Water Bodies – Inside and Out

I was at the hospital yesterday, after a trip to A&E on Sunday. It turns out I have a neat little row of four kidney stones stuck in my ureter. If this seems like a little too much information, bear with me, it is relevant.

Before leaving for hospital I was looking at the anatomy of kidneys and printing off scans/photos and artwork relating to them and their internal structure to add to my Queer River sketchbook. As binaries and boundaries separating gay from straight, land from water, and human from ‘Nature’ are there to be crossed and blurred by this research, so is the line that marks the separation between the inside and the outside of the (my) human body, and between each individual body and the wider planetary body on which we live.

Sketchbook Page at Breakast (inc images of artwork by Hey Paul Studio & Trisha Thompson Adams)

Later, while waiting in the Urology waiting room at the hospital, I received a text from my friend Bella telling me that it was the feast day for St Aelred of Rievaulx, patron saint of kidney stones. This all seemed very synchronous, so as the clinic was understandably busy, it being in the middle of a pandemic, and I had a bit of a wait, I did some more research on my phone.

Apparently St Aelred was a Cistercian monk, and Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in the 12th Century, with Rievaulx meaning something like ‘River Valley’. Some historians have described him as ‘homosexual’, others say that such a distinction was not relevant to concepts of sexuality of the time, and still more say that his writings on ‘spiritual friendship’ have been misinterpreted as homosexual desire. Whichever is true, he’s been adopted by several gay-friendly churches, particulary in the US, as their patron saint.

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love…. the two of you, in the sleep of peace away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you; to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul, and two become one.”

St Aelred of Rievaulx

Kidney stones, rivers, spirituality and a Queer monk… for a trip to the hospital, my morning was proving pretty rich for my research.

I asked my consultant if I could take a copy of my scan, but apparently it’s not allowed. I can contact the hospital to ask for a cd-rom or similar, but I think the NHS have enough to think about at the moment, without me adding to their workload. So I don’t have image of my kidneys sadly, but am enjoying the beginning of a journey into the flowing streams, pools and rivers of the inside of my body, and am excited to explore this further with artist and researcher in the medical humanities, Catherine Lamont-Robinson.

In the meantime I’m waiting to see if the stones will unwedge themselves and emerge in the next few weeks (reminds me of the talk of dams, weirs and woody debris with Nick from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust), and if so whether I can manage to hang onto one and like my consultant suggested, have it tested to find out its mineral composition (which also reminds me of my conversation with Claire from Wessex Archaeology on chalk streams, flint, gravel and erosion).

I’m taking it easy work-wise right now, but did manage to get my DYCP grant application off to Arts Council England this morning, which if successful would enable me to develop this research into a year-long piece of dedicated research and development for me – keep everything crossed!

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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