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Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 47.2 (2004) 165-168

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Special Section :
"The Visible Skeleton Series": The Art of Laura Ferguson

"The Visible Skeleton Series":

Artist's Introduction

39 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023.

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Figure 3
Lumbar Vertebrae, Anterior View © 2004 by Laura Ferguson

The Visible Skeleton Series explores my own body and its anatomy, as well as the interaction of medicine and art. The multi-layered works on paper that make up this series are based on medical images of my skeleton, including a 3D spiral CT scan, made in collaboration with radiologists and orthopedists. To produce these images, I use an original technique. Thinned oil paints, blended with bronze powders, are floated on water, where they form crystalline networks of color. The dense drops spread out as if magnified under a microscope, echoing the cellular forms of nature. Then I lay paper onto the water's surface and transfer the floating image, and this process is repeated many times with successive colors. Later, I work over these under-layers with drawing media: charcoal, colored pencil, pastel and oil crayon. The resulting figurative images seem to take their form from the bones and blood and veins of the body's interior. [End Page 165]

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.

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.

My project began almost 20 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. 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. I would use my artist's duality: living through the experience and at the same time observing it and turning it into art.

I began my learning-through-drawing process of imaginative visualization by observing and photographing my body, learning to recognize the landmarks where the skeleton and muscles are apparent beneath the surface of the skin, and contrasting this outer view with my X-rays. I retrieved and studied the records of the spinal fusion surgery I had undergone at age 13 (a fusion of the T5-12 vertebrae, with grafted bone, followed by a year in a plaster body cast).

Seeking a deeper and more holistic understanding of anatomy than the traditional art school approach, I studied kinesthetic anatomy and the physiology of motion with Irene Dowd, a noted teacher and trainer of dancers (at the Juilliard School and elsewhere). Her approach is to focus on the neuromuscular dynamics of the body in motion, and she helped me to analyze the subtleties of my own range of motion. I also was privileged to be given access to the Anatomy Lab at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where I spent many hours drawing from the skeletons.

At first I used my own X-rays as the basis for my drawings. Later I consulted with several orthopedic surgeons and radiologists for information and help in...


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