Damien Hirst’s art series of Medical Medicine Cabinets date back to 1988 when he created, “Sinner” … below is “Never Mind” created in 1990-91


Never Mind

1990 – 1991

Glass, faced particleboard, ramin, wooden dowels, plastic, aluminium, resin, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and packaging, circa 1960-1975

1372 x 1016 x 229 mm | 54 x 40 x 9 in

Image: Photographed by Stephen White © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


“You can only cure people for so long and then they’re going to die anyway. You can’t arrest decay but these medicine cabinets suggest you can.”[1]

Hirst began work on the ‘Medicine Cabinets’ whilst in his second year at Goldsmiths with ‘Sinner’ (1988). Constructing the MDF unit at home, he filled it with the empty packaging of his grandmother’s medication, which he’d requested she left him on her death.

He then created a group of twelve which, explaining, “I like it when there is more than one way of saying something, like songs on an album”, he titled after the twelve tracks on the Sex Pistol’s album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ (1977), with two named after ‘God Save the Queen’, (‘God’ (1989) and ‘god’ (1989)).[2]

Hirst exhibited the first four from the ‘Sex Pistols’ series – ‘Bodies’, ‘Liar’, ‘Seventeen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ (all 1989) – at his Goldsmiths degree show (1989) in a shared space with Angus Fairhurst. All four works were bought from the show by gallerist Karsten Schubert for £500 each. The next two cabinets in the series – ‘Holidays’ (1989) and ‘No Feelings’ (1989) – were included in ‘New Contemporaries’, an exhibition of young artists held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1989, from which they were bought by the collector Charles Saatchi.

In their arrangement of objects the cabinets link Hirst’s earlier collages (1983 – 1987) to his later work. The used packages that fill the cabinets, described by Hirst as “empty fucking vessels”, were originally arranged as if the cabinet were itself a body, with each item positioned according to the organs it medically related to. However, this system did not last and the “minimalist delicious colours” of the designs swiftly became the most important criterion for their arrangement within each cabinet. Hirst has likened the minimalist packaging to the work of Sol Le Witt and Donald Judd: “They’re not flamboyant are they? They’re not allowed to sell themselves, except in a very clinical way. Which starts to become funny.”[3]

The works explore the distinction between life and death, myth and medicine. Hirst notes: “You take a medicine cabinet and you present it to people and it’s just totally believable. I mean a lot of the stuff is about belief, I think, and the ‘Medicine Cabinets’ are just totally believable.”[4]

In 2010 L & M Arts, New York, presented ‘The Complete Medicine Cabinets’, an exhibition of Hirst’s cabinets dating from 1988, shown alongside a collection of ‘Sex Pistols’ memorabilia.

[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Life’s Like This and Then It Stops’, Adrian Dannatt (Flash Art, no. 169, 1993)

[2] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst, ‘The Complete Medicine Cabinets’ (Other Criteria/L & M Gallery, 2010), 69

[3] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 211

[4] ibid., 24, 79


A quarantine station, a dumping ground for plague victims, more recently a mental hospital — the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venice Lagoon has served many unpleasant purposes over the years, but today it stands empty, a crumbling collection of abandoned buildings and weeds run riot just two miles from the glittering palaces of the Grand Canal. Legends and rumors about Poveglia are nearly as pervasive as the weeds, and they read like a horror story: that so many people were burned and buried there during the black plague that the soil is 50% human ash; that local fishermen give the island a wide berth for fear of netting the wave-polished bones of ancestors; that the psychiatrist who ran the mental hospital was a butcher and torturer who went mad from guilt and threw himself from the island’s belltower, only to survive the fall and be strangled by a “ghostly mist” that emerged from the ground.

Weary of an island in their beloved lagoon being characterized as a “festering blemish … the waves reluctantly lapping its darkened shores” (from a book called TRUE Hauntings from Around the World, emphasis not mine) or “nothing more than a cesspool of pure dread” (according to the hyperbolic host of a show called Ghost Adventures), Venetians have done what they can to tamp down overheated rumors about Poveglia. They deny being frightened of the place and tend not to mention the plague pits or mental hospital when discussing the island’s history; a recent article in Venice magazine claimed that the institutional ruins which dominate Poveglia were nothing more than a rest home for the elderly.

But as long as the island remains tantalizingly off-limits to tourists and crammed with rotting buildings that are just a gondola ride from some of Europe’s priciest real estate, rumors will keep flying and people will keep telling scary stories about it. I wanted to sort out the truth from the rumors, the legends from the dismissive shrugs of the locals. In Venice for five days to write about the city for mental_floss (the first installment is here), I couldn’t pass up exploring the “island of terror.” What I found there was both stranger and more innocuous than anything I had heard.

As it turns out, getting to Poveglia isn’t as easy as it sounds. While upwards of three million people descend upon Venice and a few of the more touristy resort islands around it each year, virtually no one goes to Poveglia. According to most travel guides, the island is “not visitable,” and the idea of flagging down a water taxi on the Grand Canal and asking for a ride to a far-flung island of abandoned buildings was laughable. (People have tried it; it doesn’t work.) It took a few days to find a boat operator who would agree to take me there, and while it wasn’t cheap, it included a whole day on the lagoon during which I could visit a few other islands too, if I wanted, and it even included lunch, cooked on a propane burner right on the boat.

Approaching the island, the first thing you see is the bell tower. It’s the most visible and also one of the oldest structures on the island, the only remnant of a 12th-century church that was abandoned and destroyed hundreds of years ago. The tower was turned into a lighthouse in the 18th century, and now serves no purpose other than as a landmark (unless you’re a suicidal, possibly-legendary mad doctor).

Next you see the island’s octagonal battlement, known as “the octagon,” which was built in the 14th century to repel Genoese invaders. (The Genoese and Venetians had a bloody rivalry for centuries.) In addition to the countless others who are supposed to have met their untimely ends on Poveglia, the octagon was used by English soldiers during the Napoleonic wars to ambush French commandos. Prisoners were taken ashore and burned (this “almost became a habit,” according to one history book) and — again, this is a rumor — destroyed French ships still decorate the bottom of the lagoon around the octagon.

We navigate to one side of the octagon and come into a little canal, where the mental hospital is revealed behind a stand of trees. (The building may have served other purposes, but I can only describe it as what it looks like — somewhere insane people are incarcerated.) We slide up to a landing, tie the boat to a strut of the mental hospital and hop ashore. That’s the octagon on the left, the hospital on the right.

The place strikes me as anything but a “cesspool of dread.” Maybe it’s the sun and the salty air and the teal water everywhere, but even covered with abandoned buildings, it doesn’t seem creepy in the least. (Of course, I hadn’t gone inside them yet — past the fences and the warning signs — so the jury was still out.) I found one local history book that confirmed the island’s use as not a retirement home exactly, but as an institution used to house “aged indigents,” who I suppose in America would be better known as old homeless people. Still, the picture this book paints of their lives on Poveglia seemed more or less consistent with my cheerful first impressions:

Aged people, who were to be seen sunning themselves happily upon its lawns, or on aged ships, still laid up in a neighboring channel, pitifully streaked with rust and salt, their only attendants the skeleton crews who maintain their engines …

The aged indigent home was abandoned in 1968 and the island has been empty ever since. Twenty years ago, work crews hastily erected scaffolding all along the main buildings’ frontage — not to fix them up, my guide told me, but merely to delay their falling down. Oh, and this photo puts to rest another rumor: that fishermen won’t go near Poveglia. Those sticks placed at intervals along the concrete below — those are fishing nets.

But the indigent home was merely the last of Poveglia’s institutional incarnations. Its first was as a lazaretto, a quarantine island for maritime travelers, one of three in the Venice lagoon. Lazaretto Vecchio, just a stone’s throw from Poveglia, opened in 1403, the first institution of its kind. Plague and disease were huge problems in the medieval world, especially in trading centers like Venice. But Venice had some of the strictest sanitary laws anywhere, and even though they didn’t understand how germs and infections worked, they knew that isolating sick travelers was an effective way to prevent or lessen the severity of outbreaks. It was Venice that coined the term quarantine, which is derived from the duration travelers were required to stay at a lazaretto before they could be issued a clean bill of health and continue on their way — forty days. Quaranta giorni.

