The Illuminated Body

An Atlas of Illness and Injury

‘The Illuminated Body’ grew out of my initial fascination with the way that scars and other imperfections on the skin act as souvenirs, portals to the past imprinted on the body of the present. Exploring the intersection and interplay of touch and sight, ‘The Illuminated Body’ is a series of embossed, monochromatic self-portraits that reveal both visible and invisible illnesses and injuries as seen on the skin, while focusing on the fragility and resilience of the human envelope.

The sense of touch is inseparable from the largest organ of the human body, our skin. The liminality of skin led me to investigate touch both literally and figuratively. Touch is fundamental to the process of perception for all of the senses, including mind. In Buddhist philosophy, mind is considered to be a sixth sense, the place where phenomena are pieced together, recorded and edited.

Touch is reciprocal. Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote about ‘Flesh’ as an animate sentience common to both human subjects and the surrounding environment, a presence that is both sensitive and sensible. I can’t walk down the street or open my sock drawer without touching a world that is at the same time touching me; I can’t feel the world without it also feeling me. Although my background in dance predisposes me toward an embodied perspective, I am learning to listen not only to my body, but also to the world as it responds. This is a process of opening my awareness to the touch and feel of life itself, not just in art and art-making. By honing sensitivity, listening intently to the messages of my injuries, and thinking with my whole body, I begin to see with the soles of my feet and feel with my eyes. Sight and touch are inextricably intertwined and with awareness, attention and clarity of mind, the crucial role touch plays in acting as a base for the other sense perceptions becomes apparent. Through the wisdom of the body, acknowledging illness and injury becomes the first step in healing. Within ‘The Illuminated Body’ is an acknowledgement and celebration of the fact that eyes can touch and skin can see.

The Illuminated Body thesis essay (PDF)