Emily Orley

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The X-ray and the Border
(a work in progress)

A talk with images and silences.

I begin by telling, in short fragments taken from his memoirs, the story of my grandfather’s roundabout journey from Russia to England in the early twentieth century, before, during and after the First World War. As well as a migrant, he was also a radiologist, so I also consider how the x-ray as document traces a different kind of migration across borders (from outside to inside, from darkness to light) but one that nevertheless echoes journeys over land.

With the discovery of the x-ray in the last years of the nineteenth century, the insides of bodies were made visible in new and extraordinary ways. People were made transparent, their living bones revealed for the first time, performed in a new light. And everyone’s bones looked more or less the same. But the discovery of the x-ray did not come without its dangers. Crossing these new (medical, electromagnetic, carnal) borders had a harmful effect on the bodies involved. And yet because of those bodies, radiology has evolved as a key medical discipline of its own, which is now responsible for diagnosing and curing a whole range of life-threatening conditions.


So I try to ask: why does the act of crossing borders, whether they be made of flesh or drawn on maps, always seem to be harmful to the bodies involved?