Notes from Galveston (Week 8): Jac Saorsa, Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas

Week 8! Week 7 disappeared in a visit from a friend, complete with car, and an amazing (for an artist with a passion for the human form) voyage into the world of the University of Texas Medical Branch Anatomy Department! I stepped away temporarily from the Drawing Women’s Cancer box in order to see parts of the island that only a car can get you to, and to take up an invitation to attend dissection classes to see parts of the body that only a scalpel can get you to. I observed, respectively and respectfully, and sketched frantically.

The first deviation from the main project was a couple of days exploring the west end of the island which is accessed along the main highway that carries you out of the city and along the increasingly sandy shoreline. In actuality, and beyond the extensive perimeters of the State Park,  the landscape was more ‘urban’ than the one I had imagined. There are quite a few communities established in colourful wooden frame houses of various (and some very surprising) shapes and sizes. Most stand, only seemingly precariously, on deceptively slender stilts, which are designed to compensate for the obvious potentiality for flooding in the area. These wooden ‘limbs’ seem to get taller as the distance between them and the city became longer, and the sea defences became more makeshift.

All the houses have balconies and/or terraces that offer the obligatory sea view although in some of the more populated areas such a pleasure is denied or at least obstructed by the houses in between the balcony and the shore. The buildings are huddled together with long stretches of shoreline in between but, even where there are only a few houses, they jealously guard their piece of the beach with ‘Private – residents only’ car parking warnings.

We saw so many birds! One of the joys of Galveston island is its birdlife, and this is in abundance both in town and outwith. According to the official Galveston website, Galveston is one of the top locations for birdwatching in the US with over 500 species residing, wintering or migrating through each year. The Reddish Egret is Galveston Island’s official city bird.

The anatomy deviation was, for me, a great experience to spend some time drawing again after having spent most of my time writing whilst here. As well as dissection classes I have been given permission – let loose in fact! – in the anatomy lab where there are a plethora of specimens and ‘body bits’ to work from. I am now in the process of making some larger scale work with graphite and charcoal.

The dissection classes I attended focused on dissecting the head and face to explore the structure of the facial muscles of expression. Due to hospital regulations I am quite rightly discouraged from posting any drawings of the faces of the cadavers so I will leave you with a couple I did of the hands and feet. They had all been skinned and dissected a few weeks earlier in the 8-week course cycle that operates in the medical school. It was movingly appropriate in terms of my interest in subjectivity that some of the hands and feet had painted nails. The students themselves could not remain totally objective…one told me how difficult it was to finally dissect the head as the whole thing suddenly became more personal. Another was initially hesitant over her cadaver. “she still has her eyes open”.

Her hand lay over the other as if comforting the severed foot. Limbs discarded as the head bows under the scalpel

Her hand lay over the other as if comforting the severed foot. Limbs discarded as the head bows under the scalpel

Tied, tagged and red painted toenails

Tied, tagged and red painted toenails

More notes next week…

About Jac Saorsa

Independent visual artist, writer and researcher in philosophy and contemporary art practice, primarily in the field of Medical Humanities. Director and Senior instructor at The Broadway Drawing School in Cardiff.
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