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Process: Plastinates

Aug 16, 2011

by BlindGracePictures

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I got the call from Etsy in early winter, just a month after my big move from my hometown of New York City to Berlin: “Can you make a piece about an Etsy craftsman who lives and works in Mainburg, Germany?”

Mainburg is deep in Southern Bavaria, about a 5 hour train ride from Berlin.

“His name is Dr. Christoph von Horst and he makes plastinates.”

At the time I was feeling quite sick from what I thought was the flu, and initially I didn’t really feel up to making the trip. But when I learned what plastinates are – thin translucent cross-sections of preserved animals, lovingly crafted and embedded in lucite for medical research use, anatomical instruction, and as art pieces – I was fascinated. I agreed to take on the project.

When I met Christoph he first took me on a tour of his workshop, accompanied by his friend Dottie the sheep, who loves to follow him wherever he goes. (He assured me she would never become a plastinate.) As he went through the various steps in the creation of a plastinate – in this case, a fish – he described his background in veterinary medicine (which he still practices today), his love of nature, and his ardent fascination with anatomy. He conveyed a deep-felt sense of awe at the inspiring complexity of all living things and how making plastinates was his method of being able to convey this complexity – and perhaps awe – in a visual and compelling way.

On the second day of filming, what I had thought was the flu turned out to be something much worse: a 50% drop in my red blood cell count caused by slow internal bleeding from the esophagus (a long story and a condition that is now corrected). I almost fainted on the spot. With his medical training, Christoph sprang into action and called his next-door neighbor, who just happened to be the town’s paramedic.

Loaded up on antibiotics and lots of homemade tea, I  was able to complete the shoot. Despite my illness, as well as the cold and the rain, I’m glad I went.

Plastinates are, as Christoph described to me, “linked to death, but they give insight to life.” Simply put, they are instructional art/science pieces, meditations on mortality, and visual tributes to the beauty of life in all its myriad forms.

Dr. Christoph van Horst is a certified veterinarian and the founder of HC Biovision, Institute for Anatomical Demonstration.

Adam Cohen is a New York City-born film/videomaker whose work has been exhibited in festivals, galleries, and museums around the world. You can find out what he’s currently working on at www.blindgrace.com.

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46 comments

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 8 years ago

    Wow! Very different, but very interesting! First time I have heard of this! I love the part about this gentleman having a sheep for a pet! Glad you got better from your illness as well (sounded pretty serious)! Thanks for this article, always good to read and learn about new things! All the best!

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 said 8 years ago

    The intricacies of living things is far beyond anything we can ever build...an iPhone might be pretty friggin' cool, but this shows there is a far greater force capable of creating incredible organisms.

  • hawthornehill

    hawthornehill said 8 years ago

    Very interesting.....so unusual. Can creep you out, but then you look at the beauty beneath. Love the fish.

  • dinafragola

    dinafragola said 8 years ago

    Sorry but ewwwww ;)

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 8 years ago

    Amazing!

  • blainedesign

    blainedesign said 8 years ago

    I think the real story in this is how you got through your illness, Adam. Lucky thing Dr. von Horst didn't plastinate you while you were out!

  • reflectionsjewelry

    reflectionsjewelry said 8 years ago

    Quite striking really. And anatomy is amazing, the complexity of design is simply astounding.

  • BingoBox

    BingoBox said 8 years ago

    Beautiful & amazing !

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 8 years ago

    Kinda creepy but interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  • hoganfe

    hoganfe said 8 years ago

    Interesting & unique!

  • sincerelyyourslauren

    sincerelyyourslauren said 8 years ago

    Wonderful and so interesting, love nature.

  • Leah1968

    Leah1968 said 8 years ago

    amazing!

  • AlphaSoupPhotography

    AlphaSoupPhotography said 8 years ago

    Amazing! definately bookmarked

  • ninetrial

    ninetrial said 8 years ago

    Incredible! I would have never thought to search Etsy for something like this, but I'm definitely adding it to my favorites. What a reminder of how remarkable life is. I remember feeling the same way in a biology class long ago - thanks for the reminder!

  • Slowshirts

    Slowshirts said 8 years ago

    Wow Wow Wow. Reminds me of the bodies exhibit. Gorgeous colors.

