The Visible Skeleton Series: a visual autobiography – the life story of my body
I became attuned to my own inner body consciousness through the experience of living with scoliosis. My spinal curvature was diagnosed in childhood, and I had to have surgery, and live for a year in a full-body plaster cast, when I was thirteen. This was a life-defining experience, of constriction, repression, many hard things. It also deepened my sense of empathy and made me aware of how much is hidden under the surface of the selves we present to the world.
For the next twenty years, I lived my life, knowing that scoliosis would always be part of me but sure that my problems with it were in the past. But it turned out that the uneven pressures of gravity had been bearing down on my vulnerable spine and constricted rib cage all the while, and eventually brought pain and disability into my life.
I had always used art to express my experience of the sensory and sensual. Now, as I tried to understand the complicated rotational dynamics of my spinal curves, it became a compelling need. I began to trace my x-rays and make drawings from them.
I found myself fascinated by the intricate beauty of the human skeleton, and by the intriguing visual possibilities of a body that was beautiful but flawed. In an ‘aha moment’ in 1994, an idea came to me: to conduct an in-depth artistic investigation of my own body and its anatomy.
With all the limitations on mobility that scoliosis imposed, my body was still limber and flexible, and within its small sphere of movement expressive and attuned to interesting relationships with space, with light, with another’s body. I already felt so connected to my body, and now deformity and disability become intertwined with sensuality and the physical life. I felt that I had gained access to a secret world opening out below the visible surface – to a consciousness that resides in the body.
Trying to avoid further surgery, I had turned to anatomy-based movement practices like Alexander Technique and neuromuscular training. These practices are based on the idea that visualization and mental imagery can actually affect our patterns of movement and body use. I loved this linkage between the visual and the kinesthetic, and felt the results immediately in my body, coming to know and feel it from the inside out. Becoming more sensitive to my proprioceptive, inner body sensors and signals made me feel more symmetrical, centered, and three-dimensional.
And I could translate this inner body awareness into my drawings … creating visual images in space the way a dancer uses choreography … evoking that consciousness of the body that often lies just slightly below the level of articulated thought.