But confinement in Poveglia’s lazaretto wasn’t always, or even usually, a death sentence. It was more like purgatory: boring, though not necessarily unpleasant. Most wayfarers had their own room, sometimes even their own little apartment. They were fed well and drank together and they could send and receive mail (though outgoing letters were, according to an 1831 inmate of Poveglia’s lazaretto, “stabbed, sprinkled with vinegar, and fumigated” before leaving the island).

But during the full fury of a plague outbreak, of which Venice underwent many, there’s little doubt that the lazarettos tuned from Purgatory into Hell. Venice considered itself lucky that, thanks in part to its relatively strict sanitation laws, it lost merely a third of its population during one 16th century outbreak. (The death toll on the mainland of Italy was, by comparison, far worse.) Panicked officials shipped anyone displaying symptoms of plague, be they commoners or nobility, off to the lazarettos. Doctors wore long-nosed masks stuffed with herbs in an attempt to filter sickness from the air they breathed.

During the worst outbreaks, the islands were quickly overrun with the dead and dying, who were hastily shoveled into grave pits, and when those were full, burned. There are surely such grave pits on Poveglia, though their locations are unmarked and unknown. Local lore holds that the part of the island traditionally used for growing food held most of the bodies.

Work crews on nearby Lazaretto Vecchio were digging the foundation for a new museum when they came across one such grave pit, filled with the remains of more than 1,500 plague victims.

Archaeologists immediately set to work examining the grisly find, and discovered something even more shocking: a vampire. Which is to say, someone who was thought to be a vampire back in the 16th century. The tip off: there was a brick shoved between its teeth, which it was believed would starve the vampire, better known in historical parlance as a shroud-eater.

As far as bricks and vampires go, there’s a sound, albeit medieval chain of logic at work here. An MSNBC article about the vampire’s discovery explains:

During epidemics, mass graves were often reopened to bury fresh corpses and diggers would chance upon older bodies that were bloated, with blood seeping out of their mouth and with an inexplicable hole in the shroud used to cover their face.

“These characteristics are all tied to the decomposition of bodies,” Borrini said. “But they saw a fat, dead person, full of blood and with a hole in the shroud, so they would say: ‘This guy is alive, he’s drinking blood and eating his shroud.’”

Modern forensic science shows the bloating is caused by a buildup of gases, while fluid seeping from the mouth is pushed up by decomposing organs, Borrini said. The shroud would have been consumed by bacteria found in the mouth area, he said. At the time however, what passed for scientific texts taught that “shroud-eaters” were vampires who fed on the cloth and cast a spell that would spread the plague in order to increase their ranks.

To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire’s mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.

Imagine, then, what horrors may lie waiting to be discovered in Poveglia’s plague pits, which remain unexplored. Estimates that sound impossible but which I’ve seen on a number of websites, in a book and on that stupid episode of Ghost Adventures place the number of people who were burned or buried here in the hundreds of thousands. Looking at the numbers, I suppose it’s possible: in just the plague of 1576 alone, Venice lost 50,000 people (which, creepily, is the current population of Venice) — and there were at least twenty-two outbreaks of plague in the two hundred years before that. If that sounds staggering, unimaginable even, it seemed so to Venetians of the middle ages, as well. Here’s how a 14th century Italian named Giovanni Bocaccio described it:

The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.

So yeah, I think it’s entirely believable that Poveglia’s soil is littered with bones. It’s entirely common. What’s uncommon is to know where they are — to be able to say yes, that island – because such were the sanitary laws of Venice that there was actually a place for the sick to go, to be quarantined, and to die.

This jungly part of the island, most recently a small vineyard, is where the pits are thought most likely to be. And speaking of burning things, looks like someone thought this was a good spot for a little campfire action. Who wants a hot dog?

Okay, back to the insane asylum. Which is — yes — what was built here in 1922. For some reason, the wikipedia page on Poveglia claims that “the institution in question was not a mental hospital,” which is total bunko. How do I know, despite the controversy, that at leastpart of this place housed mental patients?

Simple: I found the sign.

Also, if you poke around in the bushes a little, you’ll find all the bars that used to be on the windows. (I assume they weren’t there to keep burglars out, or old people in.)

What’s more, the place is very, very institutional feeling, from the drab paint on the peeling walls to the stacks of beds and bedframes I found in several rooms.

There’s a little chapel inside the hospital, too, its walls greening with mold, pews broken by vandals. It seems like something you’d only need on an island whose residents were not allowed to leave.

The boundary between indoor and outdoor no longer means much here. There are vines growing into every window, and ceilings collapsed into piles of beams and roofing tiles that are themselves slowly being covered with vegetation.

Despite all this apparent creepiness, I never felt ill at ease while picking through the ruins of Poveglia. It was a bit like I imagine exploring the ruins of Mayan temples would be — more like you’re in a strange kind of park than a horror movie.

The floor of one room was totally covered, a half-inch thick in some places, with the torn-out pages of Italian books.

Some of the more accessible rooms had been spray-painted with graffiti — evidence, rumor has it, of “raves in the nineties.”

Here’s a clever play on words.

Despite the grime and debris that seemed to cover everything — or perhaps because of it — little details stuck out, like the tile pattern in this once-handsome floor.

Or this door’s peeling paint.

There was plenty of evidence around that this had been a large institutional operation responsible for the care and feeding of lots of people — like this industrial kitchen.

These must have been some of the first electric washing machines available.

I have no idea what this was for, but it looks serious.

This was called il manglia or “the mangler,” used for wringing out wet sheets and clothes.

Behind the main hospital building were a few smaller structures that looked like they might’ve been staff housing. (Perhaps it belonged to the mad doctor himself.) The underbrush had closed around this building so aggressively that I almost didn’t see it.

Around the side of the house was this classy granite clawfoot tub. I want one!

Inside the house were a few partially-furnished rooms with sofas moldering in corners and curtains still in the windows. This trunk seemed an especially promising find — though it was, unfortunately, empty.

This stairwell was in a building filled with sinister-looking industrial equipment. Through the window is the canal and the octagon beyond it.

It led to a roof, where these little observation towers look out onto the lagoon, and given this view, I couldn’t help but be cheered. It was strange: if any place in the world was haunted, this place was. But regardless of its history as a burial ground and quarantine hospital and insane asylum and lord knows what else, the weather and the rampant greenery made it feel like a happy place, somewhere I wouldn’t mind being stuck for a few weeks, if it were the 16th century and I was suspected of carrying the plague.

Someplace, even, where you might stop for a picnic. Which, in fact, is exactly what I did. When I’d finished exploring the island and returned to the boat, I found that my guide, who’d stayed with the boat while I was gone, had set out a table and prepared a wonderful Venetian feast: sauteed polpo, or octopus, polenta with prawns, a nice fritto mixto, and a risotto made with stinging nettles that she had harvested from the underbrush growing into the windows of the abandoned mental asylum — all prepared on a single propane-fired hotplate, and followed up with desert wine and some traditional almond cookies. Honestly, it was one of the best meals I had of the five days I was in Venice.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon on the most haunted island in Italy.

Article originally found on by Ransom Riggs from his 2010 investigation.

Update: In April 2014, it was announced that Poveglia would be going up for auction in an effort to help reduce Italy’s soaring debt. Yesterday we learned that Italian businessman Luigi Brugnaro won the auction with a bid of €513,000 (roughly $704,000), which allows him to lease the island for 99 years. (A rival community group is asking the government to refuse his bid.) 

In the course of 10 pictures, we’re going to make you feel way better about the fact that you weren’t born 100 years earlier. Because we’re telling you right now, medicine used to be terrifying. And we’re not just talking about the fact that it took a really long time to convince doctors to wash their hands before surgery. We’re talking about walking into a hospital and seeing things like …

#10. Pedicle Grafts

BBC News

Wait, what the hell? These are supposed to be old medical photos — we thought it was going to be like antique stethoscopes and stuff. So why does this guy have alien tentacles growing out of his goddamned mouth? And why doesn’t he seem more upset about it?

It’s because he’s getting a new face. What you are actually looking at is a pedicle graft, a procedure developed by Dr. Harold Gillies to treat disfigured soldiers during World War I, back when skin grafts and reconstructive plastic surgery had about a zero percent success rate. First, a flap of skin from an unaffected area of the patient’s body was sewn into a tube and temporarily grafted to wherever the new body part was needed:

BBC News
You just have to look like a Seussian horror elephant for a month or so.

The tube maintained a blood supply to the grafted area, which dramatically decreased the chance of rejection and/or infection while simultaneously increasing the number of children that would never come near you ever again.

