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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 February 2007, 01:15 GMT
Artist gets inside the human body
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Angela Palmer
Angela used her own body scans to create art

When Angela Palmer creates one of her work of art she likes to use her own body for inspiration.

If Angela, who uses MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)scans to create glass-bound images, uses other people for her work, it is fraught with danger.

"I had to use my own body because for patient confidentiality we could not use anyone else's scans," said Angela.

"And then of course there was always the thing about what would happen if you got someone to agree to do it and then the scan showed there was something wrong with them."

There was one high-profile exception to the rule - television presenter and numbers whizz Carol Vorderman.

For my next project I would like to recreate the head of a horse - I just need to find a willing beast and radiologist
Angela Palmer

Angela used brain scans to produce an unusual image of Vorderman's head.

"She was more than happy to co-operate and we had a good relationship," said Angela.

Human 'architecture'

Now Angela's work is the subject of a new exhibition "Inside Out", which is showing at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, in central London, until 19 May.

"It is an exhibition based on MRI scans taken in various hospitals of my body," said Angela.

"While my works may not be instantly recognisable as a portrait, they are objective representations - removing the familiar to expose the extraordinary architecture of the internal human form."

As part of her undergraduate course at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University, Angela spent much of her time drawing dead bodies.

She found that when she drew them onto multiple sheets of glass that she could, with careful positioning, show them in a three-dimensional form.

The result was instantly arresting and she has used the technique many times since.

Angela's work shows how medical research can inspire and inform the work of artists, and how artists can provide new insights into scientific images
Jane Hughes
Royal College of Surgeons

Angela explained that the technique of using multiple sheets of glass to recreate the body was inspired by a model showing the structure of penicillin created in the 1940s by the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Dorothy Hodgkin.

She added: "I was in the History of Science Museum in Oxford with my three young children trying to impress upon them the wonderful world of science.

"It was fruitless; they were bored and wanted ice-cream. As they implored me to leave, my eye suddenly fell on this exhibit, sitting in a corner of the museum's basement.

"This extraordinary object was transfixing: thick, black contour lines formed a visually stunning three-dimensional map of the structure of penicillin.

"The contours depict the lines of electron density and show the positions of individual atoms in the penicillin structure.

"I was fascinated how an object of the utmost simplicity - put together with a few sheets of Perspex and industrial nuts - could demonstrate a subject of the utmost complexity. "


Angela's exhibition work has been a collaboration with leading researchers including Dr Stephen Golding and Dr Chris Alvey from the Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford; Dr Mark Lythgoe, a neuroscientist from University College London and Professor Frank Smith and Bev McLennan from Aberdeen University, whose vertical scanner allowed some crouching poses.

Jane Hughes, from the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum, said: "Angela's work shows how medical research can inspire and inform the work of artists, and how artists can provide new insights into scientific images.

"While our collections date back to the 18th Century, the connection between anatomy and the arts is not only a matter of historical interest.

"Anatomy and surgery are both medical disciplines, but they are also activities which place an emphasis on visual and tactile skills - arts as well as sciences".

Angela is now working on a series of more than 2,500 CAT (3D) scans taken at The John Radcliffe Hospital of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummified child, in collaboration with Dr Helen Whitehouse, Egyptologist at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Angela said: "Experts at the John Radcliffe Hospital are hoping to establish the child's age as well as cause of death. I plan to reconstruct the infant in glass and present a film of the journey through its elaborately bandaged body.

"For my next project I would like to recreate the head of a horse - I just need to find a willing beast and radiologist!"

She was also joint winner of the Asthma UK Award exhibition this week for her piece on dust mites.

'My neck scan inspired my art'
10 Jun 05 |  Health

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