with my eyes closed: imaginary midline

Ian Gibbins

Originally exhibited as part of Not Absolute by Catherine Truman, Ian Gibbins, Judy Morris, Gabriella Bisetto, Rachel Burgess and Vicki Clifton, curated by Janice Lally, Flinders University City Gallery, Adelaide, South Australia,
24 July – 27 September 2009.

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When I am teaching human anatomy, whose body am I describing? The preserved specimen before me? My own? Those of the students? Their future patients? Or an ideal archetype, described and illustrated in books and charts?

Not Absolute was a collaborative exhibition by group of artists and scientists that explored how we understand the human body. It included video and audio installations, drawings, photographs, and a diverse collection of made objects.
At the time, I was Professor of Anatomy at Flinders University and was teaching a large amount of human anatomy to medical students, science students, and, sometimes, artists. The teaching materials included dissected parts of real human bodies (specifically donated for this purpose), plastic models, radiographic images, and various styles of diagrams. During a conversation with an artist, I mentioned that I knew the structure of the body so well, I could probably teach it with my eyes closed, and that gave us the title of this work.
We had begun recording parts of the anatomy classes so the students could go back to them and revise things they’d missed. Once, I forgot to turn off the audio recorder, and ended up with about 40 minutes of ambient sound from the class, including comments from the students. This ended up being the basis of the audio in the videos. We had also started to video stream the classes but the technology failed repeatedly, so at least some of the visuals are inspired by that!
with my eyes closed: imaginary midline is based on an anatomy class about the muscles of the forearm which move the wrist and fingers. They are complicated and understanding them on the basis of a single class is too much to expect of even the best students. So they need to come back, revise, ask questions, revise again. The “midline” is a virtual axis that divides the body (or a part of it, such as the hand) into its left and right sides, sometimes showing symmetry, sometimes not. In the hand, the imaginary midline runs through the middle finger and defines the naming of the movements of the fingers.
In the exhibition, there were three video installations running simultaneously which together comprised the with my eyes closed element of the exhibition. One video was projected on a large screen and two ran on monitors. I also made two audio installations to accompany work by Catherine Truman and Judy Morris. All the audio was set to the same fundamental pitch and all had the same underlying rhythmic pulse. However, each audio track was a slightly different length.
As the audio looped in the gallery, the overall sound environment constantly changed, with the ten channels complementing rather than fighting each other.
Original photography for with my eyes closed was mostly by me, with Judy Morris taking the photographs of my arms and hands. The videos themselves were initially animated in Photoshop and Powerpoint before being edited in Final Cut. Although I had made a couple of videos for teaching, this was the first time I’d done anything like this creatively!


Poet, video artist, electronic musician, Ian Gibbins is a widely published poet in-print and on-line, working across diverse styles and media, including video, web-animation, electronic music, performance, and public installations. He has produced four collections of poetry with his poetry short-listed for many national prizes and selected for several anthologies. Ian has collaborated regularly with artists on projects bridging art and science, culminating in innovative full-scale exhibitions. His videos have been shown at festivals internationally and have won or been short-listed for multiple international awards. His poetry, audio and video work has been commissioned for prominent public art programs.

Ian volunteers extensively to support the Adelaide poetry scene and helps run the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. Until his retirement in 2014, Ian was an internationally recognised neuroscientist and Professor of Anatomy at Flinders University, South Australia, having originally trained as a zoologist. He was head of department, ran a large laboratory, and managed the University’s central advanced microscopy facility. He won numerous awards for his research, teaching and curriculum development, and communicating science to the public, including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Göteborg, Sweden, and Emeritus Professorship from Flinders.