Despite the “before” pictures having all the grace and subtlety of Eli Roth, the “after” photos of Gillies’ procedure are strikingly impressive, especially considering he came up with it almost a hundred freaking years ago. Patients would go from huge gaping hole in their face, to the grotesque sewn-on graft …

BBC News
This guy’s potential employers are basically limited to Sauron or Gringotts.

… to pretty much looking normal again:

BBC News

#9. Heliotherapy

Fox Photos / Getty

This photo is one of those rare situations where “UFO cult induction ritual” is the best case scenario. When you see a ring of mostly nude children holding hands in a darkened room around an alien glow, do you automatically hear gothic chanting in your mind? Or is it just us?

They’re actually standing around a sun lamp. Starting in the late 1800s, kids who suffered from lupus and tuberculosis were sent to hospitals and clinics to receive heliotherapy to treat it. The children’s skin produced vitamin D in response to the light, and as a result they were better able to fight off TB and other bacterial infections, as well as seriously alarm any child welfare worker that happened to catch a glimpse of the treatment.

Fox Photos / Getty
“Children, meet the Molesto- Tron 3000″

#8. Electro-Stimulation of Facial Muscles

That man isn’t actually screaming in horror — those wires are electrodes, and he’s making that expression because electrical currents are contorting his facial muscles against his will. Okay, he may also be screaming in horror.

The mutton chops on the right there belong to Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne, a French neurologist who electrocuted the shit out of a mental patient’s head meat to make him pull goofy faces, and then photographed those faces in the pursuit of knowledge. Consequently, it looks like a still from Howdy Doody if Howdy was the taxidermied corpse of a homeless man rigged with the same wires they used to make Mr. Ed speak.

Wellcome Library via The History of Emotions Blog
“We’ll call him ‘Mr. Dead’ and make millions.”

Duchenne originally intended to explore the muscles of the hands, but ultimately decided that it was his scientific duty to put electrodes onto peoples’ faces. He kept a detailed photo record of his study, because he knew the Internet would be invented someday.

UC Santa Cruz, Perceptual Science Lab
“See? He’s smiling.”
“Yes Doctor, but what are you treating?”

#7. Iron Lungs

University of Minnesota

This picture of mounted child heads and a bizarrely cheerful nurse was presumably taken in a wing of Willy Wonka’s factory not featured on the tour, wherein he straight-up murders children without any of that candy-themed “life lesson” pretense and saves their heads for glazing.

Unfortunately, the reality here isn’t much more pleasant than that — it’s a bunch of kids in iron lungs. These devices were in popular use during the first half of the 20th century to treat victims of the rampaging polio epidemic, because it isn’t medicine unless it’s mechanically sterile and terrifying.

Blinn College
“This is better than death in the same way a condom of bees is better than castration.”

Polio caused paralysis, right down to the muscles the patient used to breathe. The iron lungs were huge machines that did their breathing for them, and as such, a patient could expect to be imprisoned in one of those things for weeks, months or even years. All that time with just their head poking out, unable to do anything except just lay there, motionless and be happy to be alive.

UN Special
And sometimes a mean nurse would just stand there flicking your ear for 12 hours straight.

#6. Rib Resection

This is one you have to look at for a moment before you realize holy shit that guy is missing like 20 percent of his torso and cannot possibly be alive.

Don’t worry, all that’s happened there is … oh, wait, it’s exactly what it looks like. The guy is having his ribs resected to drain the pus out of his lungs before he drowns in it. In the days before antibiotics, this was a common side-effect of pneumonia. The ribs were often removed so the lungs could be more easily accessed for incision and draining, a procedure which killed exactly as many patients as it sounds like.

“Perfect. I can get my whole hand up in there now.”


#5. Net Suspension


Harvard Orthopaedic Journal


“We’ve caught another one, boys! We’re gonna eat like kings tonight! There ain’t nothin’ like the meat of a well-tortured human!”


That dangling torture device was actually for patients with scoliosis and other deformities, in order to “set” their crooked backs before putting them in a cast by dangling them in a net by their hands and feet. This was also back during the terrifying reign of polio, when the medical community was so overwhelmed with cases of skeletal deformity that they were a hair’s breadth from just paying circus strongmen to hammerpunch people’s spines back into place. Though that would have made for a less disturbing photo.


Hulton Archive / Science & Society Picture Library
“Let’s just topple the whole damn thing, teach a lesson to this wishy-washy spine.


#4. DDT Delousing


WW2 US Medical Research Centre


Nothing mildly amuses a soldier like a woman whose hair is on fire. Wait, is he trying to extinguish the fire? Is he setting it? Is this all some kind of prank?


Don’t worry, that’s not actually smoke. It’s just a huge cloud of bug poison that he’s using to kill the lice in her hair. Lice carry diseases, and in World War II, lice were especially common among POWs and concentration camp survivors, because those people clearly hadn’t been hit with enough bullshit.


“I made another bet with the devil, then forgot why. I … may have a problem.”


The USDA discovered that DDT mercilessly destroyed lice, in addition to anyone in a physical contest against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. So, it became common practice to hose down pretty much anyone on the front lines with DDT powder, because we weren’t entirely clear on what cancer was at this point.


George Konig / Getty
This should prune your tiny ovaries, dearie!”


#3. Violet Ray Machines


Electrotherapy Museum


That space-bong the suffragette in the picture is shoving into her nose is called a Violet Ray machine, which were essentially portable Tesla Coils doctors gave to patients to use at home for the relief of minor pain and skin irritation (because if it’s old and weirdly science-awesome, it must be Tesla). They started out as legitimate medical devices, but quickly dissolved into mass produced trinkets that could supposedly cure everything from stuffy noses to prostrate trouble.


Electrotherapy Museum
That’s right, “prostate trouble.” As in “one of those wands is going on a voyage up your asshole”.


The idea was, you plugged the machine into a light socket and then used a variety of glass or metal attachments for different parts of the body to zap away ailments with the combined might of 1920s science and medicine.


#2. Plombage (Lung Balls)


New England Journal of Medicine


You can be forgiven if you can’t tell what you’re looking at here, because it looks like an X-Ray of somebody with dozen golf balls in their right lung. Of course, that would be ridiculous — what possible medical benefit could be derived from cramming a patient’s lung full of golf balls? No, they actually used these:


New England Journal of Medicine


It was a procedure called plombage, which was the process of collapsing a person’s lungs with acrylic balls to allow them to “rest” and heal the lesions caused by tuberculosis. The drawback to this therapy was that sometimes the balls were never taken back out, which led to infection, sepsis and other serious complications related to having your lung tissue inundated with balls made of the same material used to craft RuPaul’s fingernails.


General Thoracic Surgery
Pictured: a serious complication.


#1. Radioactive Strontium Eye Treatment


Al Fenn / Getty


We could jokingly compare this to the infamous clamped-eyeball psychological torture scene from A Clockwork Orange, but then was saw the radiation symbol here and realize the reality is probably worse. No matter what the intended use of that device was, this was not an era when people knew a whole lot about safe uses of radioactivity. Or cared.


The patient here is receiving doses of radioactive strontium, which shoots radiation into the eyeball to destroy tumors or whatever other sort of thing you’d hate having on your eye so much that irradiating your eye is considered a preferable alternative. This one is still used, by the way, though they’re working on a much less terrifying method of just injecting some strontium directly into your goddamned eyeball.


Indiana University School of Optometry
“Doctor, could you maybe, uh … stop cackling?”

[above article found posted on]



Stephane Roy

  Stephane Roy

Donite “. Eye is said by the wisdom the first door by which the mind understands and relishes” De Luca Pacioli you this is good, right?

It is important to keep an eye of the soul to the world around us, so to fully grasp its meaning and its challenges. Develop your mind and awareness in order to fully enjoy the elements. I admire the evolving capacity of the human mind.

Donite: How did you start the video performance go directly to the public, what you care for people?

