Surreal Art In The Macabre Barts Pathology Museum

The impressive permanent collection of Barts Pathology Museum has been largely closed to the public since the 1970s but it’s filled with fascinating and macabre specimens such as a conjoined twin skeleton and the rotting hand of a leper.

The collection usually only opens to the public alongside special events and seminars; but for the next two weeks, it’s open to the public, giving you the opportunity to see such treasures as a collapsed windpipe simply labelled ‘strangulation’, with the rest of the story left to visitors’ imagination.

This two-week opening is the culmination of artist Geoffrey Harrison’s year-long residency at the museum. In this time, Harrison has been using the specimens to inspire his own drawings and paintings that now hang alongside the preserved exhibits.

Symmetry and co-existence are at the heart of Harrison’s works composed of merged body parts. He has crafted surreal paintings with multiple hands or four skulls coming together to form a cross. These pieces stand as a contrast to the asymmetry caused by the various pathologies on display in the museum, yet it’s also an homage, as many of the museum’s exhibits can feel surreal. For instance, the hugely enlarged brain cavity of a foetus that died of hydrocephaly (fluid pressing on the brain).

But there is also a playful, dare we say tongue-in-cheek, aspect to Harrison’s output – particularly the set featuring joined tongues. Each pair is a combination of one of the artist’s relatives, plus their partner’s tongue. The body part looks so alien sitting outside a mouth, but also feels rebellious due to the connotations of a stuck-out tongue.

Harrison’s work is an interesting take on pathology; coupled with the opportunity to see a fascinating permanent collection that is rarely open to the public makes for an attractive combination.

me.complete.you, paintings by Geoffrey Harrison is on display at Barts Pathology Museum, Robin Brook Centre, St Barts Hospital, West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE until 27 August. Admission is free.  

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