with the final few days of the 2012 paralympics upon us, it’s impossible not to applaud the achievements of the athletes, what they have each personally overcome and their incredible physical abilities… and that is of course absolutely right, but i just wanted to take a moment to also give some thought to the prosthetics that assist and support many of the athletes in their endeavours.
i recently attended the private view of spare parts, an exhibition which focusses entirely on prosthetics. the bulk of the exhibition is devoted to works of art created by various artists using what the curator describes as ‘pre-loved prosthetic limbs’. here are my favourites:
left: andre masters (prosthetic arm donated by lauchlan thackwell-james from brisbane, australia and fibreglass, aluminium, steel wire, leather, cotton, webbing, copper, brass, steel, glass and rubber)
right: j-stew (prosthetic foot donated by orthopaedic techniques in melbourne , australia and “heaps of weird old broken toys from the artist’s collection”)
charlie tuesday gates (prosthetic skin donated by queen mary’s hospital in london, uk and mixed media)
lorraine clarke (prosthetic arm donated by queen mary’s hospital in london, uk and mixed media)
also exhibited are a number of limbs that chart the technological advancements in prosthetics, including those adapted for running. what such advances must mean for the quality of life of those who use prosthetics is perhaps unfathomable, although the paralympics clearly demonstrate what can be achieved by those with the requisite level of determination (let’s face it, even in my 2-legged capacity, nothing’s going to get me to run 100 metres in under 11 seconds!).
meet the superhumans: still of 4creative’s brilliant promo for the 2012 paralympics
however, perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibition is a series of photographs of striking, bespoke limbs, which are shown alongside portraits of their owners and the stories behind the limbs. the limbs (two legs and an arm created by the alternative limb project) are each markedly different and evidently highly personal to their owners. the first leg is an exquisite, floral affair in muted tones that looks as delicate as antique porcelain. the second leg is a studded, steampunk-esque creation embellished with a speaker and the arm is gripped in the coils of a snake. i didn’t take any pictures for copyright reasons (and am really regretting not buying some prints!), but you can see more of the alternative limb project’s creations here.
whilst the developments in and realism of modern prosthetics are frankly astounding, i wasn’t expecting to be blown away by how beautiful they can be and what they can mean to an individual beyond their practical function. from the blurbs next to the portraits, it’s clear that the bespoke limbs not only provide a means of self-expression, but empower their respective owners by giving them ownership of their impairment. they choose when to draw attention to their prosthetic and in a way that is so overt and blatant, but at the same time beautiful, that no one else can really have anything to say about it… except possibly, “wow!”
spare parts is at the rag factory in east london (just off brick lane) until 9 september 2012. i thoroughly recommend a visit to this perception altering exhibition.