My past was pretty chaotic. While I was trying to escape various attempts internment in psychiatric hospitals and juvenile detention center, I was lucky to come across a wonderful man who took me out of the gutter in which I was drowning: Pierre pilonchery . It is more than just artist (and art teacher). It is like a spiritual father who gave me a great tool through which I could express all … that … thing that has grown and mutated into me over time. Rather than remain trapped in the logic of revenge hate, I channeled all these energies by applying gradually in other areas. That’s how I started acting as an observer of the world, and its various operating modes. Man obsesses me, without really knowing why (though ..). It is this voodoo doll laboratory in which I like planting needles to better see and understand his reactions. It’s a bit like trying to understand a different species from yours. This obsessed! After a while, I ended up going out of my lab to go to meet him through the performance. The principle was simple in itself intervene in the monotonous daily lives of people in public places and in stable conditions, and carry out an action that will then jeopardize the overall balance. These “daily disturbances” were spread over different degrees of intensity. The whole thing was filmed with a hidden camera placed far enough so to capture the whole scene. I wanted to study the reaction of people around, study their psychological functioning and behavior when immersed in a social setting. The results were often surprising and always very interesting to study under various aspects.De more, all being re-inserted into a context of institutional forum dedicated to the art, it was interesting to confront the second step: the reception of this work by conscious public to attend artistic research. Again, the result exceeded my expectations …

Thereafter, for various reasons, I began gradually to the photo. In the end, even though the medium may change, the human being is actually my thread. My relationship with him is very complex, to the point of not being totally on my real intentions towards her. I think that deep down I really try to understand what I’m missing, but maybe my clairvoyance failed me …

Donite: What were your aspirations at the start?

Live and speak simply. Art is this exceptional tool for vibrating a collective consciousness. It is a bridge between souls through time, and a great way cathartic to not go totally spin. Today, every step is for me a form of personal revenge. The landscape of my life is built gradually, becoming more intense, more interesting and colorful.

Donite: What is your creative process in a nutshell, you create your characters, scripted your ideas, you write your stories, thou Designed Templates?

Ideas come to mind like flashes. Sometimes if I do not notice these ideas away, they accumulate and keep me awake. So I scribbled something, just to keep track. Then I go back on it, I draw, I write, I try to find the melody required. In the end, everything is finally taking shape. From simple sketches erased on a piece of paper emerges gradually even materialization of this idea first. As needed, I make my designs, I create my stagings, I gathered my crew and I started directing. The important thing in my creative process is to have in front of me what I had in mind. Everything must be true, as far as possible. Some projects are real puzzle to achieve, but always guaranteed a great adventure. Moreover, it is often all that’s happened before and around a project that becomes even more interesting than the final result.

Donite: You’re a director, but you reveal the final scene, the drama, why?

No, it’s not exactly the final scene or any dramatic intent I seek to unveil. By cons, my approach is actually more akin to film at the photo purist. Beyond my job staging is a general atmosphere I’m trying to create. A sort of second set impalpable stage to perform, with far less control over the general assembly. Small chemist, elements take shape and a set creates. Moreover, it is such a magical time for me to see it all gradually becoming real. This is impressive even when I hide behind my camera, and that in front of me there is something going on. This is Gregory Crewdson, famous American photographer, which greatly interested me by its approach. In his work requires means worthy of Hollywood productions, he tries to focus on a single image intensity of an entire movie! I always found this idea deliciously appealing. Able to capture a form of reality and let it develop independently.

The other thing that is dear to me, and in addition to these ingredients, is my attachment to the notion of “potentiality”.

I had already begun in my previous work, including through sculpture projects and performances, but this idea is also present in my photographic work: Moments at all possible, never completely closed, open to the possibilities and various interpretations that can make these characters who, for the most part, struggling against the collapse of a certain portion of their own reality.

Donite: We also see your photos in the idea of magic, fate, human archetypes, what are your aspirations?

Indirectly, perhaps. In any case it certainly would relate more to the form than substance of my work. But I like this idea of magic. For cons, I consider it more a matter of experience (in the broad sense and narrow at different possible levels, for anyone).

Donite: You are in the permanent experience? Telling us your research, have you reached the goals, discoveries?

I do my best so that every second of my life is an experiment. I was actually there a few years this motto that I shared with my friend Thibault: “the urgency of life.” Our experiences and our lives lead us to some life choices. The mine has become quite intense. I want to learn, I want to learn, taste, smell, see, feel, touch, hear, … I want to feel alive and evolving. It’s part of the motivation of the soul that traces the route of our lives.

My studies in college of fine arts at the Sorbonne gave me some theoretical knowledge, but also the time for the development of my projects and deepening my research. This time has allowed me to take a little more aware of what I wanted, of where I intended.

So I invested so-called “underground” cultures and I gradually began to sink deeper into the extremes of human being. Sex, drugs & rock’n’roll? No, it was a bit more than that. I surveyed various cultures, do a lot of meetings and of course, a lot of research. I tried to immerse myself in philosophy, psychology, sociology, psychiatry and criminology. I was interested to bodymodifications, fetishes and BDSM practices, cannibalism and madness … It was about a whole human adventure that I am employed. With my projects, human contact is essential, but in everyday life too. The goals are just to mark my path when it is only unclear. The findings are for their constants.

There are of course in front of me a mountain of subjects that interest me and that I want to explore, and I still have so much to discover with all those open windows on worlds not so foreign to each other.

Your job:

Donite: Your photos are very beautiful, very licked, they live independently, they are caricatures?

Not caricatures, but rather a form of mockery in which I try gradually insert logic, with its own laws and codes. For several years I try to set a world through different universe. When pictures can be assembled, others are radically different, but still retain this little trick. As a sign of mental DNA that can not be undone. My Photos are indeed must be independent of each other totalities. The important thing is that in the end the All is greater than the sum of parties.Peut be is it also the main task of the artist: building worlds that can accommodate everyone. Worlds that remain and evolve.

Donite: Sometimes I feel helpless in your characters? Your characters are fears, anxieties, fantasies morbid, there is no hope? The border was exceeded? These are a few ghosts? They are like the living dead, no turning back it’s too late, it’s your goal to make the final scenes of the film, why develop it?

Many people tell me that my world is trash, dark, creepy, black, … but I do not yet feel that way. As I said earlier, it is especially intent of the moment that interests me. That moment when it will happen something. Or maybe that time is already past, but whatever happens, there’s something going on. I think my characters are quite often what others want and can see. A bit like a Rorshach test. For me, they are not mine. They live apart from the first line from which they emerged. And I like it pretty well.

Donite: What is your idea of ​​beauty?

Difficult question … For me, beauty is what escapes the words at all actually! Is nice that I can not control, what escapes my human needs classification, the need to streamline, logic, etc. Basically, perhaps it is, after all, what we internally shakes and makes us feel so alive. The beauty would be that deep vibration that resonates across the strings of our inner sensitivity, soul capsized a short time, such a lost ship in a storm.

Donite: It is often difficult for a young creative ideas to come out of the blue, you can see the image master’s degrees, rendering, sensation, are you still satisfied?

Never! Finally, very rarely anyway. I am working perfectionist with very high to me critically. I try to learn and evolve. Therefore detect errors and weaknesses becomes almost an obsession about me. That does not mean I do not like what I do, quite the contrary. I simply works by maintaining a certain tension that allows me to move the way I want, and with great humility.

Donite: Models take the game? Are they sometimes destabilized? How do you go about it?

Destabilized? Yes, it can happen according to my ideas and projects. I am very particular about my models. I get a lot of offers, but I accept only very rarely. A model is known or not, I do not care completely. By cons, if that person is one of my characters and will interpret it correctly, then, yes! I do not want “models,” I want people who can interpret, able to arouse my attention to them, but most people who can convey emotion. Some shoots are very intense, demanding a lot of energy and delivering a lot of emotions. Others are very simple, but that does not mean, however, that they are of lower quality, or less complicated to achieve.

The only certainty final it all is that my models, as are people working with me to contribute fully to the achievement of my projects. Without them, there would be nothing. Basically I’m the person who scribbled something. They are the people who come to help me breathe life into these designs. I have a deep respect for each person who took the time to focus on my work, trusting me and have contributed to the development of the latter.

Donite: It must be exciting to find costumes, objects … the accessory is very important?

As for the models, it is part of the wonderful human adventure is behind all this work. Especially since the accessory has a place of prime importance within my photos. It is certain that I find it exciting to go in search of costumes and items that I need for a particular project. It’s like a big treasure hunt. Then again, a lot of meetings, discussions, discoveries and great collaborations with people whose talent in me would take away almost breathtaking. Sometimes, these people here are creating outfits and accessories especially for me and my ideas a little heat! They trust me by providing personal touches, their contributions which bring more light to the whole.

All this is a great adventure.

Donite: You did a book, why?

