Socket Art and Prostheses Art as Obsession - the amputated limb and its prosthetic replacement as Permanent Canvas Shape for an exhibition called Spare Parts 2012 [freak show corner]

Currently, an exhibiton titled "Spare Parts 2012" that exhibits prosthetic limb related artwork in London draws interest and its creator, Priscilla Sutton, claims it has a positive vibe.

Does the 'Spare Parts' exhibition 2012 have a positive vibe, really?

The Normal

It is widely established that art requires taste, if possible bad taste at the very least, but better better good taste.

Starting from the angle that every amputee faces, prosthetic limbs convey a certain message. Modifying the looks of the prosthetic limb modifies that message. Generally, how it looks what one wears conveys a message. More generally, what one does conveys a message as well.


There are a number of indicators here that help level the terrain:

  • Prosthetic limbs usually are naturally colored and textured - they look like the material they were made from, point blank. If not that, they are then covered using some color and material to convey similarity to the wearer's skin color.
  • Decorating realistic or minimalist items with patterns or structures may particularly come across as art and thus, realistic or minimal color or surface modification are at the core of most prosthetic decorative art.
  • Ornaments, however, were partly discredited once in art history and other expressions were found to be more authentic, pleasing, or controversial (see discussion about Albert Loos). Many people like them, however, and so some prosthetic art sold contains geometric patterns.
  • Conversely, logos, emblems, labels or stickers are not as elaborate. Expressing otherwise invisible aspects of an object may even enhance perception of added authenticity - such as branding a prosthetic arm with the label "Ultra Arm", spray painting flames on it, or the like. For prosthetic limbs, extra care is needed as they negotiate a fine line between disgust caused by exposing naked disability, and disgust caused by exposing an awkwardly made prosthetic limb.
  • There are known issues surrounding this: the Uncanny Valley thus has practical implications of an order of magnitude that people outside the upper extremity amputee community usually fail to consciously acknowledge.

So, too much realism when performing body part replication can be counter-productive when trying to achieve beauty, art or attractive appearances.

When addressing this, we are dealing with the everyday stress of amputees, trying to work through negotiating social status - cool, uncool, disabled, enabled.

The Naive

Painting flowers onto a prosthetic socket comes across as rather naive.

The Professional

Professional surface specialists that design and customize delicate surface items will consider durability, haptics, effect on other people.

A prosthesis is a delicate surface in many aspects. It represents a new interface to the world. It attracts attention and dis-spells aspects of the disability. That is, if done right. It is nice to touch. It is easy to clean. The properties that some industrial coatings offer can approach these requirements.

Priscilla Sutton and her artists are far away from such concerns.

The Obsessed

And while most of us limit our attention to what we need - in terms of our own prosthetic limbs - and while we peek at what others do, rarely, there are people that have no limits in their obsessions. One is Priscilla Sutton who, as it appears, projects all of her and associates' fantasies on one shape and one shape only: that of a prosthetic limb.

For that purpose, she gets artists to decorate old prosthetic limbs. Projecting all of her ideas onto prosthetic limbs is what characterizes Priscilla Sutton. She appears to be a woman who elected to have her lower leg amputated in 2005, and within the period of a few years, started to focus all of her artist projections onto artificial limbs with a first Brisbane exhibition in 2010 and a London exhibition in 2012.

Her art interest has indeed taken on a momentum on its own.

The art itself - decorating epoxy surfaces - is not in any way peculiar. The only difference to other art is that all of it is projected and delivered on what were smelly, used up, old prosthetic limbs, all of which appeared to have been skin colored - a concession mostly related to the social fears and sorrows, pain and suffering of their users and the users' friends, families, coworkers or clients. Skin color is used to conceal limb loss to at least a certain degree.

In fact, limb loss comes with a hefty tag attached to it - there are serious emotional reactions. At least normally. Maybe a lack of the normally (available ups and downs that amputees that don't dash forward into the decision of amputation out of an otherwise mostly normal life ) helps to really understand this fact. It seems that Priscilla Sutton, however, is extremely overjoyed and pleased with herself here - listen to an interview. She keels over at the fact she is even getting prosthetic hooks, which she finds "fantastic".

Her scheme appears to be to solicit spare and unused limbs from amputees. Rather than sending them to charity organizations, she has them decorated or painted by artists that she befriends and who then sell the artwork for prices ranging from over 100$ to 2200$. She tells people her art is about creating positive conversation and claims to have what she calls "great empathy for the amputee community" when, in fact, however, the items are up for sale and criticism is violently rejected rather than reflected in any way.

The items themselves, mostly, are interesting. It would be nice to get artists to routinely paint not only walls or coffee cups but also prosthetic limbs.  It would be acceptable to see one or two new design ideas every year.

What makes prostheses and amputated limbs peculiar: the bodily reaction, repulsion, disgust and nausea as part of intended effects

If one uses a removed body part or prosthetic limb as canvas, the question is - why. What makes a prosthetic limb or an amputated limb so peculiar?

While that is strikingly obvious to most, it is not to some and we are now faced with the problem to explain this to those that don't get it.

