Funded by the Scottish Arts Council and the Lottery Legacy Trust, this touring exhibition is part of the Cultural Olympiad which accompanies the 2012 London Olympic Games. In conjunction with the exhibition – which includes material from several Scottish collections exploring and illustrating the development of sports medicine – a series of free talks, evening lectures, workshops and other events have been scheduled at Dundee University throughout the autumn.
Human Race, formally opened by Olympic torch-bearer Ronnie McIntosh, includes a fascinating array of archive material and diagnostic and surgical apparatus used in sports medicine since the 19th century. It charts the development of sports regimes over the centuries, from the ancient philosopher, Epictetus, who exhorted athletes to “do everything according to rule, eat according to strict orders, abstain from delicacies, exercise yourself”, to the 18th century “four humours” advice to balance diet, exercise and medication, and on to still more modern guidance. Included too is amodern reproduction of a Victorian poster depicting the champion Scottish athlete, Donald Dinnie, attributing his success to the consumption of “Barrs Iron Brew”!
Specially commissioned poems by award-winning poet, Kona MacPhee, also feature. Her poems insert a reflective note to the exhibition’s preoccupation with science and are integrated into the exhibition in imaginative ways: “The Blind Hillwalker” is printed on a walkable surface and “mounted” on the floor. Other poems are printed on banners or placed alongside apparatus used by medical pioneers. “George Pirie’s Hands” is particularly poignant, as the poem sensitively evokes the damage done to Pirie’s body over many years of experimentation in radiology.
Video and sound installations by artist Catherine Street explore the concept of ‘flow’, the state of heightened concentration and consciousness experienced by athletes at moments of peak performance. Unfortunately, the canned muzak in the ISE foyer makes it difficult to hear the sound recordings and might detract from these installations by impeding concentration and focus.
Several large-scale anatomical charts describing the mechanics of muscle movement are on display. These diagrams were used in medical lectures to enhance students’ understanding of the body’s motor function. The body in movement is also explored in a series of wall charts showing how photography has been used to capture images of high-speed sporting activity. This includes an example of Edweard Muybridge’s studies which showed for the first time how the body actually appears in motion.
There is an interesting section dedicated to technological advances in prosthetics for athletes with disabilities, including an example of a running ‘blade’ for athletes with below-knee amputations and the ‘Bartlett tendon’, which enables above-knee amputees to take part in cycling events.
Dress is considered too. A large-scale reproduction of a photograph taken in the 1840s shows ‘Mr Laing,’ a tennis player, who looks surprisingly modern in his Breton striped pullover and light trousers. No such comfort was afforded early women athletes: images from the 19th century show the movement of golf and tennis players restricted by corsets, bustles and precariously fixed hats. The exhibition charts the development of functional sportswear for women, often regarded in its time as daring or provocative.
Sports treatments, too, are well documented. A selection of diagnostic and rehabilitation apparatus speak to how treatments developed. Among the heart monitors, peak flow meters, heat lamps and splints on display, there are oddities: the Macaura Blood Circulator, circa 1910, claimed to cure ‘deafness, anaemia, heart disease, cramp and polio’, even if the device was acknowledged as no defence against cancer, tuberculosis and baldness.
Though the treatment of sports injuries can be recorded as far back as Galen (129 – 216 AD) , Sport and Exercise Medicine was not officially recognised by the UK Government as a medical specialty until 2005. Human Race gives us a comprehensive and instructive history of its development and importance in sport today.