TABOO - TRANSGRESSION - TRANSCENDENCE
in Art & Science
27-29 September 2023, Malta Society of Arts, Valletta
“…Mais si je dis que j’ai 75 ans, alors là, c’est la fin des haricots” – anonymous
[“…It’s game over, if I admit to being 75 years old” – author’s translation]
Aging is a story as old as time. The perception of women’s aging, however, has seen its ups and downs. From the “retired breeder” or “old wives’ tales”, to either the witch (traditionally either a widow or an aging spinster) or the wise old woman (either kind or ill-intended), a huge U-turn has been made as of late. If a few decades back the perception of “cougar” entered the vernacular, currently it seems that through all media outlets, anti-aging products and procedures are being injected relentlessly. Eternal youth is at the forefront and old age became taboo.
The following is not intended to be a promenade through a generalized perception of the female body aging, as it is a very personal story, stitched to observations and fun(ny) comparisons, viewed through a variety of lenses: that of the physician, the patient, the cell biologist, the old woman – me.
A sequence of unfortunate physiological and psychological events took their toll, and ignoring early signs, led to a spiralling out of control and rapid decaying of my own body. From inside out and back inside.
Not being able to shed all my skins, I carried the burden of an almost Victorian way of examining the body. Straddling two centuries, two continents, two cultures, both the focus and the perspective diverged.
The same carcass: at times hiding both transformation and decay, at times allowing the organs to fade while juices slowly evaporated. Was a dried fig, or a molding clementine?
Suddenly, my left foot turned against me. Or itself. Then, my left eye followed. What will go or let go next? Will I know or should I guess? Walking through a dark, thick forest, bits and pieces of me were stripped or poked or wounded.
In the clinical world there were complex pieces of machinery exploring my foot, my eye, my brain. Images that looked strangely familiar but had no familiarity with my experience lived. Blocks of memory gone, replaced by mere images. And my head spinning. Literally and figuratively.
As I started sorting and collecting these images, juxtaposing my inner worlds (that seemed otherworldly) with everyday instances of deterioration and decay, an entertaining “cadavre exquis” took shape.
My sliced and diced foot finally found the link to the poked and prodded eye: a snaky link that crawled up my leg, ran away from the ever folding and failing vagina, struggled through my sagging breasts, shot through my retina and landed in my altered right brain. Who knew? Trying to guess this trajectory, I turned to an old wives’ way: examining obstinately and obsessively the coffee marks on the bottom of my every morning’s cup.
This charade, parlour game or jigsaw puzzle led to a brief video. As my mood and modes were shifting and fluctuating, keeping track of the disappearance of ‘me’ became a useful exercise. As much as know that I am alone on this voyage, I know that I am not the only one following the “dust to dust” path.
Dr. Dolores Steinman was trained as a Paediatrician and, upon relocating to Canada, obtained her PhD in Cell Biology. She is a retired Senior Research Associate in the Biomedical Simulation Laboratory, the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto, where she was part of an interdisciplinary team, also affiliated with the Ontario College of Art and Design University.
In her research, Dolores was driven by her concern in the ever increasingly technology-based medical research and sought of relating it to the larger context of the humanities.
From the clinic, to the in vitro/ in vivo and finally the in silico laboratory, the common thread was observing blood flow as it carries both life and death.
Following her interest in images and their meaning, she pursued training in the Visual Arts Department at Western University (London, ON), and volunteered as a Docent at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).