Prosthetic limbs, particularly those with a life like look about them, but also the whole subject of amputation is one that exploits these moments quite specifically:

  • pain
  • loss
  • grief
  • shock
  • body mutilation
  • disability
  • outcast
  • stigma
  • loss of family
  • loss of friends
  • loss of activities
  • financial problems
  • other health problems

These are explicitly and clearly subjects that come with the choice of canvas of a prosthetic limb.

Was that not the case, we'd see conventional canvases.

But there are no conventional canvases in that show and so we cannot but stare at the obvious – this type of artwork clearly steers deep into the shock zone. Without verbally or conceptually addressing that fact. And without any respect or cautionary procedure (in case there is offense).

Wider context

Let us look at the wider context here. According to Shop Curious'article about dismembered body part art, dismembered body parts and anatomical models of diseased bodies are now popular in art and design. They explain that while plastic surgery is relatively new, the voyeuristic desire to see freak show style exhibits appears to be a long history. Man’s urge to travel, especially as part of a ‘Grand Tour’, and to discover and categorize natural curiosities generated a particular interest in the variety of human forms, along with hitherto unencountered diseases and deformities. By Victorian times, a visit to a freak show, often associated with a travelling circus, was quite common.

It is in that context that also, lamps made like prosthetic legs were made:

(C) Copyright Alex Randall

Can anyone fool around with body parts and lookalikes?

In principle, it appears that anyone is allowed to fool around with body parts and lookalikes alike.

However, choosing a canvas for art in the shape and appearance of amputated limbs or prostheses clearly targets the offense taken, the taboo attached, to these instances.

And in fact, bodies and body parts were not always free for anyone to just fool around with, as it is being done in context of the Spare Parts 2012 exhibition. In fact, bodies - in earlier times - had to be released by the king or by judges. Clearly, offending people by freak displays was not always as popular as it seems to be today.


The Tasteless

And then, there is the torn off border, that event horizon, the inexcusable, from which there is no return on different levels as beyond that lies the utterly tasteless.

Mike Leavitt hand mouse

Let's look at the Hand mouse which Priscilla Sutton features as part of her exhilarating and postive vibe sendingest exhibition, and that she, as a design, promotes and defends. It appears that it has been created in the laboratories of Mike Leavitt [fb] who cranks up artwork such as this as part of "Intuition Kitchen Productions".

My initial reaction was violent.

I saw that and I immediately got a burst of phantom pain. Yes, I, too, get synaesthetic pain.

Surely, "great empathy with the amputee community" which has been suggested as motive by the curator (or common sense) could have prevented that. So, that was that.

What are adequate titles to such "artwork"?

Chopped off body parts, prized body parts, results of mutilation do not summarize as cool anymore, but as Freak Show.

This tasteless item exposes the whole show as what it probably is: there is no empathy or support.

We are obviously dealing with a fetish, an obsession.

The lack of empathy that is necessary to present arm amputees with what looks like their chopped off hand as a computer mouse and defending that as "cause for positive dialog" matches the attempt of of psychiatric patients or devotees in trying to justify their ideals - while none of what they do is acceptable taste any more.

What is it about white people, and their obsession with showing off as predators? Is a leg amputee saved from her stigma by surrendering her visitors a chopped of hand instead? In what cultural context are such offerings?

The Context of Tasteless

Dead mouse as computer mouse

(C) Copyright Alan Parkekh

There are instructions on how to make a dead mouse function as computer mouse. The text added to Canida's procedure includes these lines: "Keep in mind that this mouse isn't meant for heavy-duty computer use- it's a functional work of art, and should be saved for stylish installations and special occasions. Using the Mouse Mouse on a daily basis will likely cause shedding (the mouse) and RSI (your wrists), so we really can't advise it. Of course, it's Really Damn Cool- every nerd who's any nerd should have one!"

We can derive from this that absolutely no concerns in terms of empathy or respect appear to apply. Instead, an egocentric fetish of the absolutely bizarre is put into the center.

That is the context in which these artworks take place.

Body parts for halloween or freak display

Clearly, chopped off body parts and prosthetic art is used to scare people. Not for support of the disabled or injured at all, but to scare people.

The Abandoned

So without surprise we find that yet another public display of obsessive canvasing focuses on a non empathic shock aspect of body part art.

There are no ratings of the Spare Parts 2012 exhibitions by amputees on any larger scale. No amputees test these designs. No amputees vote on these designs or works. No artists that are recruited routinely offer artwork for amputees. It does appear that the curator's extreme focus on projecting all of her identity and art onto old prosthetic limbs stands alone.

Interestingly, it is sponsored by Ossur. Just as Otto Bock sponsored Gerhard Aba, Ossur sponsors Spare Parts 2012. The fetish supporters.

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Socket Art and Prostheses Art as Obsession - the amputated limb and its prosthetic replacement as Permanent Canvas Shape for an exhibition called Spare Parts 2012 [freak show corner]; published 30/07/2012, 13:33; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1656513641, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Socket Art and Prostheses Art as Obsession - the amputated limb and its prosthetic replacement as Permanent Canvas Shape for an exhibition called Spare Parts 2012 [freak show corner]}}, month = {July}, year = {2012}, url = {} }