From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Body as an Industrial Palace

Man's internal machinery




Several years ago, I came across an interesting old illustration on the National Institute of Health (NIH) website. It shows the human body as a factory -- literally, as an "industrial palace." I saved the image because I liked it, and then I quickly forgot about it.

Tonight, I came across the "Industrial Palace" again, and looked at it a little differently, due to my recent (small) study of the modernistic architecture of the early and middle 20th century.

Here are the details of this piece of art, according to the NIH:

Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace)by Fritz Kahn (1888-1968)Stuttgart, 1926. Chromolithograph. National Library of Medicine.Kahn’s modernist visualization of the digestive and respiratory system as "industrial palace," really a chemical plant, was conceived in a period when the German chemical industry was the world’s most advanced.

Source: Dreaming the Industrial Body

It seems that, in the 1920s and 1930s, people were extremely excited about machines. It was the Machine Age. The assembly line had been invented, enabling many people to own personal machines -- automobiles. High speed travel was possible via big ocean liners and streamlined trains. Electricity, produced by generators and turbines, was transforming everyday life. Mechanized factories were churning out many new, inexpensive consumer goods. Machines even made it possible for people to fly.

I've been reading that modernists thought of schools as machines for learning, houses as machines for living, and hospitals as machines for healing. Designed for speed and efficiency, the architecture sometimes seemed cold. Unnecessary frills were stripped away, and the design was streamlined just as a train or an airplane might have been. This was modern!

Given all that, it's not too surprising to see the human body portrayed as a factory, in a drawing from 1926. Fritz Kahn, a doctor, was just creating a bit of modernistic medical art.

2 comments:

ptg said...

I suppose the metaphor could be useful, but those little human workers in there are vaguely disturbing.

Genevieve said...

It would be a cool poster to hang up in an elementary school classroom while studying some system of internal organs.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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