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Title: Human curiosities in contemporary art and their relationship to the history of exhibiting monstrous bodies
Author: Nichols, Chelsea
ISNI:       0000 0004 5358 9429
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis analyses the representation of so-called human curiosities in recent visual art, by drawing a connection to historical practices of exhibiting 'monstrous' and deformed bodies within institutions such as freak shows, anatomical collections and medical museums. The last two decades have witnessed a surge of scholarly interest in the histories of these institutions, particularly through the work of Robert Bogdan, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Rachel Adams, Richard Sandell and Samuel J.M.M Alberti, whose research can be situated in interdisciplinary humanities fields such as disability studies, museology, history of science and literary and visual studies. Concurrently, a remarkable number of contemporary artists have also turned to the history and imagery of these spaces to explore the politics of display in exhibitions of non-normative bodies. This study addresses the critical gap between these two parallel domains of inquiry, drawing upon recent studies concerning historical exhibitions of monstrous bodies to analyse how contemporary artists have simultaneously confronted and extended these traditions through their artworks. In order to show that the very notion of 'monstrous bodies' is inextricably bound up in the curious display practices that frame them, I analyse the representation of human curiosities in the work of Zoe Leonard, Joanna Ebenstein, Diane Arbus, Mat Fraser, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Marc Quinn and John Isaacs. Each chapter examines a distinct institutional context – the anatomical collection, the freak show, the art gallery, and the contemporary medical museum – to investigate how these artists challenge the meanings conferred upon extraordinary bodies within each space, bestowing new significance upon these forms within the context of their various art practices. I argue that, by doing so, artists themselves can take on roles like curious collectors, freak show talkers and teratologists, revealing the potential for 'art' to act as yet another display framework that imposes a particular set of meanings onto anomalous bodies.
Supervisor: Gaiger, Jason; Arnold, Ken Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Visual art and representation ; contemporary art ; curiosities ; disability studies ; freak show ; medical museum ; human abnormalities