Paul Vanouse’s Items 1-2000: Dehumanizing the Human Body (1996)

Vanouse’s 1-2000 Items

From Vanouse’s own website: “In 1988, I finished a concentration in pre-med studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. By this point, I was disenchanted and decided against the career because of varied issues surrounding the practice of medicine, especially in the U.S.”

Vanouse’ work focuses around a data-exported from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Visible Human Project that is purported to be a “a multi-million dollar endeavor.” The NIH’s endeavor is created to facilitate visualization of the human anatomy. 

It is exactly this dissection and the “rationalization” with which it is done that Vanouse accepts he is critiquing. The Human Body was in fact a body of a convict given the lethal injection and thus his body was sacrificed in the name of science. Thus, his body went on to help a human endeavor but at what cost.

Specifically Vanouse admits he was disillusioned with science and medicine undertakings and their rationalizations, specifically with respect to “issues included the ethics of human and animal research.”

Just as the convict’s body was subjected to the ultimate punishment and thereafter a desecration (depending on the point of view), the ethics of science are definitely a murky subject. Justifications are a huge part of the researching parties and thus one can literally get away with murder.

The project itself consists of a human body whose lower half is submerged in wax and prepared in such a way that resembles that of microscopy. The body is placed just inches below a sheet of glass that covers the body as if in a slide. The sheet of glass is affixed with barcodes placed in strategic locations. When scanned, the barcodes pull information from the NIH project and show the data that was procured through their Visible Human Project

To scan the barcodes one uses “a stainless steel barcode scanner much like a scalpel—slicing horizontally across the figure to reveal the hidden target organ on twin video monitors”. This is a pretty macabre action as it puts you as near to the action of dissecting a body as possible without actually having to dissect. However this surgical role  “role blurs with that of cashier.”

Not all scans bring up anatomical slides from the NIH project, instead some scans pull information from student dissection manuals; other images are from Vanouse’s own sketchbooks.still other scans use data sets from bio-medical software compiled at Pittsburgh’s Science and Technology Center.
The process used by the NIH was as follows after a convicted murder was given the lethal injection his body was submerged in a gelatin and water mixture to stabilize the body. Thereafter his body was sliced/cut/dissected in crossections parallel to each other at given intervals. The scans were done at one resolutions then after recaptured at a higher resolution. The dataset created resulted in some 40 gigabytes of data. The process was also done on a female cadaver.


The most obvious ethical issue here is of course: What else can be done in the name of science? what can we as scientists get away with? How far is too far? (This argument seems reminiscent of an argument whose goals are proclaimed in the name of religion) Of course science actually helps medicine and technology progress (an argument can be made about religion making progress for civilization), but at what cost?

Another question I came across in researching was the fact that the NIH was involved in the process of and overseeing a lethal injection. The NIH actually killed for science. that’s dark (no matter if it was a convicted murderer). More on ethics, if one donates their body to science is this what they are to expect? Their body to be drawn and quartered in the name of science? I always expected my organs to be given to some poor fellow at the hospital who needed a kidney to give him a second chance at life. Makes you think twice about checking that box at the DMV.



P. Jesus Diaz




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s