not absolute

Not Absolute was a collaborative exhibition at the Flinders University City Gallery, 24th July – 27th September, 2009, featuring work by Ian Gibbins, Catherine Truman, Judy Morris, Gabriella Besetto, Vicki Clifton and Rachel Burgess, curated by Janice Lally.

The following is from the curator’s comments in the exhibition catalogue:

NOT ABSOLUTE has been a collaboration over some time by artists and scientists … to discover and communicate new understandings of the human body derived from interconnections between science and art practices. The visual, aural and tactile aspects of the works offer others opportunities to gain fresh insights into notions of what the body is and how it might be understood by the individual. The nature of the creative processes of artists and scientists is also part of the investigation.

“Knowledge about the body, in the abstract and from a personal viewpoint, is a concern for us all. The daily experience of living within and communicating about our bodies is central to all of us. How we wash and dress ourselves, how we move, or see, or hear, how we communicate, our health and well-being are just some facets of the boundaries that denote our understanding. However, there are no clear boundaries, the notion of body is not absolute. Cultural mores and personal histories contribute to notional boundaries, but they are essentially indefinable. How do we differentiate between our and others’ bodies? How do we distinguish between inner and outer aspects of our bodies? How can we explain the answers to these questions to those who do not know?

“The processes of creating, learning, teaching, discovering and communicating awareness of self and body are potent issues that engage the artists and scientists in this exhibition. A wealth of experiences and conceptual frameworks deriving from their various medical research and teaching disciplines and creative domains across the media of glass, drawing, sculpture, soundscapes and performance have been developed further by these participants through collaborative practices and skill sharing that have been embraced by them all to investigate that which is NOT ABSOLUTE.”

coastal, digital image by Ian Gibbins

Ian’s own artist statement continues:

“When I am teaching human anatomy, whose body am I describing? The preserved specimen before me? My own? Those of the students? Their future patients? Or an ideal archetype, described and illustrated in books and charts? It must be all these, yet no picture, no text, can communicate a deep feeling for the structure of the body. Strange then, that we do not naturally form a detailed image of our body beneath the skin.  Collaborating closely with Catherine Truman and Judy Morris, I have interpreted the uncertainty of translation between these diverse, diffuse anatomies.

“Perhaps I really could teach anatomy with my eyes closed. Yet when attention drifts, sounds and images, past and present, intrude and interrupt. The students face even more distractions. I have used sound samples recorded in class and digital images to suggest the sometimes hazy, sometimes flickering, paths that we try to follow from one perception of the body to the next.

“The Latin of anatomical terminology embodies metaphors of the world beyond the body. I have rebuilt these allusions to create poems and objects that function as figure legends for the work by Judy and Catherine. Behind all this, in our workshops and laboratories, are the sounds of objects made by hands to be used by hands for tasks that hands alone cannot achieve. For all my electronic audio processing, they remain linked to the body in action, even if those links are no longer absolute.”

Videos from the exhibition have been shown in several other places now including the Moving Image Program, South Australian Living Artists Festival (SALA), Adelaide, September, 2009;  Photodust (2018); and The Wrong – In Absentia (Italy, 2019/2020).

Click here for samples of audio and video from the exhibition.

Click here for more audio that originally was on CD, now available at Bandcamp.

Here are a couple of sections from Thoracic. The full sequence is in urban biology.


wrap your palms around
wrap your fingers around

the presence of gloves upon
the urgency of desire upon

an inkling of, a dream of
so close to, so close to

should I recoil,
more distant from

should I relax,
fall away from

something you hold against
something I hope against


with whispers folded
one against another

our voices embrace
in illicit meeting

with whispers folded
one against another

blood flows cease
hold, restart apace

with whispers folded
one against another

we pass on messages
of uncertain reconciliation

Ian Gibbins, Catherine Truman and Judy Morris