Exploring the Guts through Time and Space

Comparative Guts
Colored lithograph by J. Maclise, 1841/1844, depicting the circulatory system and part of the internal organs of a human being (Picture: public domain)

  • International conference in Kiel explores different perceptions of the human body from the Stone Age to today
  • Workshop especially for people with visual impairments offers integrative component
  • Parallel launch of the "Comparative Guts" online exhibition

Sometimes gut feelings can help us make difficult decisions. Sometimes, however, feelings in the guts are medical warning signs. Depending on the context, the inside of our body apparently has different meanings. And: different people perceive their bodies differently. What did people of earlier centuries and millennia know about the inside of their body? What did they associate with it? How does the perception of the inner organs differ between different cultures?

Two events at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel will explore these questions in the coming week: the three-day international conference "Comparative Guts" and the workshop "The Felt Body". While the conference is aimed primarily at a scientific audience, the workshop is aimed specifically at people with visual impairments. Both events were organized by a team around the classical philologist and medical historian. Chiara Thumiger from the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University.

International conference and integrative workshop
During the conference from 7 to 9 June 7 to 9, experts from the historical sciences, archaeology, art history, medical history, anthropology, but also artists will exchange the latest findings in medical history and research on body perception since antiquity.

"At the same time, this topic is ideally suited to include an integrative perspective as well. That is why, together with the art historians Almut Rix and Michaela Wilken, we have expanded the conference programme to include the workshop ‘The Felt Body’. Together with the participants, we want to explore the question of how people with a visual impairment perceive their bodies and especially their organs," explains Chiara Thumiger.

For this, the organisers have invited artists and scientists who will offer a varied five-hour programme. "The approach is multi-sensory, which means that the various activities appeal to the sense of hearing, touch and smell," promises Dr Thumiger.

Launch of the online exhibition "Comparative Guts"
Parallel to the events in the Kunsthalle, the online exhibition "Comparative Guts" will be launched, in the compilation of which not only the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS but also the Kiel University's China Centre and its director Prof. Angelika Messner played a major role. The exhibition shows almost 200 illustrations and photos - from Stone Age rock carvings to textbooks on Chinese medicine and Central American pictorial evidence to modern art performances.

They all also deal with the human and animal internal organs in various forms. "The focus is primarily on the organs located inside the lower torso. They are the ones traditionally associated with nutrition and digestion, but also endowed with emotional, ethical and metaphysical significance, depending on the representation and narrative," says Chiara Thumiger.

30 international experts contributed texts from their respective fields of expertise, which scientifically interpret the images. More than 20 "histories" place the images in different cultural, social, historical or sensory contexts.

"The wide range of visual material on display deliberately aims to avoid a Western or even purely European view. Sensory experience and knowledge of the body, learned anatomy, religious feelings, medical practices, emotions, political sentiments, decorative intentions, art - each of these elements testifies to human reflections on our embodied life, and each is valid in its own way," says Dr Thumiger, summarising the approach of the exhibition, but also of the events at the Kunsthalle in Kiel.


Events at a glance:
Online exhibition „Comparative Guts“

Conference „Comparative Guts“
7 - 9 June 2023
Kunsthalle zu Kiel

Workshop 'The felt body: a multisensory approach' for and with a visually-impaired public
9 June 2023
Kunsthalle zu Kiel

Please register for the conference and the workshop at comparativeguts@gmail.com.


Scientific contact:
Dr. Chiara Thumiger
Cluster of Excellence ROOTS


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions