The final preparations are being made and I want pass on here my warmest appreciation for all the support and help I have received from many, many people throughout the preparation for this exhibition. The official opening is on Friday 24th October but over on the Illness begins with ‘I’ page on this site you get a sneak preview of the works and texts that make up the show.
I have just published a new page on this site. It is to become the online home of the Illness begins with “I” art exhibition. There will be a gallery of all of the artwork including some extras along with notes, quotes and narratives that relate to the theme as a whole. I hope you will enjoy the page as it develops and maybe share your thoughts…….
The excellent news I have just received is that The Wellcome Trust have approved my application for funding for a three-month research visit to Glasgow University Medical Humanities Research Centre! For March through May next year then I will be staying in a city that is very dear to my heart working on the Drawing Women’s Cancer project. The award is a fantastic recognition of the value of the project as a whole and to say I am pleased, proud and excited is not really enough!
Alongside Drawing Women’s Cancer I am about to begin a three month artist residency at Swansea University College of Medicine. You may be interested to follow its progress and if so, please follow the link http://medicineunmasked.wordpress.com/ or click on Medicine Unmasked in the list on the left hand side.
So, if you are in the area on October 24th you are more than welcome to come along to have a glass of wine and view the paintings, drawings and sculptures which I hope will give some further insight into how I am using art as a way to promote and extend understanding of the profound existential impact of illness. And if you can’t come in person please watch this space as very soon I will be putting up an image gallery of the whole show.
On my other research site – Drawing Women’s Cancer: drawingcancer.wordpress.com - I have posted a series of recent drawings I made in the operating theatre while attending a gynaecological operation. I have put a couple up here too in the hope you will be interested to see more. The project is growing in terms of its impact and resonance since its inception in 2012 and it is my constant aim to ensure that this continues.
I have attended various operations during the course of the project and all of the women who have allowed me to witness this part of their experience do so with the conviction that it will help me understand more profoundly what they are going through. Having, to borrow a term from legal channels, an ‘appropriate adult’ seems also to help sometimes as they try to deal with the natural anxieties that such an experience brings on.
In the true spirit of interdisciplinary practice in the Medical Humanities, the Drawing Women’s Cancer project offers a direct challenge to the rationale of an uncompromising ‘art-science’ dichotomy by demonstrating that, in practice, neither can be disassociated from our understanding of humanity and the manner in which we engage or disengage with the society in which we are a ‘person’. Art, medical science and philosophy, at least for me, seem inescapably entangled in a web of our own being and are constituent parts of the same overall human project, but visual art perhaps has the more obvious capacity to ‘bear witness’ to the trials that are often borne in the pursuance of being…in our physical enactment and psychological representation of life. Drawing Women’s Cancer is not only about disease, or medical intervention, or suffering, or the impact of illness; it is about all of these things. It is about, as Radley notes, what it feels like when ‘all sense of normality, and all the expectations of a future that accompany good health, suddenly become less real’. It is about the experience of illness, where that experience overrides all others. It is about creating a language that has the power to speak, not necessarily for the women whose personal stories are taken as the point of departure, but rather because of them, so that they may return.
A friend sent me this image…it was a shock, almost, as the piece is long since destroyed as a result of weeks of storage in a damp container on a journey from Cyprus to the UK. Sadly the image cannot provide the impact of the original, which was some 3 metres long. ‘The Last Supper’ was a reaction to 9/11, painted in the comfort of a warm sunny studio in the Mediterranean only weeks after the event and born of so many feelings and emotions I was going through at the time. It feels strange to see it now – a huge piece in which I invested so much, but which was never shown, and never left the studio – I feel almost detached, as if it was another life. If I am really honest ….I think, I feel, that it was.
It’s been a while, but things have been moving fast for me in terms of work and research opportunities…almost a blur, as Drawing Women’s Cancer develops, amorphic beginnings of parallel international projects take more solid form, deadlines loom and the studio beckons. Life as a freelancer – an artist/researcher ‘visitor’ roaming the corridors and working with extraordinary people in and of various institutions is proving to be very accommodating. It nurtures my interdisciplinary being, and my independent soul, in a way that full time academia never did …but then, perhaps it was the particular academic positions that I held that were the problem, rather than the world itself.
Uppermost in my mind at the moment however is a major exhibition of my work that will be going up in November at The gate Arts centre in Cardiff. I am back in the studio where the smell of oil paint never fails to raise my spirits and inspire the academic in me to negotiate to more precarious, more recklessly intuitive route towards understanding. I will post more details later – maybe even gift the show a page of its own! – but for now here is a description of the show and a detail of one of the paintings.
Illness begins with ‘I’
To find oneself in Sontag’s Kingdom of the Sick is to experience the ‘abject’, the impossible object that remains still a part of the subject, and which Grosz tell us ‘signals the precarious grasp that the subject has over its identity and bodily boundaries’. To find oneself in the Kingdom of the Sick is to lose sight of oneself in the Kingdom of the Well, and to suffer in a world where the final abjection is to be found in Kristeva’s phenomenon of ‘death infecting life’. Medicine can define the abject. It can provide, sometimes, a passage back into the Kingdom of the Well. But as the person behind the diagnosis becomes a patient, individuality and the voice of suffering is often lost in the transformation.
This exhibition is about visualising the experience of illness through a creative act of witness. These are ‘portraits’ of the individual experience of levels of ‘dis-ease’ that can become so much a part of being itself that the discomfort is rarely contained within physical, mental or even spiritual boundaries. The experience can be chronic or acute, it can traverse a scale from devastation to mild irritation, but most importantly it is uniquely subjective, allied irrevocably to Self. This exhibition seeks to reinstate the voice of the individual caught between Kingdoms. Illness begins with ‘I’.