For the first time in its 500-year history, Surgeons’ Hall, the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, will mount an exhibition of contemporary art alongside the cases of preserved hearts, the anatomical anomalies, the diseased organs.
The focus will be on Zhang Yanzi, an award-winning Chinese artist and professor at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, who spent some time in 2017 at the museum, studying the collection in depth. The results are on display at the museum. Zhang’s new work deals in healing, energy and human existence, which ties with an interest in things medical that has coloured much of her recent output.
Much of it is interdisciplinary, and while she works in a number of media her basis is in ink, a traditional art form which she translates in an entirely contemporary fashion. Her Secret Path paintings, currently being installed, are inspired by a notebook of lectures in the museum’s collection, as is her Capillaries installation, which will extend down from the ceiling. Perhaps the most striking piece, and displayed not in the exhibition space but in the Playfair Gallery (pictured), is the 64-metre long Qi, a “river of ink on silk… illustrating the energy which flows through the body through the analogy of the flowing river,” says Henrietta Tsui-Leung, chief executive of Galerie Ora-Ora in Hong Kong, which has organised the exhibition with Surgeons’ Hall. It is part, she says, of the need for contemporary art to form a response against the “real artefacts of life and death”.
A Quest for Healing, Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, 0131 527 1711, museum.rcsed.ac.uk, until 4 Nov, 10am-5pm, entry to Surgeons’ Hall (£7/£4) recommended for those aged 10+ only.