By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 4, 1997

Art to die for: captivating cadavers in Stilled Life

Death is a part of life. It's the part people generally don't like.

It's the part that gets buried.

And how many people, as youngsters, were freaked out by the sight of a lifeless grandparent in a casket. All made up. All made up and no place to go.

Which Brings us to "Stilled Life: Cadaver Studies," a student art exhibition in the Lionel Rombach Gallery through September 19.

Over the last two summers the university has offered a course in figure drawing with a little twist.

Sheila Pitt's classes were held in the University Medical Center cadaver lab, which is home to the state willed body program. The works were culled from these.

Pitt said using cadavers as models is a tradition in art dating back at least to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo.

The goal of the course, which has run in the pre-session to avoid conflicts with medical students, is to give students a better idea of how human anatomy works going beneath the skin.

"After the class I really had a better understanding of figure drawing," illustration senior Santos Pena said. Pena, who has five pieces in the show, said he is now considering medical illustration as a career.

He said it took him a couple of days to get used to the models, but then was excited to get to class.

Emily Tellez, a fine arts studies senior, on the other hand, said she was ready from the get go.

"I'm always attracted to the unusual and the bizarre, so I had a field day," Tellez, who took the class both years, said. She said it gave her the opportunity to really breathe life into something.

The pieces in the show run the gamut from drawings to photography.

Pena's "It's Burning" uses images of a half dissected woman and a man's face cast in flames above the words "rez," "barrio" and "anger" to tell that tale. His other pieces are some of the several studies on the human body in the show.

The fascinating thing about looking at the muscle groups of a leg exposed and represented in this show, is that unlike the cold calculation of biology text, these have a warmth, that in a sense, comes from the fact that thepieces were created by real live students.

If there is one image that living eyes may find particularly disturbing, it is a human form in a clear plastic body bag.

Pieces like Mark A. Seely's "Venal Systems and the Visual Apparatus," give pause to consider the final suffocation.

Also, Jose Portilla's "Hot" and "Cold," demonstrate what we fear. We fear death not because we cannot conceive of it as a dead person. Only as a live person in a plastic bag rolled on a gurney through antiseptic light.

Tellez, in "Creature of Habit," twists the bag so that the suffocation sense works on two levels, as plastic and as nun's uniform.

In her works "Candyman" and "All Dressed Up and No Place To Go," Tellez makes cadavers that look to have been in disrepair, look alive, seem personable. She dresses them in pearls.

The photographs "Inside Out" and "Palmolive Ever After" that close the show are jarring and matter of fact. You see the close up of an old woman's cold, dead fingers and understand the joke, but laughter seems somewhat eerie.

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