This is a re-post of a review written by Judith Hoffman that first appeared UMBRELLA Volume 29, No 2, June 2006
Open Heart Surgery by Michael Peven is the saga of the artist’s heart surgery in 2002. It is a kind of “primer” on the subject, but done in an aesthetic, finely tuned, and beautifully structured way.
As you open the book, it becomes a metaphor of that brutal opening up of the chest, showing the progress of the chest from healthy and hairy progressively to more injured with the obvious scar against little hair and being held together with steri-strips and staples against a naked chest. Using X-rays and the angiogram, the journey goes into the heart itself and beyond. This is not an easy book, either from the point of the subject matter or the masterful construction which demands that you interact with the pages.
The book is bound on the left and right sides and pages generally open in the middle through a series of more and more complex methods. You feel that Peven is testing you, making it difficult, and even experiencing this kind of slow-motion film that allows you to see what CSI shows you in 5 seconds. But he has thought this out and made the book challenging for him as well as for the reader/viewer.
For instance, there is a “fringe” made to the approximate scale and shape of the steristrips or undoing a metal twist tie on the image of the sternum (after seeing the patient’s in the X-ray on the previous page). The imagery is genuine, an anatomy lesson that I am sure the artist never wanted, but at least he can share it with us.
The book is a tribute to survival, to making something beautiful out of something rather traumatic and devastating, but the artist in Peven overcomes the patient in Peven and we touch and feel the skin, the wounds, the sutures and know with great simulation what he went through.