Building Decomposing Bodies: Thinking about interactions with Bertillon Furniture


Building Decomposing Bodies: Thinking about interactions with Bertillon Furniture

In thinking about a possible exhibition on Decomising Bodies, I hope to create an interactive exhibit that recreates the Bertillion furniture.  Visitors could meausure themselves and fill out Berthillon cards for themsevles and their companions, thus transcribing their own bodies into the system of measurement and identification.  This concept has important implications for concepts of the agency. Signalment assumes the "absolute immutablity" of the skekeltal structure of an adult body, the uniquenes of each human subject, and the ability of precise comparative measurement that can transform each subject into a set of data measurements.   As agents, participants would take an active role the creation of this unique trace of their own perons.  However, the trace becomes part of a human archive that effectively transcribes unique beings into data and code.  Furthermore, the dynamic developped between measurer and measured, both following a prescribed set of bodily motions, becomes one of controller and conrolled.   The measured subject become an object of knowledge, while the measurer is placed in a position of authority,  thus physically revealing the power sturcture embedded in concept of measurment for the the participants.

As discussed in the agency meeting, this piece could potentially accompany other interactive systems of measurement, such as a physiongnomtrace or an exhibit on nineteenth-century photography, and thus contribute to a wider exbibtion on the body made legbile thorugh a set of systematic tools, reproductions, and material objects.

Logistically, the furniture is simple and could be recreated by a contractor using a basic set of construction drawings.  This is where my architectural background becomes very useful.  The following components are listed in Signalic Instructions.  The provided dimensions are limted, but using these controlling dimensions and the images provided I could create working drawings for a set of furniture.  Some dimensions will have to be estimated using the infomration given, but I should be able to make an informed decision about the construction of the furniture.  Further research could provide more detailed dimensions.  A times the instructions specify a certain type of wood, and this wood may be hard to come by or expensive today.  For cost and ease of a temporary exhibition, I do not think we need to follow these wood specifications.

1. Stool for measuring the foot

2. Stool for measuring the trunk

3. Trestle for measuring the forearm

4. Square with double projection and handle

6. Backboards for the support of the sheet and the rulers.

There are a series of tools needed, some which could be collected, others constructed:

1. A large sheet, ruled in squares

2. A rigid wooden meter, 1 cm thick and 3 cm wide, graduated in millimeters

3. A rigid wooden half meter, graduated from 0 m 70 to 1 m 20 for seated measurent

5. A grauated double decimetre with a handle

Four metal instruments would be needed to complete the measurement: 

1.A calipher compass (or head calipher) with an arch of a circle graduated from the 12th to the 22nd centimeter.

2. A small calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 10 centimeters,

3. A large calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 60 centimeters.  

4. Scissors

Contemporary versions of these are available, but some product reasearch will need to be done to verify the measuring systems will be compatible.  Scissors are also listed for the cutting of longer nails to acheive a correct measurement, but we may prefer to omit that part!

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Jen, A fantastic idea!  I am

Jen, A fantastic idea!  I am thinking that if we were to showcase the Decomposing Bodies project at a conference/workshop, this would be an amazing experiential component that would really get participants thinking in a very specific way about agency.  It would be wonderful to follow with a discussion of the experience and the insights gained from that experience which could then be integrated into the project.  i.e. how does bodily engagement with the contraption and reenactment of the procedure give us new "data" for analyzing and interpreting it?