EncodingDecoding: a response

Poet Jane Hartshorn responds to Darian Goldin Stahl’s artist book EncodingDecoding.

This text is part of a two-week takeover (1-14 June) of The Polyphony by Thinking Through Things, an ECR-led collaborative project designed to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue around the holdings of Wellcome Collection. Thinking Through Things is supported by the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research and is funded by a Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award. Following a training day co-hosted by Thinking Through Things and Wellcome Collection in February 2020, delegates were invited to write a short text exploring one or more objects held by Wellcome Collection. 


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We open by undoing the loop at the nape of the neck. Careful, so as not to catch the hairs.

In the hospital ward, we tie our own hospital gown. We tie it like a ribbon, as we were taught.

We remove our piercings, our jewellery, our bras. We become blocks of flesh; our edges smoothed down, the noise of our bodies reduced to a few lines. My legs stick out on the bed, and I am suddenly embarrassed by their hairiness.

We open the book and its pages are transparent. Our fingers beneath like organs stirring below the skin. The warmth of a diamond of sunlight on my neck as I wait to be taken. The conch-pink of the helix and scapha as my blood vessels dilate when my name is called.

Their fragility means we turn the pages with care; the softness of touch missing from the efficiency of the hospital interaction. I long for a hand on my shoulder.

We are asked by a disembodied voice to keep our hands by our sides, and we obey; palms upturned as we surrender to the machine. The voice speaks via an intercom and asks us to hold our breath. Again, we obey. Try to keep ourselves as rigid as possible on the motorised bed.

We open the body. Each page a thin slice, like a layer of sediment. Cutting open a rock to expose its glistening insides. The coils are turned on and off, protons realigning with a staccato sound like a bout of sneezing. The spots brightening like pebbles submerged in water.

We gasp as we go under the magnetic field. The body gives up its secrets. We are unable to hold back. Our chests heave a blur of movement; smear of light across the scan.


Jane Hartshorn is a Practice as Research PhD candidate at University of Kent. Her poetic practice explores female embodiment in relation to cultural and social discourses of illness and wellbeing.

Darian Goldin Stahl is an American printmaker and bookmaker based in Montreal, Canada. Her artwork is situated at the intersection of patient narrative, biomedical imaging technology, and multi-sensory printmaking practices. EncodingDecoding (2016) is an artist’s book based on MRI scans of the artist’s sister, Devan Stahl. It is one of a number of books by Darian Goldin Stahl held by Wellcome Collection.

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