The third in a series of exhibitions about the human body in contemporary art organized by Frist Art Museum Chief Curator Mark Scala, Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in Art includes provocative artworks that address themes of trauma, loss, and transformation, while considering the possibility of an animating spirit that can exist independently of the body. The exhibition includes a selection of paintings, photography, videos, sculpture and installations by a noteworthy roster of contemporary international artists. “The artworks in this exhibition are meant to inspire reflection about the relationship between body, mind, and soul, while triggering feelings of empathy, remembrance and compassion,” says Mr. Scala. The exhibition title alludes to the phenomenon known as the phantom limb syndrome, when an individual perceives sensation in a lost body part. Mr. Scala notes, “While it is frequently a source of pain, the phantom limb here symbolizes the memory of wholeness and a longing for a return of what has been lost.”
Phantom Bodies is organized thematically into four sections. “Objects and Absences” includes works by Christian Boltanski, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Adam Fuss, Alicia Henry, and Shirin Neshat, who use photographs as well as found and depicted objects to create symbolic connections to the missing and the dead. These memento mori stand in for those who are absent, providing either phantom comfort or pangs of loss and remembrance.
The next section, “Violence, Empathy, and Erasure,” proposes that an artwork’s aura is intensified when it is connected to crime, war, or social injustice. Haunting sculptures, videos, and photographs by artists in this section, including Magdalena Abakanowicz, Ken Gonzales-Day, Deborah Luster, and Doris Salcedo, relate the emotional fallout from the disappearance and presumed murder of individuals and entire groups of people.
In the third section, “Sublimation,” Ross Bleckner, Anish Kapoor, Sally Mann, Teresa Margolles and Ana Mendieta explore themes of transition from human form into primal matter such as stone or ash or into the pure energy of flame or light, all serving as reminders of our ultimate return to the elements.
The exhibition concludes with “The Mind-Body Problem,” featuring artworks by Barry X Ball, Damien Hirst, Shirazeh Houshiary, Elizabeth King, Gerhard Richter, Annelies Štrba and Bill Viola that consider an enduring religious and metaphysical question: Can a spirit or life force exist outside a biological host?