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> > > Anatomy of an Athlete Elite sport, surgery and medical art
digital illustration of a female runner, highlighting the hamstring muscles

One of a series of illustrations titled 'Hurdles' by Emily Evans. Photo © The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons

'Anatomy of an Athlete' is showing at The Royal College of Surgeons’, Hunterian Museum until 29 September. Obi Chiejina put the exhibition of four new artworks from five medical artists under the microscope to discover that the boundaries between sport sciences and the illustrative arts are not as distinct as she thought.

As the exhibition title suggests the artwork documents the anatomical changes of sports women and men taking part in elite sports. The Hunterian Museum and Archives houses the collection of John Hunter the founding father of anatomical surgery. John Hunter’s practice as an anatomist and surgeon in the eighteenth century was based upon a keen interest in other disciplines including biochemistry and pathology, erudite observations in animal experiments and a willingness to question scientific conventions regarding the human body.

Hunter’s multidisciplinary approach to anatomy informs the development phase of the latest temporary exhibition from the Qvist Gallery (Hunterian Museum’s temporary gallery space) ‘Anatomy Now.’  At the development stage the Hunterian Museum worked with a non-heritage organisation The Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain (the professional body for medical artists in the United Kingdom) to commission four new artworks

Five medical artists created a series of outdoor ‘art laboratories’ to observe anatomical changes of women and men participating in sprinting, hurdles, canoeing and hockey. Recording arm and leg movements during sports events required an advanced knowledge of fine art techniques, video production, medicine, sports science, computer aided design and visual technology. The anatomical illustrations, video installation and wax model were then arranged within the gallery space to meet the challenges in museum visitor and communications policies.

The artist Emily Evans designed an art experiment to view and understand the motion of hamstring muscles during running and jumping. Her findings from this experiment are documented in three 2D illustrations and an ink/pencil drawing collectively known as ‘Hurdles.’  

The 2D images show the arrangement and movement of hamstring muscles in a computer generated female avatar taking part in a hurdle jump. The first image shows the contraction of the hamstring muscles during running, the second shows the extension of muscles whilst leaping over the hurdle barrier whilst the final illustration represents the relaxation of muscles after the hurdle jump is completed. The ink/pencil drawing takes a look at the role of physics in the sport of hurdling.     

Presenting the minute details of human movement in the ‘flat’ 2D format poses challenges to the museum viewer. How can the medical artist give the perception of 3D representation of running, leaping and standing on paper?

Evans employs a computer generated female figure, 2D shadows, a monochrome palette to compel the visitor to closely inspect the arrangement, movement, contraction and relaxation of the hamstring muscles, tendons, upper limb, lower limb and knee. The human eye perceives the hamstring muscles (coloured a vibrant red) and avatar to ‘pop out’ from the illustration as well as move forward or upwards.

photo of an elderly man leaning forward to view an anatomical sculpture of a man running

'Sprinting' - an anatomical sculpture by Richard Neave and Denise Smith. Photo © Getty

In contrast ‘Sprinting’ created by Richard Neave and Denise Smith fails to take account of the museum layout. I walk into an empty space and begin to read the ‘Sprinting’ information panel. Assuming that the artwork would immediately follow I continue to walk in a clock-wise direction. After pacing around the space twice, the exhibit in question - a miniature cadaver of the disabled athlete Richard Whitehead - is located in the middle of the Qvist Gallery!

The latest exhibition from the Hunterian Museum ‘Anatomy of an Athlete’ blurs the boundaries between the arts and sport science by revisiting and celebrating John Hunter’s innovative approach to anatomy.

‘Anatomy of an Athlete’ is on show at the Qvist Gallery, Hunterian Museum, 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PE until Saturday 29 September. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm.
Go to the Royal College of Surgeons website for more details.

Please call 020 7869 6560 or email if you would like assistance in planning your visit to the Museum.