When blood vessels in the retina are occluded and blood flow is prevented, the empty vessels can be seen on specialised images as ethereal empty tubes, which ophthalmologists refer to as ghost vessels. When these vessels have no blood flow they can no longer inform the retina and sight is lost. Retina damage disturbs the person’s ability to use sight as a way of gaining information about the world around them.
The term reverberated with possible meaning for me. A vessel holds something, but an empty vessel has an absence, a loss of purpose, like the retinas if they no longer help the person to see the world. Similarly, after death, the ghost has lost its vessel, the body, and looks back into the world of the living, with longing and despair. Even amongst the living, some are lost on this far shore, viewing themselves as if from outwith their own bodies. They feel a sense of ‘not being themselves’, or not inhabiting their own vessel.
The Ghost can’t understand why they are outside looking in. Ghosts are both there and not there, sometimes visible to the living, but diaphanous. Ghosts linger on the edges of perception, on the edge of our sight. Death is the ultimate absence. The person has gone and those they leave behind can remember and can still see the deceased in their mind’s eye. This lingering is a form of ghostliness, and it serves as a reminder of what is lost. Being a ghost is a living death, two opposite concepts which cannot hold water. I wanted to create vessels which couldn’t contain anything, which had lost their purpose.
Making Ghost Vessels
I collected twigs, and honoured them with black, white and red paint. Twigs are a tree’s vessels along which its sap flows. When it breaks off the tree it dies and becomes an empty vessel. I bound the twigs together roughly and instinctively with wire and string, creating vases, or vessels, which are incapable of holding liquid. As I painted them and bound them together, they began to take on an uncanny sense of life, a twisted energy, evoking movements such as struggling, wrestling and dancing. Surprisingly, from the exploration of purposelessness new forms of energetic life seemed to emerge!
I took photographs of the twigs in a variety of environments, and of the ghost vessels in ways which revealed the unexpected inner life I had noticed. I explored the twigs’ shapes by drawing and printing them, going back and forth between presence and absence. The images were reminiscent of the empty tube shapes of the opthalmologists’ images. Lastly I overlaid the ghost vessels I had drawn with scraps of paper and printed them again, creating blank spaces, evoking sight loss.