  • nicolesweavingart

    nicolesweavingart said 8 years ago

    Awwww, poor rattie!

  • btaylorquilts

    btaylorquilts said 8 years ago

    Oh, I love this! It's an amazing thing to be able to see a slice inside. Better than dissection in school, because you could just pass one of these around instead of taking out 40 frogs!

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 8 years ago

    I'm glad you went too!! Very cool!

  • sparrowgrey

    sparrowgrey said 8 years ago

    Very unique and intriguing!

  • rozzie

    rozzie said 8 years ago

    Incredible! I wish to see them in real life! - life captured in motion.

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage said 8 years ago

    absolutely amazing!!!

  • tarikyousef

    tarikyousef said 8 years ago

    Simply amazing work! Reminds me of when a customer asks me about certain characteristics on a piece of wood, I love to explain how the tree grew and what caused each little detail in the grain to become what it is.

  • LeobellaBoutique

    LeobellaBoutique said 8 years ago

    Fascinating work. Somehow disturbing yet intriguing.

  • wiosnachamow

    wiosnachamow said 8 years ago

    Very controversial works - visually fascinating, but still, a piece of nature had to be killed, or maybe - sacrified - to do this. I liked how the interview is shot in the sunny field, and the shots of the doctors workshop are really darker, suggesting that something strange and hidden is taking place.

  • DDubPhotog

    DDubPhotog said 8 years ago

    Very cool. Similar to BodyWorlds. See it if you can. http://www.bodyworlds.com/en.html

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 8 years ago

    Amazing, interesting, beautiful!

  • fbstudiovt

    fbstudiovt said 8 years ago

    My ex donated his body to be plastinated after he dies. While I respect his choice, this gave me a new perspective on his dedication to the process.

  • cindylouwho2

    cindylouwho2 said 8 years ago

    love this article! the process makes it so much easier to teach anatomy, with this level of cross-section preservation

  • NotYourGrandmothers

    NotYourGrandmothers said 8 years ago

    Yes, so beautiful, your interview and video with von Horst is both touching and, I felt, appropriately handled what some/many feel is a sensitive subject by giving us insight to the process and sensitivities of the maker...

  • EcoFoto

    EcoFoto said 8 years ago

    That picture is amazing!

  • DaisyPatchwork

    DaisyPatchwork said 8 years ago

    Fascinating.

  • TNShopthailand

    TNShopthailand said 8 years ago

    Beautiful & Amazing ! Like idea.

  • kararane

    kararane said 8 years ago

    surreal beauty. truly an artist. the structure-nature- is there but it is being revealed in an aesthetic and profound way. thank You Dr. Christophe~

  • shizendesigns

    shizendesigns said 8 years ago

    Plastination - what an amazing process!

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the intro to this process. Beautiful. Adam - glad you're better.

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 8 years ago

    I wish we would have had something like this in high school, maybe we wouldnt have had to disect those poor frogs!

  • NecessiTees

    NecessiTees said 8 years ago

    Life and death all in one piece. That's incredible. Very interesting process!

  • NaturalPetProducts

    NaturalPetProducts said 8 years ago

    Awesome, never seen or heard of this before. Thank you for sharing!

  • SweetiePieCollars

    SweetiePieCollars said 8 years ago

    Wow, how much easier would it be to have had these to learn about organs and animals in school? Reminds me of that "Bodies" exhibit that tours around with slices of human bodies. Fascinating!

  • metalicious

    metalicious said 8 years ago

    Fascinating work! And so glad you are feeling better, too.

  • slipperyreef

    slipperyreef said 8 years ago

    very cool, ithink the head on view of owl would be intersting....just thought id give you a suggestion...but really....beautiful and original

  • charlynw

    charlynw said 8 years ago

    Fascinating and amazing all at the same time!!!! Thanks for this brilliant post! :)

  • WoodentItBeNice

    WoodentItBeNice said 8 years ago

    A little to "out there" for me but I love the idea around the concept

  • CreativityHappens

    CreativityHappens said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the lesson :)

  • BoneLust

    BoneLust said 8 years ago

    Wonderful! I've had my eye on his fantastic work for some time now. I'd love to intern under him. So excited about this video!

  • geminipie

    geminipie said 8 years ago

    Beautiful and so finely crafted. An amazing combination of science and art!

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