The Image has an Illness
for Aaron Rees’ Vanishing Point
21st August 2019
Right. Now can you tell me: does the cluster of dots appear more blurry when you look through lens one or two?
We had always been told that to look upon it was forbidden. And that what was to follow would herald a descent into blindness. Tales had spread of people leaving the facility shuffling tentatively, led by gentle nurses with outstretched hands, bandages blanketing their eyes.
I could not help intruding in this prohibited space.
The illness without a name infiltrated my body. It began with a haziness: numbers would flip upside down, letters inverted, phrases I couldn’t quite make out melted and ran across the page.
My cumbersome body is guided onto a narrow plastic platform shrouded in a mattress that smells of acrid disinfectant. I ascend into a grey canal: shoulders, neck, hips, wrists strapped down firmly with Velcro. The pressure is oddly reassuring.
A whirring builds to a hysteria of thuds, clumps and shrieks. My ability to hear and touch has not yet fled from me.
I am not sure how long I lie in this chamber. Cotton pads and tape gently embrace the hollows of my brow, as if cradling the last vestiges of my capacity for vision. But even in this ponderous darkness, I cannot run from images. Scenes, dreamed and remembered, flash through my mind with a startling, intoxicating clarity: the kind of fierce, blazing light and colour that has been a stranger to me for some weeks now.
A field of primrose yellow blossoms in spring. Dark speckles riddle this floral expanse. I remember that they were bees grazing their legs over the silken petals, but, as remembered things always return in disguise, now they came to be a series of small, sharp fissures. Holes that give way to something I cannot comprehend. For some reason, the way this image colonises my mind’s eye induces a sensation of extreme nausea.
It is as if this vista has been riddled with bite marks, or some kind of insidious pox: I never knew an image might be as susceptible to malaise as a living body. Poking holes: to see something crack open, to make porous something that should be infallible, induces an elementary terror. The kind we think we might grow out of, until we realise that it is built into the foundations of our very existence. Leaving us a retching heap.
Trypophobia is an aversion to the sight of a surface evenly perforated by clusters of small holes. The fear is attributed to a variety of possible evolutionary factors such as associations with the gnawing of insects– the pure flesh of a fruit corrupted– and the ruptures of a wound or diseased tissue. An unwelcome reminder that our bodies are fallible: sever through the surrendering membrane of skin to reveal the grisly workings below. Become witness to that which we do not wish to see.
The loss of sight can render one unhinged. Images are absolute things, whole things we can cling to, that make our existence in the world concrete. Blind spots are an evolutionary deficiency. A fear that the world as it comes to us in images, might be eaten by a series of growing orifices, gradually descending into an unintelligible void.
I remember coming to this hospital before I fell ill. Amusingly, in contrast to the foyer’s slick white spacecraft interior, the designer of the cafeteria seems to have decreed that all the accoutrements of the natural world: grass, foliage, lapping water are the most successful visual material to induce a state of tranquillity. The thin carpet is made up of minute fibres of varying shades of green: when viewed from afar, one can see that the carpet has been digitally woven to reproduce a macro photograph of grass beneath one’s feet. Of course, waxy plastic pot plants and ferns litter the little booths and the service area where one can find cutlery, small sachets of salt and bottles of sparkling water.
Along the far wall in an alcove, is a colossal screen made up of many smaller flat–screen TVs; the plane of the image interrupted by a lacquered black lattice. Footage plays on a loop, depicting a glade of gently pixelated trees, undulating hills rendered an unnatural green, the trickle of a silvery stream. The camera seems to pan in odd unnatural arcs, it’s gliding often stilted. This CGI universe creaks to a halt momentarily, launching again with shuddering glitches. Everything about this space makes the well and sick alike, mildly queasy: filled with the stale, muted, parched feeling of having sat on a plane for hours.
I lie in this scanner, this colossal magnetic camera, looking up at a quadratic eye. A facsimile eye. Our pupils meet one another, muscular iris meets intersecting markers of red light. It is comforting somehow to know that even when I can no longer see, that this mechanism, this machine that does not need eyes to see, will continue its indiscriminate, indefatigable gaze indefinitely.