Monday, January 28, 2008

Laura Ferguson

Laura Ferguson talks about making The Visible Skeleton Series.I have scoliosis, a deformity of the spine. My body's asymmetry creates the need for a subtle effort of balancing, in my physical relationship to gravity and space, as well as in my psychic sense of centeredness and wholeness. The conscious awareness of walking, moving, breathing - bodily processes that usually unfold by themselves - has made me attuned to my bones and muscles, nerves and senses, like a dancer. Drawing my body, I focus on this heightened awareness and transform it into visual imagery. My drawings seek to create a visual counterpart to the texture of kinesthetic experience: that inner-body awareness that is at once the most universal yet most private aspect of being. Making this work has been a learning-through-drawing process. It has given me a deepened visual understanding of my own body and a connection to that which is unique in each individual. Together, the drawings that form The Visible Skeleton Series tell the story of my journey and how I transformed my body's experiences into art.I think of the series as being the equivalent of three-dimensional sculpture: a way of being able to view this body from many different angles and perspectives. Using myself as subject and model allowed me to work from the inside out as well as the outside in. The more I tuned in to the interactions of my bones and muscles, nerves and senses the more I focused on my self, paradoxically the more I was able to transcend my own personal experience and speak to something universal in my work as an artist.The Visible Skeleton Series project began almost twenty years ago, when I started to experience physical disability related to my scoliosis, and felt the need to understand what was happening to my body. I had undergone spinal fusion surgery at age thirteen, and had been fine for many years afterward. Because I am an artist and tend to think in visual terms, I needed to be able to picture what my scoliotic spine looked like. As I began to learn about anatomy, I realized that the imagery was quite visually compelling, and could be interesting on many levels, from the literal to the metaphorical. I decided to undertake an artistic inquiry into scoliosis.Scoliosis is a flawed model of the beautifully designed human musculoskeletal system, but I wanted to portray it as having its own more complex beauty, one that viewed deformity as differentness, and differentness as individuality. I studied anatomy with Irene Dowd, a noted teacher and neuromuscular trainer who helped me to understand the dynamics of the body in motion. I retrieved and studied the records of my surgery, a fusion of the T5-12 vertebrae, with grafted bone, performed by Dr. John Cobb, which was followed by a year in a plaster turnbuckle body cast. I also was privileged to be given access to the Anatomy Lab at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where I have spent many hours drawing from the skeletons.Scoliosis is a complicated rotational deformity, and the process of conceptualizing it three-dimensionally has been challenging but rewarding. At first I used my own x-rays as the basis for my drawings. Later I consulted with orthopaedic surgeons and radiologists for information and help in having medical images made specifically for the purpose of making art. Thanks to Dr. Andrew Litt and Phillip Berman at NYU Medical Center, I was able to have a 3D spiral CT scan, an exciting new technology that allows me to view my skeleton from any angle, rotating and tilting it to match whatever movement or pose I'm interested in drawing.Creating images of my body that are anatomically accurate, but also personal, has felt empowering, as if I were regaining a sense of ownership of my own body that had somehow been lost when my experience was medicalized. The more I understood and internalized the configurations of my unusual body, the more graceful and comfortable I felt in my skin and the more manageable my pain and disability have become.

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