To keep track of the origins. Thomas chafing revived me several times to publish my first book, and I have come to accept. I love the book as object in itself, and in my case, it fell at a turning point: I wanted to close a chapter to begin the next. I wanted this book to be a form of prologue together all the ingredients in my universe. The kind of book that you can open in ten years and realize that everything was already present at the time. A form of introduction roughly as these first albums by bands with only a few titles, but that already contain all the basic structure of their musical universe. So I floored it with my friend Sylvain Militello. He brings his creativity and objectivity, allowing the book to have a very pretty face in the final. We celebrated the release and my first dedication to Paris. But after only a few dates at the beginning of my book tour, the publisher put the key under the door.

All copies were sold, and I did not try to find another publisher. So it amuses me saying that those few books that roam may be one day collectors.

The company:

Donite: The limits of society, borderline, do you think that there are still limits?

Of course, and there will always be limits. Basically it’s not so bad to have a safety rope. But after all, only the way in which we perceive and experience these limitations led to our own behavior and resent it. We are ultimately the ones responsible for our decisions. As for the borderline aspect of society …

Donite: With the company image, contemporary media, you’re inspired by the company, their dramas?

Yes, completely. For example, going to move to Paris, I knew I was going to love this city as much as I would hate it. It is a beautiful city with potential and incredible wealth. She holds buried so many cultural and artistic wealth. But it is also a difficult city, stinking shit with a lot of despicable people finished the piss. It is a reflection of society: complex, made ​​of paradoxes. However, I knew that going put me in the eye of the storm, I would become more inspired. In a sense, it was not missed. So part of my inspiration actually comes from the company, through its various aspects. But still, I try to keep as much distance so as to preserve me.

Donite: Your photos are full of experiments, like your universe, there is an anthropological hand, finally a bit primitive, the animal rights?

It touches me that you see it that way. The animality of the human being does have an important place, as anthropological share this in my step.

Donite: What is human to you? The man destroyed, it creates destruction is a form of creativity? Madness awaits us?

Do you realize that I can lay a book to answer all of your questions? Lot I studied humanities in my spare time, including psychiatry and anti-psychiatry. The human being is a complex case with exceptional opportunities. He is a being with a huge potential for development. It is therefore not an end in itself, but a terrible way to reach a new stage. Some thinkers such as Nietzsche, or artistic movements such as the German Expressionists and Surrealists maintained a pretty special relationship with madness. Rather than reject outright, they advocated a form tamed. Thus, this level of madness was then considered as a possibility to return to the core of being.

Even newer guys like Chuck Palahniuk and his famous Tyler Durden in Fight Club (“It is only when you have lost everything, we’re free to do whatever you want”) suggest the idea of ​​creating , destruction and self-destruction. To become a free agent, do I need to experience my own destruction? The sole purpose, whether by way of madness, construction or destruction, is regaining the fullness of our experience as human beings.

Donite: Do you think society is decadent?

The company is in the image of the man who created every day.

Donite: Humans can do they dehumanize?

Yes, without hesitation. You’d be surprised how far a human being can go. The experience of the human being has allowed me to see what could be hiding behind the mask, in its most abject and darkest form. But also in its brightest form and saving. The human being is a being of all possibilities. He has the misfortune to hold him in the power of his own destiny.

Donite: Pain his body get used to the pain, is it a symbol of our present society?

This is the symbol of the human being as a whole, from its origins. But what is hurting his body and to experience pain if not a form of apprehension and understanding of himself? What matters is how we deal with this pain and suffering, and especially how we use this experience afterwards (s). Reveling in his misery and suffering for suffering are, in my view, forms of human degeneration that should be corrected, or that it should at least be wary.

Donite: The Lizardman says we are all changed, what do you think?

This is the same principle of evolution, and our adaptation to this evolution through time and new materials that we face.

Donite: He also said that the media use the underground, tend to sell now or will you situated?

The media is willing to use anything to sell. This is what characterizes them. Next, regarding the use of the underground … We do not care at the bottom. I do not think there is the real question. Only the manner and consequences are actually taken into account. The important thing is that we do not end up in the face of concepts, ideas, impoverished their early origins.

Donite: The woman is a source of inexhaustible inspiration valued in your work is to show their fragility and both their strengths, multifaceted, they are a way of experimentation?

The woman is the story of my life. It all started with her, and I hope that all will end with elle.Plus than a source of motive inspiration in my work, I think the woman is the part I like most about being human. There there great admiration, but also a sincere love, full of humility and respect. The female has an elegant complexity, beyond its almost mystical and mysterious aspect, is a true language in itself. Very few people seek to understand the meaning and subtlety. There is this alchemical magic that takes place. Their sensitivity and fragility are also their strength. They manage to take a look at the world and with humble hearts intelligence. Whether protective or destructive, honey or poison, my smile retarded kid is growing every time I have the honor to taste their presence.

And let’s be honest! Women rule the world (or at least, should). Mothers of absolute beauty and seduction, they have a more advanced human civilization, and therefore look promising future for humans. They have been bullshit and fear of men to their ways for so many centuries. Hopefully they will take us in the right way by making us aware of our bullshit.

Donite: You have less theatrical pictures including that of the heart with the balloons, the heart is heavy, it’s very expressive, what did you want to express?

It’s funny that you take it as an example. It was probably one of the most difficult to achieve for me, and I’m not talking about the technical aspect. But of course, you tell me what you see there, it can evoke you or make you feel …

Donite: Can you tell me about the Cabinet curious? Are you curious? It is a cabinet of curiosities? That is to say?

The Cabinet of Curious is a famous Parisian gallery in the alternative sphere. Combining both the principle of cabinet of curiosities and art gallery, it is ultimately a timeless place where mix of strange objects from distant eras and cultures. Around them gather works of contemporary artists with a certain aesthetic, difficult to name or describe, but never leaves indifferent. These generations of artists are developing world through which we witness regarding the great questions of life, the world and the human being.

The Cabinet of Curious is a real platform that combines various forts and rich universe. This is both an open window on the past, and a door to the future. I first had the chance to exhibit in my early days, and then the honor to take part in this amazing adventure as artistic director. It was a great experience that has greatly enriched me.

Donite: Fond memories of shooting?

Only good memories! And even the few bad ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand make me smile aujourd’hui.J’ai so many anecdotes and moments etched in memory, in such a short time of activity … Tears, smiles, respect, love, … so many rich and powerful experiences! This is also a great motivator!

Donite: Rick Genest? There is a wonderful picture with the child, can you tell the idea for this photo? He impressed you?

Rico has impressed me with its simplicity and detachment vis-à-vis the media frenzy that surrounds it. It is simple and complete, honest with himself. We hit it off immediately hooked together. I wanted to get him out of his image as Zombie Boy, and go for something more humane, more sincere. And I had this urge to do with a baby in her arms! I remember his face when I told him my intention! haha that was also a magic moment! So, I chose this picture because the child at the time, Rico was not an issue. I got exactly what I wanted, and it only took a handful of minutes …

  Stephane Roy

Thank you to tell me your news !!

I just released my latest series (“Cannibal Flowers”). It is not finished but it already seems to have good success with people and the media. Besides that, I still have a mountain of projects to be implemented. Several ideas for series, but also projects to other mediums … I certainly never parviendrais to say one day “that’s it, I have no project to do at the moment”, and I must admit that it’s not worse … Otherwise on the concreteness, I will return to my hometown time a group show organized by my trusty sidekick, Professor Wiktor Plitz of PERIL The exhibition “Mutanogénèse” will take place from May 17 to June 27 at the gallery In my brain (18 rue de Bonald – 69007 Lyon), and it promises to be very good!

Interview by Miss Fox

Find his work:

Selected from his portfolio series: schizophrenic-dreams

Stephane Roy www.stephaneroy.frStephane Roy

A “self-portrait”

NOTE: Article translated via Google Translation app from French to English…

On a cart in Anna Dhody’s office sits a small, innocuous box marked “caramel Danish rolls.” Open it up, though, and you won’t find a pastry; instead, there’s a human skull nestled inside. Nearby, there’s another cardboard box—this one labeled “brain slices”—and on the bookshelf sits a jar of dried human skin.

The presence of these items might seem pretty weird—if not alarming—under typical circumstances, but this is not a typical office. Dhody is a forensic anthropologist and the curator of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which houses anatomical specimens, models, and instruments from medical history. Visitors to the museum—which was founded by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858 from the collection of surgeon Thomas Mütter—can see the tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s jaw, slices of Einstein’s brain, a plaster cast of conjoined twins Chang and Eng, a dermoid cyst, and the tallest skeleton on display in North America.

