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.