X-Ray Specs

The creative possibilities of X-Ray Imaging Technology

A Collaborative Project between the School of Arts & Media and the School of Health Sciences.

Reported by  Brendan Fletcher, Programme Leader, BA (Hons) Visual Arts

The project brings together undergraduates from Visual Arts and Radiography to explore the creative possibilities of X-Ray Imaging Technology.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/golanlevin/19297102195X-Ray Specs was the name of a celebrated punk rock band in the late 1970’s fronted by the late, great Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said).  They had a major hit with the single Germ Free Adolescence.  The band’s name was a nod to the joke shop novelty spectacles that featured in so many US and UK comic strips of the day.  X-Ray Specs offered the opportunity to engage in subversive and comic fun using the appliance of scientific imaging technology.

The students who have participated and engaged in this collaborative project have given themselves permission to play with the creative possibilities of seeing beyond the surface and rather than be confined by the strict utilitarian and medical function of the technology, they too have found fresh purpose in the subversive potential of the X-Ray.  This has thrown up some surprising and fascinating results.

Art and X-Ray technology are not strangers.  Art historians have for many years drawn upon the X-Ray to peer beneath the surface of a painting and discover the secrets of great works.  It has assisted the dating, attribution, structure and the pentimenti (the changes and alterations made during the course of the making of a painting by the hand of the artist).

girl mirror

More recently, a number of artists have begun to play with the technology for its own creative ends, including the celebrated enfant-terrible of Belgian art, Wim Delvoye. (can you see the barium enema in the stained glass window?).


The students here have placed a number of inanimate and organic objects under X-Ray to explore and play with the possibilities with fascinating results.  It’s intriguing to note that the branded corporate identity of the Apple Inc., so fiercely protected, survives even the scrutiny of the X-Ray.

A book placed under the X-Ray beam produces a tabula rasa on which we can write our own scripts (below left) and hints at a kind of abstract sublime that one finds in the paintings of the great abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko.


A simple vegetable, a cabbage, creates a new kind of still-life, with all the echoes of history.  It puts one in mind of the great Still life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber by Sanchez Cotan, c. 1602.

An umbrella reveals its simple structural skeleton and produces an image that owes much to the pioneers of Modernist abstraction.

Dinosuar Resized 1
A children’s toy uncovers more than just the internal workings and places us all back in our childhood with our sense of wonder restored (students’ work)

A sheep’s skull references the Memento Mori and Vanitas traditions of art history.  The work has echoes of the work of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings from the Mexican desert in the early 20th century.

X-ray image sheep’s skull, post-processed, students’ work

The X-Ray project has been a trial project during trimester 2 of this academic year.  The results are exploratory and experimental.  The works are works ‘in-progress’ rather than completed resolved art works.  And yet display vividly the potential for further collaboration between the two schools and Visual Arts and Radiography students.

I’d like to thank the participating artists:

BA (Hons) Visual Arts:  Laura Evans, Jamie Myers, Ieva Sedova, Daniel Wiltshire

BSc (Hons) Diagnostic Radiography: Michael Jania, Kate Prendergast, Hirra Zaffar, Maeesha Billah, Rebecca Glen, Lucinda Gray

I’d also like to thank my colleagues:

Professor Peter Hogg and Dr Samantha Bird from the School of Health Sciences and Sam Ingleson from the School of Arts & Media.





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