All forms fleshly – or at least humanly so – range across the walls of the Hunterian this month with the opening of a new collaborative exhibition, Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, which explores the notions of embodiment, materiality and exposure in the lived – and otherwise – experience of our bodies.

Bringing together objects from the permanent collection of the Hunterian with artworks from the David and Indre Roberts Collection, itself part of the Roberts Institute of Art which was originally set up as a platform for artistic experimentation and research, the exhibition is a juxtaposition of art and science, of physical and ephemeral, of knowledge and imagination, of known and implied, of lived experience in the face of mortality.

Bringing together the two art collections, both founded on very different principles – although both founded to foster innovation in their own spheres – was a fascinating thing, co-curators Ned McConnell (RIA) and Dominic Paterson (Hunterian) tell me.

“It was quite an organic process, really, looking at the two collections, finding objects that were interesting in the other’s collection, then developing a theme and a framework. We were really interested in what the collections would bring out of each other,” says McConnell.

The diversity of artists and their approach to the body, to the soul and its representation, is compelling, from Jimmie Durham to Christine Borland, Ilana Halperin to Robert Rauschenberg, Miriam Cahn to Eduardo Paolozzi and Dahn Vo. And yet backing it all, the anchor, perhaps, are the Hunterian’s historic collections of anatomical drawings and models - the springboard, in a way, for this reassessment of the body in all its guises.

The Hunterian’s collection is founded in the Enlightenment, its founding objects frequently medical in nature, a racking up of body parts preserved in jars, of diagrams and illustrations, of the visual representation of an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

There is a certain legacy, too, both historical and ethical, addressed not least in the diversity of the artists involved.

If the academic, purposeful nature of historic anatomical models and illustrations might seem a concrete look at the body, it is contrasted here with a more nebulous, increasingly abstracted idea of the body in more contemporary works, although early anatomical modellers, in both thinking artistically and didactically, sometimes performed their own abstraction of a more practical nature, displacing a limb to more efficiently show a series of tendons, or artfully, guilefully, posing a body whose sole function was, for example, the informative display of the venous system.

“We’re creating an artistic lens through which to see some of what we’ve got,” says Paterson, pointing me to an example of a 16th century painting of a dissected male body which is put in the context of the feminist work of Miriam Cahn.

“Something about a lot of anatomical works relies on the idea that you gain knowledge from the dead body, that you see life through them,” says McConnell. The exhibition aims to show the variety of ways that artists bring the body to life, relate it to their own moment in time, whether that’s political or philosophical. “There is something in it about being animate and aware of the variety of experiences that the human body goes through.”

“It’s been quite an intuitive installation,” says McConnell, speaking to me with Paterson from the gallery floor at the Hunterian, mid-installation, surrounded by historic xrays and contemporary sculptures, when I ask him if the hang is the result of meticulous planning or a more organic process on the floor. “We’ve spent two full days so far looking at the works, moving them around, testing ideas and connections.

“Some of it, due to the nature of the work, we had to plan out ahead of time. But that idea of intuition, particularly with works that are about the body, is fundamental I think.”

He tells me they have just hung a Jimmie Durham – the late American artist who was strongly involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, whose works are sculptural constructions, next to one of Eduardo Paolozzi’s man-machine collages. “I didn’t see that one coming!” laughs McConnell.

Huma Bhabha’s (Pakistan) work What is Love is a figurative construction of styrofoam and cork, “It’s sculpture as totemic figure,” says McConnell. “And it’s of a scale to bring in a real human presence to the space. You feel someone is in the room, not just a thing.”

Elsewhere, eerily, Christine Borland’s Sim Woman presents the parallel humanoid world of the medical mannequin, a simulacra of life given disturbingly humanoid “life” by the artist, a strange Frankenstein construction, and not least as the company supplying mannequins does not make a female one, and so Borland made wax casts of herself, overlaid on the male model. Throughout, a range of bodily experiences, of spiritual beliefs made visible through the body, of bodies exposed to external forces, and to the weight of history.

It is, as McConnell puts it when assessing the effect of the combination of the two collections, the historical alongside the contemporary, “definitely a case that more than sum of its parts.”

Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 0141 330 4221,, Until 3 April, Tues - Sun, 10am - 5pm

Critic's Choice

Whilst the ground beneath our feet is not as thick with iron as all the rusting nails and horseshoes turned up on digging it over might suppose, the iron core of our planet weights us like a giant cannonball, its mantle a hotbed of iron ore that humans only really got to grips with some four thousand years ago, when the first ore was smelted and the Iron Age began. From mediaeval refinement of the smelting process, to the darkness of iron and steel that is synonymous with the Industrial Revolution, iron is a part of our history, our physical world and also the life-stuff of our blood and of the plant and animal life around us. And so it is here, in an exhibition organised by Gordon Munro, lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art and Assistant Director and co-founder of Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, who has long been fascinated with the physical and conceptual role of iron in our world.

Artists involved in this fascinating exhibition come not only from Scotland, but Poland and Romania, the idea for the exhibition cemented after a week-long iron-casting workshop at The Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland, run by artists Michał Staszczak and Paweł Czekański – both exhibiting in Scotland here for the first time - which Munro and colleague Ewan Robertson undertook with students at ECA.

The diversity of approaches is key, here, from the breeze-blocked geometries of Munro's Ark to Czekański's absurdist constructs that are conversely informed by his interest in the flexibility of iron as a material itself. Elsewhere Clare Flatley uses iron oxides in her spherical ceramic Planetary Bodies, alluding – amongst other things - to those very planetary cores that keep worlds like ours anchored in our own particular corner of the cosmos, alongside Oana Stanciu's surrealist self-portraits of the artist as the casting process, and Rachel Nolan's sculptural, spacey photographs.

Iron: Translating Territories, Royal Scottish Academy Building (Lower Galleries), The Mound, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6110 Until Feb 6, Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun, 12pm – 5pm. Also online

Don't Miss

The Scottish Ornithologists' Club at Aberlady in East Lothian begins its 2022 programme with this mixed show from Scottish members of the British Tapestry Group. With an emphasis on the natural world – and a lovely view out on a quiet corner of the coastal landscape from the main gallery - these are works in all manner of tapestry media, from traditional to 3D, landscape to abstract, the exhibition itself conceived as a “woven tribute” to Nature.

To the Waters and the Wild, Scottish Ornithologists' Club, Waterson House, Aberlady, 01875 871 330, Until 28 Feb, Weds - Sun, 10am - 4pm