- Vol. 06
- Chapter 12
The doctor prescribed at least two hours at a gallery or museum, followed by at least fifteen minutes of what he called ‘personal observation’, to be repeated daily as long as he deemed it was required. The printed prescription seemed unnecessary, with nothing to collect from the pharmacy, but he said it was an important part of me taking his recommendations seriously – which weren’t recommendations, exactly, but rules I had to follow if I wanted to be officially discharged. It’s important, the doctor explained, that the exhibitions include sculptures and paintings which portray the naked female form. The pain will get worse ,the doctor added, before it gets better.
The first day was harder than I was expecting. I could barely bring myself to look at the sculptures – their fridge-cold bodies of milk, their elegant wrists. I found it helped if I focused on other aspects of the artwork, either present or heavily implied. A red apple held aloft with a perfect white bite. A heavy metal chain. Dark clouds, thick with rain, and the pale sunlight spilling through them. The walls of the gallery itself, even, which were clean as a field of snow and smelt of fresh paint.
Personal observation was even more unbearable. The small, circular mirror the doctor had given me was awkward to hold at the right angle, and I kept catching my face from below – grimacing, avoiding my own eye contact. My fingers kept slipping on the glass, and holding it between my bare knees left painful red grooves like my skin had zips. I could feel my heart, like a fish, slapping the length of its silver muscle against my chest. As directed, I noted my observations in a small leather notebook which the doctor had also given me. It was important that my observations could be applied to both the art in the gallery and to myself:
1) A chain can hold things together but can also keep things apart eg. ‘she was bound in chains and could not escape’ – or – ‘they kept the foxes out with a chain-link fence’.
2) When you bite an apple, part of the apple is inside you, and part of you is left inside the apple.
3) A sculpted woman is therefore the core of the marble.
I used scissors to cut up a magazine and fixed the slippery strips of paper to the adjacent page to make a collage of myself. I titled the collage: ‘The Cure’. I had been told, at all costs, to avoid making visual depictions of my (or any) body. I hoped the doctor would be impressed by the likeness of my portrait, and would therefore forgive me.