Danse Ardente

Artist Statement

The stimulus for this series is highly personal. I live with and have experienced life-threatening manifestations of the autoimmune illness lupus. While I wrote a book about my experience with lupus and my healing process (Heartsearch: Toward Healing Lupus, North Atlantic Books, 1993); I have not directly explored the subject in my art. Apparently, I needed some distance from the experience before being able to confront it artistically. Now that my health is better, the time has come. This project is celebratory.

In this series images of the exterior surfaces of the female body are combined with internal human imagery. Bodies in motion are preferred since movement implies health. The complex details of bodies in motion provide an exciting range of changes to breathing, the flow of blood and other bodily fluids. Imprinting the bodies onto paper offered the archetypal, impressionistic figures I sought. Painting the body, pressing it onto the paper and rubbing to remove the ink became a ritual and part of the lore of the art. Collaborating with others extended the project beyond my own personal vision and became an emotionally moving, integral part of the creative process.

Physicians helped me obtain cellular imagery. A hematologist took samples of my blood and made smears, another made slides of the smears, and another magnified them with an electron microscope and made photos. A pathologist gave me slides of tissue samples from other people (unidentified) that demonstrate the kinds of inflammation that occurred in my body - in the lungs, heart, kidneys, eyes, and skins, for example.

Images of the bodies and the cells are merged in PhotoShop and blown up to life-size on large sheets of paper to be used for contact printing in the wet darkroom. This time-intensive, hands-on process, which cherishes the alchemical, also allows for further transformation. Photographic toners and bleaches are combined and applied in unusual ways to add richness and warmth, as well as texture.

Viewers can ponder the paradoxes suggested by "Danse Ardente." On the one hand, our bodies are the "universes" in which cells are born, die, wage battles, and decay. On the other hand, these same cells make up a universe on which our physical bodies depend and in which the "I" of our existence is wholly embedded. Are the bodies engulfing cells or being engulfed by the cells - or perhaps both?

"Danse Ardente" also suggests the mind-body dualism, the ever changing wrestling match of spirit and matter, and the important dualism of permanence and change - that we see ourselves as permanent and slowly evolving, though the substance of our bodies is changing by the minute. And to our cells we are an ancient and unchanging universe.

The series stimulates consideration of the paradox of suffering and transfiguration. We often feel most "alive" when threatened or in crisis. How much that is healthy in us has been forged and refined in agony? And what was burned away? Are malignant or malevolent cells destroying the edifice or enabling it to dispense with what is not functional and move toward balance and health?