But there’s much more that the museum doesn’t have on display. Dhody took us on a tour to give us a peek at what the public doesn’t get to see. (For more on the life of Thomas Mütter and the museum’s history, pick up Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s excellent book,  Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.)


Though we now associate the iron lung with polio, the device was originally invented for coal miners who had inhaled toxic gasses, according to Dhody. This particular iron lung, used in the 1950s, was an Emerson Negative Pressure Ventilator. “I love this piece—it’s amazing—but it’s so big,” Dhody says; she estimates that it weighs more than 800 pounds. The machine would fit someone over six feet tall; his head would stick out, while his body was inside the chamber. “Your whole respiratory system is under a little bit of negative pressure—that’s what fills [the lungs] up with air and that’s what you need to breathe,” Dhody says. “So the engine would generate artificial negative pressure inside the chamber and basically force your ribcage to move up and down and allow you to breathe.” If the power went out, nurses would manually operate a bellows at the end of the iron lung to keep the negative pressure going. Though the machines aren’t used much anymore, “as of 2008, there were 80 people in the world that still use iron lungs either full- or part-time,” Dhody says.


Though the Mütter is known for its human remains, the museum also has a fair amount of animal remains, which are important for comparative anatomy purposes. Picking the favorite of that collection is easy. “I can tell you that it’s a penis,” Dhody says. “What I can’t tell you for sure is what kind of animal it comes from.” Though the tag reads “horse,” Dhody’s friend—an equine facilitator who owns a horse farm and “knows her horse junk”—put that myth to rest.

The preserved member is huge—easily the length of a person’s arm—and Dhody isn’t sure when it became part of the collection. “It has an F number, which means found number,” she says. “It was way before my time.” Based on x-rays of the baculum, or penis bone, taken by the Philadelphia Zoo, “we’re basically thinking that it’s from a larger sea mammal—a walrus, sea lion, or elephant seal,” Dhody says.


In 2009, a young woman with dermatillomania—a mental disorder that creates a need to pick skin off the body—donated a jar of skin she had picked off of her feet to the museum. Dhody promptly put that jar on display. Fast forward to 2014: “She’s still picking, and I’m still taking it,” Dhody says of the new jar of skin, donated earlier this year, that sits on her bookshelf. “What’s interesting is that this seems to churn people’s stomachs more than the severed limbs and heads in jars. They see this and go ‘ahh!’ I don’t get it. It’s skin.” There was a good reason for taking the skin, which, by the way, smells like romano cheese. “It has huge educational impact,” Dhody says. “How many other ways do I have of showing a physical manifestation of a mental disorder?” (Thankfully, the young woman making these donations only picks from her feet; others with dermatillomania can disfigure themselves.) Dhody might eventually combine both donations into a single jar for display, but, she says, “I like having it in my office right now.”


In the 1600s, two Chamberlen family brothers, both named Peter, worked as surgeons and obstetricians and invented modern obstetrical forceps—a technology that the family kept secret for a century. “The whole concept of intellectual property and who owns rights—it’s not just computer stuff,” Dhody says. “For a hundred years, this family dominated the field of obstetrics in Europe. They could command up to $10,000 [in the money of that time] for one birth all because of these two pieces of metal.” The Mütter’s pair of Chamberlen forceps is a metal replica that was made a couple of hundred years ago.

The design of modern forceps hasn’t changed much since the Chamberlens. “The one thing that is different is that those blades can come apart so you can insert one at a time into the vaginal canal, whereas [with this tool], they’re together,” Dhody says. “It’s amazing that this technology still exists. Forceps are going out of favor, but they are still used—not as much in America, but other parts of the world. It’s good when a baby is just stuck in there. If you are a practitioner who is skilled in the use of forceps, it’s safe. You know, there are risks involved, but there are more risks if the baby is stuck.”


“If you think about the skeletal structure of the human body—especially the lower abdominal area—there is no skeletal support structure for certain internal organs, including the uterus,” Dhody says. “Often times as a woman ages, or when she’s had a lot of children, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons will weaken and the uterus falls out of position; it can go down and through the vagina.” These days, doctors would probably opt to do a hysterectomy, but before that option was available, women “would insert an object up the vagina to kind of wedge it and keep that uterus from falling out,” Dhody says. The devices were called pessaries, and the museum has hundreds of them, including this one from the 19th century, which the curator finds particularly creepy because of the springs. “You can take it out, clean it, put it back in,” Dhody says. “You can still see these today—it’s a medical tool. But now they’re made out of surgical grade plastic. If you’re living in an area where surgery isn’t an option or if you have certain religious objections to that, then a pessary is a good bet.”


This device, from the early 20th century, claimed to do “for internal organs what exercise will do for the limbs” as well as alleviate cold symptoms. “It was a suction thing,” Dhody says. “You’d push it against the body and it vibrates.” The instruction manual is full of photos of a presumed doctor placing the circulator on various parts of a woman’s body and cranking the handle, which the manufacturer claimed would create suction and increase blood flow to a particular area.


Dhody rediscovered this skull in the museum’s mobile storage. “I came across these boxes that said ‘caramel Danish rolls,’” she says, “and I was like, ‘What are the chances that these actually have caramel Danishes in them? Very little.’” She adds jokingly, “that happens a lot—it’s never a Danish. Sometimes you have enough skulls, and you just want a Danish.”

The skull, which has been artificially deformed, comes from Peru; Dhody guesses it’s from around the 1800s. “People in Peru practiced artificial deformation for hundreds and hundreds of years,” she says. “Up until about the 20th century, [there were] remote parts that were practicing it.”


“We have a friends and family plan at the Mütter,” Dhody says. “It’s basically acknowledged that if you work here, or if you are associated with anyone who works here, and you lose any body part for any reason, we have dibs.” So when her husband had his gallbladder removed, Dhody jumped at the chance to both watch the operation and make it part of the collection. “Unfortunately, it looks perfectly healthy,” she says. “I guarantee you, it was not when it was removed.” Gallstones, she says, block the bile duct and cause inflammation, pain, and vomiting until they’re removed. Patients will get big stones—which you can see in the photo below—or microstones, which look like sludge and more easily block the duct.

Dhody’s husband had microstones, so his gallbladder had to come out. To remove the gallbladder, surgeons made five small incisions—including one through the belly button—and inserted laparoscopic tools. “Then, they seal the gallbladder in, like, a tiny little body bag and tug it out,” Dhody says. Now, her husband’s gallbladder sits preserved in alcohol in theMütter’s wet room, where the museum’s on-site conservation also takes place.


The wet specimens are housed in a climate controlled room where the air is exchanged six to eight times every hour, with redundant units to ensure it’s always the proper temperature. The majority of the Mütter’s specimens are preserved in alcohol, which doesn’t destroy DNA. “This doesn’t look too interesting because it’s just a intestinal specimen,” Dhody says, “but this is one of a series of specimens from individuals who died of cholera in the 1849 outbreak that killed over 1000 people [in Philadelphia]. What we were able to do, long story short, is we were able to get the DNA not just of the individual—we got the DNA of the cholera. To my knowledge, when this was published earlier this year, it was the oldest viable DNA of a pathogen recovered from a fluid filled specimen ever.”

This is important, Dhody says, because it helps scientists trace the ancestry of pathogens. Though less prevalent than it once was, cholera still kills thousands of people a year. “If we know this particular strain—which is called a Vibrio strain of cholera—killed over 1000 people in 1849, and then we can find other specimens and other people who have had cholera, and we can trace the lineage of the pathogen through history as it changes,” Dhody says. “Now the more prevalent variety of cholera you see in the world is the El Tor; that’s the strain that killed people in Haiti [after the 2010 earthquake]. Thousands of people die of cholera still, in the 21st century. So this shows how a 19th century specimen can have very important 21st century medical and scientific relevance.” The museum created a research arm called the Mütter Institute, which hopes to use historical and ancient specimens to help solve 21st century health issues.


The museum has 670 brain slices; some of them were in Dhody’s office in a cardboard box with “brain slices” scrawled on the side. “Every one has a pathology somehow that related to the brain, whether it was a stroke, cancer, or dementia,” Dhody says, “and we have all the antemortem information but we have redacted it for personal reasons.”


