Zoë Buckman’s Plastinated Placenta Probes the Beauty of Birth

Following the birth of her first child, Zoë Buckman turned her placenta into a permanent sculpture using the process of plastination, a method developed to preserve bodies for medical study. Such bold statements pervade her recent body of work, “Present Life,” in which Buckman draws on the themes of birth, death, and femininity to explore the powerful space between beauty and decay.

  • Portrait of Zoë Buckman courtesy of Garis & Hahn and the artist.

    Portrait of Zoë Buckman courtesy of Garis & Hahn and the artist.

A prominent but ephemeral symbol of fertility, the placenta is central to Buckman’s current exhibition at Garis & Hahn. For Untitled 9 (Present Life) (2013), Buckman preserved the organ for perpetuity, honoring it as a life-giving entity. The placenta’s organic beauty is clearly visible in this work, veins extend throughout it like tree limbs, the thick umbilical cord resembling a sturdy trunk.

The placenta appears again in Untitled 7 (Present Life) (2013), outlined in pink neon—alive, glowing, and somewhat reminiscent of a brain. Another neon light sculpture in the show takes on the shape of an hourglass, the simplest expression of the female form and also an infinite loop, evoking the themes of time and femininity again. 

Buckman further probes the intertwinement of transience and growth in her large-scale photographs of floral arrangements. Flowers have symbolized femininity throughout art history, conveying bounty, verdancy, and life. In her photos, Buckman poses bouquets, wrapped in black plastic bags and in varying states of decay, against a black background. The result is sepulchral, the black plastic encasing each arrangement like a body bag. The lushness of the flowers is not entirely lost in these images, but one can sense life waning in each. The photographs operate as memento mori: a visual reminder of life and death, and the fleeting nature of beauty. 

M.A. Wholey

Present Life” is on view at Garis & Hahn, New York, Feb. 24–Mar. 28, 2015.

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Portrait of Zoë Buckman courtesy of Garis & Hahn and the artist.