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Tissue sample: see the human body in paper and dye

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Lisa Nilsson Connective Tissue exhibit
Lisa Nilsson Connective Tissue exhibit

Lisa Nilsson is making bodies. In her latest show, "Connective Tissue," the artist takes the increasingly common image of an MRI-like cross-section of a human body and recreates it with swirls of tightly wound paper under glass. Most of the images come from the Visible Human project, a research database maintained by the National Library of Medicine, along with some 19th century medical texts — so everything you see here is anatomically accurate, and each body once belonged to a living person.

The technique is called quilling, an old method for turning small strips of paper into visually striking coils. Nilsson says the key is how the coiled paper flows into all the available space. "Coils can conform to completely fill a space or cavity," Nilsson says, just like organs inside a body. The material itself is Japanese mulberry paper, mixed like paint to get the perfect color for each body part, ranging from pink-gray brain to deep-red muscle. The result feels both fleshy and surreal, a combination of dainty craft and the messiness of the human machine.

Lisa Nilsson's "Connective Tissue"


For anatomical work, Nilsson limits herself to 12 different colors, introducing other tones only sparingly.