“Something we don’t have a lot of on exhibit—I wish we did, and maybe we will in the future—is our historical photographs,” Dhody says. “Since the moment that photography was invented, it was used for medical purposes. Doctors immediately realized, ‘Hey, I can take pictures of my patients’ pathology so I can mail them to other doctors—I don’t have to cart the patient around or get the doctor to come to see the patient.’ The medical implications of photography were groundbreaking.” Among the photos in the collection is the one above. Though there’s no information written on the back, Dhody says that “judging by the way it’s kind of floppy like that, it makes more sense for it to be a uterine or ovarian cyst—something like that. It could be a tumor. It’s definitely something that’s not supposed to be there.” The photo below is a painting of the uterus of a pregnant cow, circa 1850.

Article from MentalFloss By Erin McCarthy with photos by Lily Landes

Boar Bile Enemas


Enemas in medieval times were performed by devices called clysters. A clyster was a long metal tube with a cup on the end. The tube would be entered into the anus and a medicinal fluid poured into the cup. The fluid would then be introduced into the colon by a series of pumping actions. Although warm soapy water is used for enemas today, things were a little more earthy back then: one of the most common fluids finding its way into a clyster was a concoction of boar’s bile.

Even kings were high up on the clyster. King Louis XIV of France is said to have had over 2,000 enemas during his reign—some even administered while he sat on his throne.

Urine Was Used As An Antiseptic


Though it may not have been common, there is evidence to suggest that urine was occasionally used as an antiseptic in the Medieval Era. Henry VIII’s surgeon, Thomas Vicary, recommended that all battle wounds should be washed in urine. In 1666, the physician George Thomson recommended urine to be used on the plague. And there was even a bottled version: Essence Of Urine.

This isn’t quite as insane as it seems: urine is sterile when it leaves the body and may have been a healthier alternative than most water—which came with no such guarantee of cleanliness.

Eye Surgery (With A Needle)


During the Middle Ages, cataract surgery was performed with a thick needle. The procedure involved pushing the cornea to the back of the eye.

Of course, eye surgery changed rapidly once Islamic medicine began to influence European practices. Rather than a needle, a metal hypodermic syringe was inserted through the sclera (the white part of the eye) and then used to extract of cataracts via suction.

Hot Iron For Hemorrhoids


It was once believed that if a person did not pray to St. Fiacre (the “protector against hemorrhoids”) they would suffer from, you guessed it, hemorrhoids. If you were one of those unlucky fellows, you’d be sent off to the monks—who would put a red-hot iron up your anus. Nasty, but the less painful alternative was equally less effective: they’d send you to go and sit on St. Fiacre’s famous rock, the spot where the seventh-century Irish monk was miraculously cured of his hemorrhoids. It was for this reason that throughout the Middle Ages, hemorrhoids were called “Saint Fiacre’s illness.”

By the 12th century, things had changed. Jewish physician Moses Maimonides wrote a seven-chapter treatise on hemorrhoids calling into question the contemporary state of treatment. He prescribed a far simpler method: a good soak in a bath.

Deadly Surgery

Medieval surgery

Despite what blockbuster movies may have taught you, going under the knife without any anesthetic wasn’t as common in the medieval period as some people claim. In fact, medicine throughout this time was quite progressive: as the world expanded and travelers came from far afield, doctors from two different cultures would often share notes, and new practices were constantly being put to use.

However, even if the will for better medical care was there, the knowledge of chemicals certainly wasn’t. Although anesthetic was administered, analgesics, antibiotics, and disinfectants were a far cry from what they are today. As a result, many people died from infected wounds.

 Poisonous Anesthetics

Medieval Hammer

As stated above, anesthetics were far from the established science they are today. In fact, general anesthesia is only about 150 years old. Before these advances, a rather crude brew of herbs mixed with wine was used to sedate the patient instead. The most common of these herbal anesthetics was known as dwale.

There were numerous ingredients in dwale—from the innocuous, such as lettuce and vinegar, to the deadly, such hemlock and opium. Much like modern knockout drugs, mixing these ingredients incorrectly could result in the patient’s death.



Trepanning involved boring a small hole into the skull to expose the dura mater, the outer membrane of the brain. The practice was believed to alleviate pressure and treat health problems localized within the head, though it was also thought to cure epilepsy, migraines, and mental disorders and were a common “fix” for more physical problems such as skull fractures. Needless to say, such exposure of the brain to airborne germs would often be fatal.

Trepanning as a practice has not been completely abandoned: it was performed as recently as 2000 when two men in the US used it to treat a woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.

Surgery On The Battlefield

Medieval Surgery Again

In medieval times, battlefield medicine was about as grisly as it gets, and arrows were one of the main culprits. Arrowheads were commonly attached to the shaft with wax for one single purpose: so that when the arrow was pulled out, the tip would break off inside the victim’s body. Purpose-built “arrow removers”—designed to pinch the tip and pull it from the body—were used to heal wounded soldiers. The wound was then cauterized with a red-hot iron to stop the bleeding and prevent infections.

While much has been forgotten about the medical capabilities of this era, research has shown that it may have been more effective than you might think. A set of bones from 500-700 AD discovered in Italy in 2011 showed that soldiers of that era could survive massive blows to the head. One of the remains even showed evidence that the individual had survived after suffering a five-centimeter (two-inch) hole to the head.

Medical Astrology

Medieval Astrology

Back in medieval times, astrologers were so revered that many thought they were real-life magicians. The truth is, they were respected scholars who advised on increasing crop yield, predicted the weather, and informed a family-to-be what sort of personality their child would have. The latter would often have consequences for the child’s medical care.

Doctors would refer to special calendars that contained star charts in order to aid with diagnosis. By the 1500s, the physicians of Europe were legally required to assess a patient’s horoscope before embarking on any medical interference.

Astrology suggests that each body part is influenced by the sun, moon, and planets, and that each star sign presides over different parts of the body. Aries, for example, pertains to the head, face, brain, and eyes; whereas Scorpio represents the reproductive system, sexual organs, bowels and excretory system. After the patient’s star chart was examined and the current position of the stars was taken into account, a person’s ailment could be predicted and a diagnosis would be made.



Doctors of the medieval period believed in things called “humors.” The word “humors” referred to certain fluids found in the body: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. “Humorism” was developed from the musings of Greek and Roman physicians who believed an excess or deficiency of any of the four humors would strongly influence a person’s health.

For some reason, in the Middle Ages, blood—and excess blood in particular—was often seen as the cause of multiple ailments. Therefore, doctors would remove large quantities of blood from a person’s veins in the hope that it would cure them. The two main ways of doing this were leeching and venesection.

In leeching, a leech was placed on the part of the body that was a concern and the “blood-worm” would suck blood (and, in theory, the illness) from the patient. Venesection was a little bit more direct: a doctor would literally open up a vein using a knife called a “fleam” and allow blood to drain from the body.

Bloodletting was so common that some people drained their blood regularly just because they believed it would keep them healthy. Surely a half-hour jog is a better way to stay fit?

Article by Gareth May

Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project by Jené Gutierrez





Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project applies an artistic approach to prosthetic limb design, seeking to create unique and personalized prosthetic limbs for amputees. With her degree in Special Effects Prosthetics for film and television from London Arts University and 8 years of work for prosthetic providers creating realistic limbs, de Oliveira Barata has now established her own studio working as a specialist consultant alongside prosthetists to create alternative prosthetic effects with direct input from clients. She also collaborates with other artists – designers, laser-cutters, metal, plastic, and wood workers – in order to maximize the potential for a unique prosthetic. In addition to her “surreal” and “unreal” prosthetic designs, she is also highly skilled in crafting realistic looking limbs.

The experience of losing a limb, often under intense and strenuous circumstances, can be alienating and disempowering. Through her work, de Oliveira Barata offers a creative form of empowerment, one that is both functional and fashionable.

“Generally the whole technology is moving towards trying to recapture a lifelike limb that looks realistic and also acts realistic in motion,” says de Oliveira Barata. “In this instance I’m doing the complete opposite and I think it does capture that whole childlike imagination — it’s like being a superhero with super powers.”

“It’s drawing attention to their disability in a positive way…Rather than people seeing what’s missing, it’s about what they’ve got…Having an alternative limb is about claiming control and saying ‘I’m an individual and this reflects who I am.’”

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Anatomy of the osmotic balance between public and private, with a side of morality and law.

It must be the season for fascinating books on the history of sex. After last month’s Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire, here comes The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (public library) by Oxford University historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala — a formidably researched, absorbing, eloquent account of how, contrary to the modern mythology of the 1960s, today’s permissive sexual behavior first developed, seemingly suddenly, some three hundred years earlier, in 17th-century Western Europe. What emerges is a new lens for understanding the Enlightenment as a cultural phenomenon, by connecting this critical sexual transformation to the intellectual, political, and social forces that shaped the period.

