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Surgical instruments: dreadful or divine?

03 September 2010

The Dreadful and the Divine: a visual exploration of surgical instruments is the new exhibition at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. The photography show, which runs from 23rd September to 23rd December, 2010, explores contrasting connotations of historic surgical instruments - examining them as objects of both beauty and dread.

Photographic artist Elaine Duigenan goes beyond conventional documentary photography showcasing large, creative images of instruments from the Hunterian Museum - including forceps and amputation knives. Her use of innovative techniques, such as printing on mirror, invites the viewer to consider the tools simultaneously as objects of butchery and healing.

The exhibition, funded by an Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust, consists of series and single images and a light installation projecting shadows of surgical tools on the gallery ceiling. It will also provide the public with an opportunity to view a set of amputation instruments from 1870.

Speaking before the exhibition launch, Artist in Residence Elaine Duigenan said: “Since becoming the Artist in Residence at the College I have become engrossed in the meaning of surgery as ‘hand-work’ and surgical instruments as an extension of a surgeon’s hands. My experimental image making reveals the intricate relationship between that which opens the body, and what puts it back together again.

Museum Director Briony Hudson said: “Visitors to the Hunterian Museum are often fascinated with our rich collection of historic surgical instruments, particularly those that appear crude in design. Elaine’s photography reanimates these tools, encouraging us to contemplate them with fear and awe, and appreciate the surgical skill needed to use them.”

The exhibition will be supported by a programme of lectures, artist and surgeon’s tours, hands-on workshops and a performance evening, all exploring the practical and metaphorical nature of surgical instruments.

Exhibition Themes

  • Surgical instruments – material and metaphor
  • Body – hands
  • Science and Art

Key Exhibits

  • Mirror prints of Amputation Knives
  • Signature image “protection”
  • A set of amputation instruments in a mahogany case from 1870

Exhibition photographs available on request.

Elaine Duigenan is a photographic artist, based in London and working internationally. She is represented by Klompching Gallery in New York and has images in major collections such as The Museum of Fine Art in Houston and The V&A. Her recent series entitled ‘Micro Mundi’ (Small Worlds) has been receiving much attention as one of her photographs was flown to The International Space Station by Astronaut Leland Melvin on Shuttle Atlantis.


Notes to Editors

  1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808.
  2. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England is based on the collections of the 18th-century surgeon John Hunter. Its permanent displays include over 3,500 specimens of human and animal anatomy and pathology, as well as exhibitions about surgery and medicine. The museum is open to all and admission is free. See: www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums
  3. The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk
  4. Elaine Duigenan is a photographic artist, based in London and working internationally. She is represented by Klompching Gallery in New York and has images in major collections such as The Museum of Fine Art in Houston and The V&A. See: www.elaineduigenan.com
  5. If you have any queries please contact:
  6. Matthew Worrall  Email: mworrall@rcseng.ac.uk; T: 020 7869 6047
    Elaine Towell       Email: etowell@rcseng.ac.uk; T: 020 7869 6045
    Heather Casey     Email  hcasey@rcseng.ac.uk; T 020 7869 6042
    Out-of-hours: 07966 486 832