An artist suffered mysterious symptoms for years. Then she realized her sculpture was poisoning her.



For 15 years, Genser was grinding up Canadian blue muscle shells to create a sculpture of Adam, the first person

First, Gillian Genser thought the headaches and vomiting were just the latest signs of autoimmune disorders, which she had already hit. But then the symptoms got stranger. She felt agitated. They wake up almost could move. Hearing disappeared from one ear. You muscle crammed and you speak slurred.

What was on For years, the doctors were baffled by what was exactly the Toronto-based sculptor.

Then, a blood test three years ago came back positive for heavy metal poisoning. And Genser realized her art was killing her.

"I was flabbergasted," Genser, 59, told the Washington Post. "Absolutely flabbergasted."

For 15 years, Ginger has been grinding Muscle Shells to create a sculpture of Adam, the first person. She did not, though, that muscles can accumulate toxins, such as lead and arsenic, over years of feeding in polluted water. When Genser reached the shell dust or touched the powdery stays, some of that metal made its way into her body, too.

For Genser, who first wrote about her case in Toronto Life Journal on 28 November, the poisoning is deeply ironic. By using a natural material, like muscle shells, to determine a biblical character, she wanted to comment on the humanity's skewed relationship with the now-contaminated natural world.

I was so confident that the muscles, which the government said I could eat intact and buy in the market as food, could never be bad for me

"The work was an environmental statement, it's about conviction that the first effect of the existence should be, rather than the idea that we have domination over all the animals," she said. "So it is very interesting and ironic that Adam, like the first person, was so toxic. He poisoned me. Does not that make sense, because we poisoned the world starting with this very poor idea? "

Genser began sculpting with orthodoxism in 1991, when she began selling small sculptures in Toronto made of egg shells before moving on to projects crafted with coral, bones, and plants. In 1998, she completed a sculpture from Lilith, the first woman in Jewish folklore, made of egg shells. She decided her next project would be the first person, Adam, and soon found the perfect material to make him: Blue Muscle Shells of Canada's Atlantic Coast, bought in bulk in Toronto's Chinatown.

She loved as the shells looked – "Muscle shells are fabulous for replicating muscle contractions" – and felt good about sculpting with a substance taken directly from a nearby ecosystem.

She's spending up to 12 hours a day to mold the shells with a dentist's drill. While she ventilated her studio, she did not make any special effort to avoid the shell byproducts, assuming they were good.

The 1998 sculpture of Lillith, the first woman in Jewish Folklore, made of egg shells by Gillian Genser

Gillian Genser

But almost immediately after the work began, Genser began to get sick. After years with a variety of auto-immunizers, she has been used to her body bypassing her. But she soon realized that the symptoms were different. As her limbs alternately soft and became immobilized, she suffered neurological ailments as well. In her worst moments, she could barely talk, she lost her short-term memory and stopped talking to close friends.

She saw a Lithuanian specialist in neurological health and psychiatrist prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants, but nothing was helpful.

"To be nice to my doctors, they ask me, 'Are you working with something toxic?' And I'm saying, 'No, I'm working with all natural Materials, and we're all going on, "she said. "I was so confident that the muscles, which the government said I could eat intact and buy in the market as food, could never be bad for me."

It was not until 2015 when Genser first saw a specialist who tested her blood for heavy metals. The results are emphatic: It has high levels of arsenic and carry on its system. She was shocked, but still confused – how did she get the dangerous compounds?

I feel terrible mourning for them. We did it to them, they did not do it to me.

That's when she talked to a professor in Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum that specializes in invertebrates. The specialist was horrified that she had used Muslims shells for years in her work. "He told me," People do not realize how poisonous things are, " She said.

Genser stopped working with the shells, but she said she had little luck to handle her condition. She described her quality of life as "poor," and still suffers memory lapses and nausea. She said she would be at higher risk of neuroraic ulcers, as Alzheimer's and Parkinson.

But she does not stop any of the pain against the water creatures whose shells are secretly pulling her body.

"I think about the muscles and how they can not let their polluted habits have just dumped all the poison in," she said. "I feel terrible mourning for them, we did it to them, they do not do it to me."


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