The history of sex is usually treated as part of the history of private life, or of bodily experience. Yet that is itself a consequence of the Enlightenment’s conception of it as an essentially personal matter. My concern, by contrast, is not primarily to enter into the bedrooms and between the sheets of the past. It is to recover the history of sex as a central public preoccupation, and to demonstrate that how people in the past thought about and dealt with it was shaped by the most profound intellectual and social currents of their time.


The sexual revolution demonstrates how far and how quickly enlightened ways of thinking spread, and what important effects they had on popular attitudes and behavior.

Rembrandt, The Bed (1646): a rare contemporary illustration of a couple making love, composed around the time that the artist began an illicit relationship with his maid, Hendrickje Stoffels.

These new norms of behavior, Dabhiowala is careful to point out, didn’t affect everyone equally — like other kinds of liberty, they “primarily benefited a minority of white, heterosexual, propertied men.” He goes on to explore how urbanization placed the enforcement of sexual discipline under increasing pressure, making London — the largest metropolis in the world at the time, a hub of political power, literature, culture, and innovation — the epicenter of these shifts. Regulating the newly sexually awakened masses, however, was another matter:

The principle that illicit sex was a public crime was asserted with increasing vigor form the early middle ages onwards.

Indeed, since the dawn of history every civilization had prescribed severe laws against at least some kinds of sexual immorality. The oldest surviving legal codes (c. 2100-1700 BCE), drawn up by the kings of Babylon, made adultery punishable by death, and most other near eastern and classical cultures also treated it as a serious offence: this was the view taken by the Assyrians, the ancient Egyptians, the Jews, the Greeks, and, to some extent, the Romans. The main concern of such laws was usually to uphold the honour and property rights of fathers, husbands, and higher-status groups.


The laws of Ethelbert (c. 602), the Anglo-Saxon king of Kent, stipulate the different fines payable ‘if a man takes a widow who does not belong to him’; for lying with servants or slave women of different classes; and for adultery with the wife of another freeman — in which case, as well as a heavy fine, the offender was ‘to obtain another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other’s home’.


The code of Alfred the Great (c. 893) made it lawful for any man to kill another if he found him ‘with his wedded wife, within closed doors or under the same blanket, or with his legitimate daughter or his legitimate sister, or with his mother’. That of King Cnut (c. 1020-23) forbade married men even from fornicating with their own slaves, and ordered that adulteresses should be publicly disgraced, lose their goods, and have their ears and noses cut off.

If these sound barbaric, the ethos of the dominant Christian tradition was — and remains — hardly different:

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ was the seventh of [God's] Ten Commandments, and every adulterer and adulteress, he had ordered, ‘shall surely be put to death’. The same fate was to be imposed upon anyone guilty of incest or bestiality, as upon men who had sex with each other: all such people defiled themselves and the community. If the daughter of a priest were to fornicate, she should be burned alive. If a man lay with a menstruating woman, ‘both of them shall be cut off from among their people’. If any man should lie with a betrothed maid, God’s will was that ‘ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of the city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die’ — ‘so thou shalt put away evil from among you’.

The patriarchal philanthropist: Robert Dingley, merchant and founder of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. On his knee, in the frontispiece to the charity’s published Account (1761), rests one of the penitents.

The centuries that followed brought little change and instead further developed what Dabhoiwala calls “this essentially negative view of sex.” Among the most powerful proponents of this view was Saint Augustine (354-430), bishop of the town of Hippo on the north African coast, who Dabhiowala argues has had a more profound impact on Christian attitudes towards sexuality than any other person. He came to see lust as the most dangerous of all human drives and, in a letter to another bishop, summed up his philosophy thusly:

For it intrudes where it is not needed and tempts the hearts of faithful and holy people with its untimely and even wicked desire. Even if we do not give in to these restless impulses of it by any sign of consent but rather fight against them, we would nonetheless, out of a holier desire, want them not to exist in us at all, if that were possible.

The church took these moral matters into its own hands with the establishment of is permanent courts around 1100, catapulting sexual offenses from the realm of private confession into the increasingly powerful system of public inquisition. The rise of towns and cities imposed yet another layer of punishment, giving rise to new civic penalties against adultery, fornication, and prostitution. By the later 13th century, such sexual and marital legal cases accounted for anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of all litigation. But despite the development of a formal system, punishments a remained crude violation of modern human rights:

In London, Bristol, and Gloucester, they constructed a special public ‘cage’ in the main market-place, in which to imprison and display prostitutes, adulterers, and lecherous priests; elsewhere, cucking-stools were used to punish whores… There also became established elaborate rituals of civic punishment for convicted whores, bawds, and adulterers. Serious offenders were taken on a long public procession through the city, dressed in symbolically degrading clothes and accompanied by the raucous clanging of pans and basins. Sometimes they would also be whipped, put in the pillory, have their hair shaved off, or be banished from the city.

Edward Rigby striking an unrepentant pose in 1703. This print was produced just a few months after his release from prison for attempted sodomy.

But, by the 16th century, these punishments seemed insufficient to a moral-extremist cohort as the Protestant movement began to vocally condemn the Catholic Church — nicknamed the Whore of Babylon — for a lax attitude towards sexual morality, from its lecherous priests who took the ideal of clerical celibacy as a joke to the toleration of prostitution. And yet, the church was thriving in its hypocrisy:

As the morals of the people were left to decay, the church itself grew rich on the proceeds of fines, indulgences, and other tricks it imposed on its hapless flock. In short, there was a direct connection between the spiritual and sexual corruption of the papacy and its followers.

James Gillray’s lurid pun on the name and the role of Dorothy Jordan, longtime mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV

The Origins of Sex goes on to reverse-engineer how modern ideas about sexual freedom and gender equality coalesced out of the stormy sexual attitudes and behaviors of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century England, exposing a rich new layer of understanding humanity’s most intimate mechanism for relating to self and other.

by Maria Popova

Love latex Mistress Tokyo in her clinic… say,  ”ahhhhhhhh…”

Photography by Soul Focus Studio

 THE KNICK: Andre Holland, Michael Angarano, Clive Owen, Louis Butelli, Eve Hewson, Eric Johnson.

Cinemax’s The Knick premiered Friday, and in addition to the show’s dramatic potential and old-timey New York features, it’s important to know one thing about The Knick: It’s pretty gross. The show is almost gleeful in its body horrors — but hey, don’t watch a show about medicine in the year 1900 if you don’t want to see some gnarly primitive surgeries. The following images are pretty graphic, so the weak of stomach should probably avoid. Otherwise, though, here are the bloodiest, grossest, strangest, and WTF-iest moments from the premiere. Cringing ahead.

Owen stars as Dr. Thackery, who — believe it or not — can’t heal himself. He’s a drug addict, and a serious one; serious enough that his easy-to-access veins have collapsed and he has to inject himself in his toes.

The day’s first task: An emergency C-section on a woman with placenta previa. It does not go well. The patient loses too much blood — helpfully collected in charming glass vessels, via hand-cranked suction — and both she and her baby die. Not before we get a few shots of hands rummaging around in her abdomen, though. Gaaaaah.

Thackery’s mentor, Dr. Christenson, does not take the patient’s death well. He heads back to his office and kills himself. R.I.P., Dr. Christenson. You disinfected your beard in a bowl of water before operating, though, and for that, we salute you.

There are a lot of tubes on The Knick. This one’s supposed to help drain a wound. Go ahead and imagine the phrase “drain a wound” over and over again, until you have no human emotions left, only the physical action of recoiling.

Thackery decides to stop using drugs cold turkey, which is why he’s in a miserable state of withdrawal when Nurse Lucy comes by his house to rouse and drag him back to the hospital. She’ll have to inject him to even him out, they agree; after looking at his arm for one second, and then at his foot for half a second, she says he doesn’t have any available veins. He suggests the urethral vein and she agrees. If you’re like, “Urethral vein? Is that like, a dick vein?” the answer is yeah, that’s a dick vein. (Do not Google it. Learn from my mistakes here.) Anyway, here’s Lucy giving the good doctor his medicine, right in the peen.

And now that he’s had his drugs, it’s time for more surgery. Scalpel!

From the By Abraham Riesman and Margaret Lyons