. These pieces deal with interior and exterior self-protection and how those two dimensions can reverse and mirror each other in their translucency.

Janice Gordon: Embodiments @ La Specola

Janice Gordon: Embodiments @ La Specola


In the beautifully rich collages of the Materia Medica/Metafisica series, Gordon constructs “portraits” using images from antique illustrated books and original 17th century materia medica manuscripts with descriptions of healing ingredients and recipes. She has used beeswax containing virgin wax from a Benedictine Monastery apiary near Parma. The metaphysical component lies in the mystery of the mind and spirit, not easily defined on paper.


Janice Gordon: Embodiments @ La Specola

First Aid Collectibles are small, altered first aid cards produced in 1913 as advertisements for a cigarette company. The images showed details of bandaged wounds and described how to make the bandages. Using these “trading cards” as a base, Gordon retains the bandages and builds upon the surface with her own collaged elements. They are presented in old wooden drawers covered in glass as if they were pulled out of a specimen cabinet.

Janice Gordon: Embodiments @ La SpecolaEach of these series exhibited truly captivated me with their delicate and intimate nature. Examining the forms, layers and materials, one can strongly sense the narrative discovery made by the artist. The heart is a complicated organ, both in its mechanics as well as in its symbology of the human body and mind. The context of the exhibition and its display are also quite fitting. If you get a chance to see this exhibit, its well worth the entrance fee, plus you get to walk through the amazing exhibit rooms of the entire museum.

Embodiments: Medicine, Metaphor, Metaphysics

Through January 31, 2013

The Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence
Department of Zoology “La Specola”
Via Romana, 17
50125 Florence, Italy

Ticket: 6 euro

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