Skip to main content

Phantom Bodies
The Human Aura in Art

Editor(s): Mark W. Scala

People often feel the presence of someone when no one is there. This may be a way of embodying the fear of the unknown, the ghost under the bed. It may be a near-palpable memory of an absent person, triggered by an article of clothing, a photograph, a scent, an old recording. And it can at rare times be a feeling of immanence, of being close to spirit or divinity. Regardless of the source, the sense of presence-in-absence reinforces a need—which seems hard-wired into the psyche—to experience a human essence outside the body.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalog include artworks that indicate such presences through surrogates: shadows, imprints, or masks; objects as memento mori, or as other matter or energy. The title is derived from the phenomenon known as the phantom limb syndrome. Those experiencing this have lost some part of their bodies but feel it to be still present. While it is a source of sensation and frequently pain, the phantom limb here symbolizes the weight of absence, the longing to fill the spaces that accrue through life.

Phantom Bodies includes works by artists who create the perception of a human aura through the use of material traces, shadow and light, or the sublimation of the body into other forms of matter and energy. Palpably felt yet invisible, the phantom limb of the title is here an analogy for absent persons whose vestiges link memory, consciousness, and the concept of the soul.

Artists in the exhibition include Magdalena Abakanowicz, Barry X Ball, Christian Boltanski, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Adam Fuss, Ken Gonzalez-Day, Alicia Henry, Damien Hirst, Shirazeh Houshiary, Anish Kapoor, Elizabeth King, Deborah Luster, Sally Mann, Teresa Margolles, Ana Mendieta, Shirin Neshat, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo, Annelies Štrba, and Bill Viola.

The catalog contains color plates accompanied by illustrated essays by Martha Buskirk, Lisa Saltzman, and Eleanor Heartney; an introduction by Mark W. Scala; and a foreword by Susan H. Edwards.


Biography of Editor(s)

Mark W. Scala, Chief Curator at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, is the editor of Paint Made Flesh and Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination, also available from Vanderbilt University Press.