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Body Image: A fantastic voyage of art and technology

The worlds of art and technology are colliding in a new exhibition that uses MRI scans and CT imaging to create art out of the human body.

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3D-rendered blood vessels show the hidden detail of the human body. John McGhee

A new art exhibition is attempting to break down the barriers between science, technology, medicine and art, showcasing detailed 3D images of the human body using medical imaging and complex scientific data.

The Body Image exhibition, showing at the University of New South Wales in Australia, brings together the work of a number of Australian and international artists and explores the human body in ways that are all but impossible without the help of advanced imaging technologies and animation software.

Artist and curator John McGhee said the exhibition grew out of a project he began almost a decade ago in the UK, looking at ways of improving communication between doctors and patients -- particularly when it came to interpreting magnetic resonance imaging and computer tomography scans.

McGhee's work takes the cross-sectional slices that are produced by MRI and CT scans and builds them up into three dimensions using Maya software -- the same software used in the video games and visual effects industry.

"I wanted to look at how could we use technologies and interpretative art processes...to enhance those data sets, to help real people with understanding what they're looking at," he said. "How can we improve the scans that we all get, that are often quite confusing and difficult to understand?"

"We've created a series of large scale projections, taking you through that vascular system and rendering it in a way that not just represents the function of these things and how they work, but also how we feel about them."

McGhee has also created real-time versions of these animations, designed for the Oculus Rift, that "take you inside the body and inside the data, a bit like 'The Fantastic Voyage'". The artist has also worked on visuals that can be shared across two connected Oculus devices, potentially allowing a doctor or family member to experience the same medical imagery as a patient.

This work is now part of a pilot program at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, helping patients coping with paralysis due to stroke.

"What we've been advised by the director of the rehab unit at St Vincent's is that seeing can be believing -- that if you can help patients visualise movement in areas of the body where there is no movement...the nerves can actually possibly regenerate," he said.

"And we think that using the Oculus, because you're in a completely immersive environment, we've got this hunch that this could actually facilitate that process."

But it's not just about education and research. The Body Image exhibition also features work by Australian artist Drew Berry who contributed animation work for Björk's 'Biophilia' project -- a hybrid music album and app that has now been curated into the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

According to McGhee, both Drew Berry's animation and the blood flow imaging works that he created are pushing the boundaries of art.

"There is a degree of ambiguity in what you're looking at -- is it art, is it science, is it technology? Well it's all of those things. Why separate them out? The gallery of the 21st century is becoming that type of space -- that nexus of art, technology and science."