Ivonne Thein // Dr. Guislain Museum, Ghent (B)
The weighty body
Of fat and thin, perfect or deranged
October 8, 2010 - May 8, 2011

The exhibition ‘The weighty body’ shows the fascinating ways in which humans have been dealing with their own bodily appearance. The central theme is a history of fasting. Why do people abstain from food? Are their motives personal or aesthetic, religious or financial? When do we speak of a deranged relation to one’s own body?

Is the fasting inspired by Faith or by diabolical possession? Religions prescribe how people should treat their bodies. The ascetism of the fasting saints set an example. By contrast, witches were notorious for their thinness: they were weighed and found wanting. The body and religion constitutes the first part of the exhibition.

Physical achievements meet with admiration, the body as a spectacle: as from the 16th century, wonder girls became an attraction, living skeletons a form of popular amusement. In the nineteenth century fasting was raised to ‘art’: people talked of hunger artists. The hunger for entertainment says something about the society in which it thrives.Whether or not to (be allowed to) depict the body, the use of body images in political propaganda, sports and national pride, the compulsory feeding of hunger strikers. The body in politics and ideology is the second part of ‘The weighty body’.

Over the last few decades anorexia nervosa has changed from a rare syndrome into a fashionable disorder. What does this modern form of self-starvation tell us about our fascination with lean bodies? Does thin equal beautiful? What is beauty, what is the ideal? It is remarkable how beauty should be redefined with every generation, how different cultures should have widely diverging views of the ‘ideal body’. But where does beauty end? Where lies the tipping point where ‘beautiful’ becomes ‘pathological’? Corsets, body building, but also anorexia and bulimia form the inspiration for the third part of the exhibition.

The human body is bound to change. Artificial aids lead to new physical possibilities, push the limits, hide diseases and disorders. From new forms of surgery after World War I to transplants and implants: medicine and technology have found spectacular new ways of finishing with physical limitations. Plastic surgery has grown explosively: we choose the shape of our nose from a catalogue, stay forever botox-young, mould our own identities. The future of the body is the final part of ‘The weighty body.’

Dr. Guislain Museum
Jozef Guislainstraat 43
9000 Ghent