Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Man as Industrial Palace: the impact of Fritz Kahn

A German, Jewish gynecologist, artist, and popular science writer extraordinaire, Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) is considered by many to be the founder of conceptual medical illustration.

Kahn produced a series of books during the 1920s on the inner workings of the human body using metaphors of modern industrial life. His modernist visualization was fitting since he was writing during a time of great industrial and technological change, especially in Germany.

Medical illustration before this period was very literal in its representation. Medical illustrations were used mostly in medical education and so the body was portrayed as accurately as possible mainly from cadaver dissections.

Max Brodel had already established the first medical illustration graduate program in the United States in 1911 at Johns Hopkins. Tom Jones, a student of Brodel, established his own program at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1921. Frank Netter was a young man in his mid-20s, soon to become one of the most recognized medical illustrators in the world. These men set the standards in medical illustration with their extraordinarily detailed styles.

In the early 20th century, public health was becoming an increasing concern with diseases such as diabetes, tuberculosis, and venereal disease becoming more common. It was obvious that initiative be taken to teach the public about their body and their health. Public health posters were produced to make people aware of the dangers of these diseases and ways to avoid contracting them.

While medical illustration was slowly spreading across America, Fritz Kahn was gaining great popularity in Germany with his successful 5 volume textbook on anatomy and physiology entitled Das Leben des Menschen; eine volkstümliche Anatomie, Biologie, Physiologie und Entwick-lungs-geschichte des Menschen (1926). [translation: The life of humans; a popular anatomy, biology, a physiology and a history of the development of humans]

The 5 volume set had over 1500 images including a poster of his famous illustration, Man as Industrial Palace.

Fritz Kahn had his own mission to educate the public on the human body, something he took very seriously. The success of his textbooks at the time was a combination of a lucid style of writing accompanied by captivating visuals portraying the body as a machine complete with

factory workers
assembly lines
pressure valves
In his piece entitled Man as Industrial Palace (above), you can clearly see the hierarchy of departments within the body factory, with the center of operation located at the top of the head.

By illustrating the body as a factory, Kahn was able to relate the body’s complex organic interior to the industrialized space so common in society during that period. Kahn was part of a “visual education” movement that came with developments in color photography, motion pictures, animation, and artful printed graphics used as a revolutionary way of instructing. It was a movement to help popularize science and medicine. Kahn used all of these mediums in his work to show how the body functions.

Kahn’s illustrative style was heavily influenced by the modern artistic movement, which flowered in the early 20th century. Such styles include Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and Futurism.

Kahn spoke the public’s language both rhetorically and visually, which made him successful at what he did. He had a huge impact on medical illustration for the public and on illustrations of the body in commercial graphics.

His overly conceptual style did have its shortcomings of course. Oversimplifying the complex structure of the human body into the cold lifeless structure of a machine may have had little educational value in the end. But if his goal was to educate the public of the basics of human function, then a mechanical metaphor would suffice. Like machines, we need fuel, need to regulate temperature and pressure, and above all need to be maintained to function optimally. Even today we are hard pressed to escape the model of the body as machine. We still often refer to the heart as a pump, joints as hinges, and the brain as a circuit board.

As our ability to produce hyper-realistic illustrations and animations of the anatomy and physiology of the human body increases, there is still a need to go back to the oversimplified basics,
the ball and stick figures of molecules.
the lock and key models of enzymes and proteins.
the lever and hinge models of muscles and joints
Simplicity is the current buzzword in the design community. I think it was John Maeda that said “simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” Applying meaning to the simple, like Kahn did, paves the way for more complex understanding.
The trend in medical illustration and animation today is to produce the most realistic representations possible. And we’ve succeeded in creating some groundbreaking visual effects of the human body.

But, I think we as medical illustrators and animators need to step back and find new ways to reinvent the simple; to truly make an impact on education. It’s easier said than done, however. Simple is often the most complex thing to achieve.
- by Vanessa Ruiz
Sources and further reading

National Library of Medicine Dreaming the Industrial Body
British Library Fritz Kahn’s Body Machines
Mind and Brain in Weimar Culture pdf
Take a look at what Harvard is doing to simplify understanding of human physiology as an example.

