Trail of Crumbs

I remember reading someone’s account of flying over the region of the BP oil spill; the writer described the astonishing beauty of the oil on water, the way it caught the light, how spectacular it looked from a purely visual point of view. But she made her remarks with ambivalence, even guilt - after all it was a catastrophe she was describing. Finding beauty in disaster had thrust her into a moral dilemma.

I feel something akin to this as I explore a tiny fragment of bone from my hip through a scanning electron microscope (SEM), at magnifications of up to twenty-five thousand times. It’s inspiring and unsettling to roam the ephemeral, femoral landscape contained within a crumb of my own skeleton. We all have bones – but looking at a piece of myself that I should not have access to is what makes this exploration feel compelling, wondrous, and creepy.

The bone fragment is my souvenir of a hip replacement that failed shortly after being done (due to a condition called Gaucher) - a small disaster as disasters go, but for me a turning point.

When I first looked at my bone through the microscope many years ago, I thought about the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of crumbs as they are led deeper and deeper into the woods. It’s their only hope of finding their way home again, but when birds eat the crumbs there’s no going back. With the sudden collapse of my hip I felt betrayed by my body and stranded in the inhospitable region of broken down hope; my own trail of experience, expectation, and imagination were insufficient for navigating an unchartable course out of there – till I understood there’s no way back, only forward. 

Years have passed, and with a fresh perspective I return to the SEM several times to examine the same sample of bone. What I find most provocative now is the tension between the integrity of the art and the disintegrity of the material. With my own body I work to reconcile beauty with disaster, in the failure of something as basic as a bone to uphold itself, as well as the role of failure as a creative catalyst. 

Staring at this particle in the microscope, I am searching and researching what is beyond the scope of my knowledge, yet something I wish to face as directly as I can. No matter how closely I zoom in, I want to get closer, as if entering inside one twenty-five thousandth of it will bring me closer to my own essence. I realize that I’m not simply making pictures of my bone, but am on a quest for congruency in this intimate, ossified terrain. I wander and observe, part artist, biologist, detective, tourist. I compose and focus, record the artful and the wretched as they coexist, empowered by inclusivity. One crumb is now a vast realm of endless resource; it’s here that I find an open road.  

 

Trail of Crumbs

images and text ©2011 Rose-Lynn Fisher




bone- red blood cells 5000x


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