Skin and Bone

Introduction – January 2013

Photo by Richard Hines

Photo by Richard Hines

Last week I decided to start work on an idea for a new visual and textual art work  using my body as a subject as its starting point. There are, as usual, any number of obstacles to its realization, including the most common objection – that no-one wants to know, hear or see someone else’s surgeries, scars, bruises, or the imperfections of a 57 year-old fat white man’s body.

While it is true that most people prefer telling you their stories of fractures, injuries, illness, and disease (no, it’s not just Mennonites who have this fascination) rather than listen to yours, writers and artists are (mostly) free to choose their own subject matter and form because they have a vision they wish to realize. Art (including literature) starts with the writer and artist rather than the audience. Yes, most want to communicate, so we rarely operate with complete disregard of whether anyone is seeing, reading, listening to what we create, but I like to start with content, then form, then the packaging and marketing.

This does make for problems of course, my Afghanistan Confessions and Involuntary Tongue poetry manuscripts are still looking for publishers, and they are unlikely commercial projects. The ultimate vision I have for Involuntary Tongue involves film, video, performance, musical composition and choral score, and massive tapestries, or at least banners with the seven words you can’t say on television. This may never happen, but it will make a more interesting project when I leave government than whittling.

The things on my to do list before fleshing out the project for the usual flurry of grant applications, (usually ignored because I have a job) were to find an art photographer interested in the challenge and collaboration, and research the many completed scars and body image & text projects. Another challenge is to do something new and interesting because this has been done before, most famously with breast cancer survivors, and Richard Avedon’s photograph of Andy Warhol lifting his sweater to show his scar. Finally I will need to get permissions from my surgeons and hospitals for the photographer to be in the operating theatre for my two upcoming surgeries.

The Photographer: Richard Hines

I bought a large format Richard Hines framed photograph from a grad show as a divorce present to myself in 2004. It appealed to me because of its composition, its narrative strength, and the subject; a woman in a bathtub reading A Proper Marriage, by Doris Lessing. Though he was likely thirty something by now, maybe Richard was still young enough to be willing to take on projects originating outside himself. I checked out his website and was pleased to find, though we had very different art practices, we shared a lot of the same interests in story, people, their relationships, and the boundaries of the personal and private  in artistic representation. A good fit.

There is a fundraising and grant writing workshop I do sometimes which starts with the basic premise I learned from Max Tapper. You have to ask, for them to say yes.

I emailed Richard, gave him a very broad outline of what I was after and asked if he would he would come over sometime to talk about a possible collaboration.  We met last Wednesday night over a glass of wine and some veggies and dip addressing some important preliminary questions. No, not squeamish, said Richard, though I’ve never witnessed a surgery. He expressed an interest in the project as collaboration.

We agreed we preferred to take risks, and being uncomfortable, if not down-right terrified, as a requisite of making good work. We talked about meeting the challenges this idea presented, including previous explorations of the subject, about starting without preconceived notions, or boundaries, letting the project develop organically.

And about motivation; some just mentioned, for me the risks of exposing my body to the gaze of others (talk about getting up close and personal) and working in a new form, at the very least a longer line. I’m thinking prose poetry, flash fiction, a genre mash-up, without too many clues of what has been invented, imagined, composed or real, except perhaps my skin and bone.

The big question though, will be the one I’ll be asking the surgeons next week, please, may I have this art photographer attend my surgeries and take pictures of my bones being sawed, screwed and/or replaced?  Richard and I agree that once we get started and have some images we’ll have a better of what to do next. In the meantime more research.

Shoot 2 – February 10, 2013

Richard Hines arrived promptly at 8:00 a.m. announced by Alice’s usual frenzied barking. Richard and I have committed to a collaborative art project called Skin and Bone. Richard’s photography; my skin and bone, my text. This morning we will concentrate on my bathing, a ritual and a pain management strategy.  The pictures accompanying this post are taken while lying on the bed in our second floor bedroom. I have found that lying still, and strategically moving Fiona (the heating pad) to various pain centres brings relief.

I have stage four flat foot and osteoarthritis in my hips. My left foot was reconstructed last January, a foot bone fusion, involving one bone graft (source taken from my knee) and many long screws. Waiting for Dr. Hammond was worth it.  I now have an arch where there was none and the danger of eventually walking on my ankles removed, and I again can wear a size 13 shoe.  A similar though slightly less difficult surgery is scheduled to reconstruct my right foot. The surgeons have been clear that all surgery is traumatic violence against the body. I have had seven surgeries since the age of three, and have three more coming up in 2013. The right foot surgery is scheduled for February 28th and the right hip replacement surgery for June 14th.  We are hopeful that Richard will be attending with his cameras.

Photo by Richard Hines
Photo by Richard Hines

We are exploring the effects of trauma on the body through our respective art practices. Richard has discovered a University of Winnipeg professor conducting research on a similar subject. He will be meeting with Angela Failler on February 15th to discuss her research and our art project. Her research explores how trauma re-enacted through the body is represented in and worked through artistic practice and mediated forms including film, photography, and video art. I have an appointment with my GP for a pre-op physical on the morning of Valentines Day, and all signs point to the surgery actually taking place this time, after having been bumped a few times. This will be followed by a three month recovery period. It is important to have two good feet to stand on for the mobility needed for rehab ater the hip replaceme

 Waiting For Dr. Hammond

Well George, my shrink says I should write about you,
but that is a lie. He thinks I should write about the betrayal
of my body as it begins to break down ahead of schedule.

Every morning now I struggle into my braces described by my physio
as if they were guy wires holding up a tree, not quite capable of standing
up by itself. Why, George, do I not find this reassuring though there are days

I feel as big as a tree, but filled with ants and rot, just plain tired
of being a tree. The leaves I turn are in a book called Freedom.
I call the one doctor in town who may be able to replace my ankle

with a titanium joint, reach only an answering machine, Wait
is the answer; six to nine months, wait – a lesson my father
tried to leave with me in his dying.


– published online. Shot Glass Journal



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