Man as Industrial Palace

Vintage German artwork on digital steroids, or why you house a factory.
In 1926, German writer and artist Fritz Kahn created his famous Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace) poster. Kahn’s illustrations compartmentalized the body’s functions in great detail, brilliantly depicting human physiology through analogies with an industrial factory.His work was a visual commentary on industrial modernity and an intersection of two timeless fascinations — with machines and with the human body.
In 2006, German visual communication and animation student Henning Lederer discovered Kahn’s poster and decided to resurrect this complex and unusual way of explaining the body, growing on the original work and translating it into motion graphics. He made himself a cabinet with a mix of analog and digital objects and technologies, and set to creating Industriepalast — an interactive application based on the poster.
Lederer explores human physiology in six cycles — five representing the five main biological systems, and one melding them together into the complex human factory Kahn had envisioned.- By Maria Popova

Der Mensch als Industriepalast [Man as Industrial Palace] from Henning Lederer on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Weihnachten, Kerst & Natale...

"Weihnachten in Deutschland - Kein Kommentar"- source: spiegel.de

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Franticham's Fluxus Island" now in pocket size

For those who could not afford the 350$ wooden fluxus kit with 22 original screenprints and many objects, Redfoxpress from Ireland published now a mini edition in their "c'est mon dada" collection for 20$. You can order online at http://www.redfoxpress.com/dada.html

Thursday, December 17, 2009

X-mas suprises

X-mas suprises - Überraschungen am Heiligen Abend : visual poetry by Litsa Spathi

Ray Johnson Screenprints

2 screenprints inspired by Ray Johnson. These belong to a series of about 30
prints about New York to be published as book next year. See

Seasons Greetings

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fluxus Clothing for Xmas

"Fluxus Clothing for Xmas"- visual poem by Litsa Spathi

... her moment or return to list of post...

"... her moment or return to list of post..."-visual poem by Litsa Spathi

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Definition : Fluxus ; Walker Art Center

gallery guide : Fluxus

Walker Art Center

Fluxus is not: a movement, a moment in history, an organization. Fluxus is: an idea, a kind of work, a tendency, a way of life, a changing set of people who do Fluxworks.--Dick Higgins
Fluxus is a loosely affiliated international network of visual artists, new-music composers, writers, and performers who have been active since the early 1960s.

Beginning with a series of festivals featuring concerts of new experimental music and other avant-garde performance, Fluxus artists reacted against the commodity status of art, its commercialization in the gallery system, and its static presentation in traditional institutions. They often rejected the concept of artistic genius and single authorship in favor of a collective spirit and a collaborative practice.

Fluxus compositions or scores for performances and events involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life. Some scores, such as those in George Brecht's Water Yam (1972), were printed on cards and then packaged into plastic boxes and sold as inexpensive multiples. These scores call for open-ended actions and events that can be performed by anyone at any time in any place. Also on view is Yoko Ono's Invitation to Participate in a Water Event, in which she invited people to bring containers to her 1971 exhibition. These vessels were filled with water, displayed in the show, and labeled as collaborative works of art.

Sometimes a documentation or artifact from a Fluxus event became a work of art, a material presence that referred to an absent action or previous performance. Alison Knowles' Journal of the Identical Lunch (1971), documents her ritual noontime performances at a New York diner with various artists and friends. In Dick Higgins' ongoing series, The Thousand Symphonies, he composes musical scores with bullet holes and paint on sheet music. The result is both a documentation of the artist's action and a work of visual art.

Incorporating musical compositions, concrete poetry, visual art, and writing, Fluxus performances embody Higgins' idea of "intermedia"--a dialogue between two or more media to create a third, entirely new art form. Fluxus performance also incorporates actions and objects, artists and non-artists, art and everyday life in an attempt to find something "significant in the insignificant." The influence of this highly experimental, spontaneous, often humorous form of performance art prevailed through the 1970s and has been rediscovered by a younger generation of artists working today.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and Pray, live on hay
You'll get pie in the sky when you die

--Joe Hill

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The remake of Untitled-14 by Ruud Janssen

The remake of Untitled-14 by Ruud Janssen. Nico van Hoorn sent me a card from his series Untitled. I transformed it to a Title 15 card and documented it with a video while making the card. A Mail-Art Performance in the tradition of Fluxus. Made by Ruud Janssen on November 15th 2009. More details see also Nico's blog at: http://nicovanhoorn-mail-art.blogspot.com/

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mobile Vision ( for allan r.)

IUOMA one year on NING

Tomorrow the IUOMA-Platform is 1 year old

See: http://iuoma-network.ning.com/

The concept of the IUOMA started in 1988

Mail-Art itself started way back in the 60-ies

George or Georgette ????

Monday, November 09, 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Digital Fluxus Performance - Something I can't Explain - PART 2

Nico van Hoorn returned the postcard with the title "Something I can't explain" again with a print of the digital Fluxus Performance on it. Now a second Digital Fluxus performance that I did for him. This time a Black and Blue version. The performance has a digital audience, but it started and ended with mail-art. This all took place in November 2009. The video was recorded on November 7th 2009.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009