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Health

Dying for your art

This is heartbreaking. Sculptor Gillian Genser has been slowly poisoned by the shells she used in her artworks.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with heavy-metal poisoning. Doctors found high levels of arsenic and lead in my blood, the result of chronic exposure. The water where the mussels grew was likely contaminated from industrial waste, and the mussel shells I’d been working with for decades were toxic. Metals can be absorbed through consumption, air or skin. I’d been exposed in every way.

Genser’s work is very beautiful, I think, and she says that her poisoning makes it even more relevant.

When we talk about environmental damage, we speak of declines in populations. Numbers and species. But I’ve experienced the suffering of so many creatures trapped in their polluted habitats. I now hope their voices can be heard—that my art might create a sense of awe, a sense of connectivity and reverence for the natural world.