Self-Portrait No 9; Is it Real?
For my penultimate self-portrait (for I have decided to limit this series to ten) I have chosen a different focus, not centring on the eye, but this time the hand and X-ray instead. I’ve seen X-ray art exhibitions entitled something like “Looking right through you” and wanted to exploit that idea, perhaps to make a point. How often do we see someone pick up an X-ray and hold it up to the window, and expect to be able to read it? When you do that you can’t see the X-ray picture properly and what you see is trees, windows, light bulbs, and the information is badly degraded. Sadly this behaviour seems more prevalent amongst those members of the medical profession who would rather impress the patient than make an accurate diagnosis – but I digress.
I like to see text included as a visual element in artworks provided it doesn’t dominate or replace the design (See Portrait of Iris Clert by Rauschenberg. http://www.ubu.com/concept/rauschenberg_portrait.html ). Text seems to give a second level of complexity. This collage includes an X-ray, twice, and some text from the original has been retained in each. Apart from patient details, information written on an X-ray is like a secret code understood by radiographers (X-ray Technicians). If you understand the code, yet another dimension is added to the image. In a way, it brings to mind that pseudo-Biblical cliché “He who has eyes to see, let him see” which implies that only those who understand the code will be able to interpret it. It is demonstrable that a lot of artworks are made with a point, or message, some of those are overt, whilst others are hidden. An artist may place within the picture references to ideas outside of the primary subject, and viewers will interpret it according to their prior knowledge and experience. The Pre-Raphaelites were past masters at this subterfuge, and a picture such as “The Hireling Shepherd” (Holman Hunt) painted in 1851 whilst evidently saying something about rural beauty and love, referencing the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Shepherd), was said to be a comment on the behaviour of the church in Victorian England. The sub-text in that picture says a lot more about sex and its implications at a time when that word was never mentioned in polite society. (See http://www.manchestergalleries.org/the-collections/search-the-collection/display.php?EMUSESSID=53a37836758c453110b9d02cc584f05d&irn=195 )
There has been a lot written about the Image as Reality, dating back a thousand years when a Chinese empress insisted that a net be placed over a painting of goldfish so that they would not escape, to the present where reality TV captivates us. Many doctors, especially young ones, see an X-ray, which is after all just a shadow photograph, as reality – the patient. “Treat the patient, not the X-ray” was an aphorism much bandied about when I was training. Hugh Turvey (Artist in Residence, British Institute of Radiology) has said “Ultimately, I think [an X-ray] reveals a truth, an unseen truth about the world around us.” He makes a good philosophical point. However any radiologist will tell you it is dangerous to assume that because something is either visible, or not visible on an X-ray this is a diagnostic truth (whatever that may mean).
Therefore in portrait No 9 the subject is really the X-ray, as it were a laser image, visible but insubstantial, trying to make the point that although they can be useful as reference, an X-ray is not the patient.