PROSTHETICS ftell the story of the bodies they once fitted in terms of their absences. They cannot help but remind us of the absent limbs that they come to stand in for.  Seen alone as bespoke pieces of craftsmanship, they recreate the absent contours of the individual’s body they were tailored to match, and  of which they once formed part.

Phantom Limbs make space for absence within the tightly-packed rooms of the museum. The teak vitrines that Kaare Klint designed for the museum’s artefacts have turned in on each other, knotted and interlocked in such a way as to repeatedly frame themselves, their content and their context.   Enshrined and integral to the piece is a child’s prosthetic leg, which is a reminder of a whole series of absences. A leg lost. A child that outgrew his or her artificial limb. A child that grew old and has long since passed away.

“What intrigued us here was how presenting a prosthetic leg, a bit of a misfit in this design museum context, might make us see its surroundings differently. We reflect on the qualities of the leg not only as a historical and technological artefact, but also as an agent capable of bringing particular absences more clearly into focus. For example, just above the work is a wooden ceiling which has once formed part of a fifteenth century building in Valencia.  It is one of many artefacts in the collection which have abruptly severed from the contexts in which it was created and understood. Museums might give the impression of forming complete and self-explanatory collections, but we discover to our surprise that they’re actually full of loose ends.”


“What is art and what is artefact? In the case of Phantom Limbs the intertwining of its parts, the prosthesis and the vitrines, renders the question redundant. They are interdependent and have solidified around themselves. In the museum we meet artefacts that have been removed from the framework of the world. They have been extirpated and are presented in the nude, so to speak, without their original supporting structure. But they are provided with something else. It is worth noticing that the Greek word πρόσθεσις (prosthesis) does not mean replacement or substitute but addition. The prosthesis makes of the wearer something more than a human, something part artefact or machine.”

“My “real” leg and my “prosthetic” leg are not usually lived as two absolutely different and separate things since they function as an ensemble and are each a part of my body participating in the whole movement that gets me from here to there; thus, they are organically related in practice (if not in material) and are, to a great degree reversible each with the other (my leg can stand in a part-to-whole synechdochic relationship with my body and vice-versa).”


The wooden prosthetic limb for a child was made in the second half of the 19th century in the Copenhagen workshop of S. Rønne. It has been lovingly crafted with great attention to detail. It is as good and realistic a foot as anyone could make from a piece of wood – even the toes are individually carved.

We cannot know whether the child who wore the prosthesis was an amputee or born with a physical deficiency, but many things speak for the former. For centuries, amputating a damaged limb was in effect the only option available to European medicine. Even though the work of amputating became much easier in 1846 with the discovery of anaesthetics such as laughing gas and ether, the mortality rates among amputees continued to be shockingly high. Only with the introduction of antiseptics in 1867 did the odds of survival change in the amputee’s favour.