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Through my work I have seen and experienced much that accords with the worthy aims of medicine as a science that begins with preventing, treating and/or curing illness, and, where cure is not possible, end with facilitating what has been called ‘a good death’. I have also seen and experienced things that have given me pause and reason to question. I will continue questioning on behalf of the patient.

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Its been a good first week, a very busy week and one that has afforded me  a rich opportunity to reflect on my practice in a very intensive way.  It has also brought a  complete change in the way I am working. Here, I am sitting mostly alone in the dissection room poring over small scale intricate drawings, whereas over the last few months back in my studio in Cardiff I have been working on large scale drawings and oil paintings to prepare for the Breast Cancer: a creative intervention exhibition. The difference in practical terms is stark,  but the sense of immersion in the work is the same, if not intensified, here in Dundee as when I am alone I find I can enter depths of myself that general life often dictates I should bridge. Moreover, the feeling of being so welcomed within an environment where the science behind what I do as an artist is so ‘palpable’ is  exciting and inspirational. It’s also very interesting in relation to the differences between the science lab and the hospital wards and theatres that I work in.

I am teaching here too. Running the life drawing classes and joining in on the ‘crits’ with students on the MSc Forensic and Medical Art courses is a pleasure and a great experience. It is a valuable challenge to adapt my way of teaching to address what the students need most. It helps of course that they are keen and willing to learn. In the image below thats me at the back – drawing on the wall!

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I am staying in Broughty Ferry, a small coastal  town just outside the city and it has become for me  very special place. Being by the water is always very evocative for me but that’s another, longer story! For now I simply  offer the image here (taken from the window of my rented flat) of the sunset that I came home to yesterday evening.

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The Studies for a Portrait exhibit is now closed, however for the first time I am putting up some works from the show for sale here on my website. I am hoping to raise money to fund the development of the Drawing Women’s Cancer project which is ongoing and will generate a major exhibition in November at the Hearth Gallery at Llandough hospital here in Cardiff. I am working at present on three large scale oil portraits for this project and accompanying drawings. You can find more details on the project website.

All the pieces below are from the Studies for a Portrait show. All are executed with graphite, they are signed and beautifully framed in black wood. Average size for the pieces is A3 (210 x 420mm). The price for each piece is £200 (excluding delivery)

If you are interested in purchasing any of these works please contact me: jacsaorsa@hotmail.com

Thanks!

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Just got the news yesterday that I have a small amount of funding to carry out a project that is close to my heart and I have been thinking about for ages! I am of course delighted that I’ll finally be able to realise Cancer Ward 12 working at Singleton Hospital in Swansea. Work is now set to begin in November this year with an exhibition scheduled for June 2017. More details later but for now here is a brief summary of the idea.

Cancer Ward 12 draws on literature (The Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, pub. 1967) and on life. It is a project that, as a discrete piece of research in its own right, carried out at Singleton hospital in Swansea, has enormous potential to further develop into a comparative study. There are two parts:

The first part involves my ‘immersion’ into the day-to-day life on the Oncology Ward of Singleton Hospital, which is a thirty bed, general oncology/haematology ward where patients with a variety of cancers and disease related symptoms are treated and cared for.  Working directly with consenting patients and their family members/carers, and with health professionals and hospital staff I will document what I see and experience through drawing and written narrative. I will use a ‘narrative medicine’ approach to gather individual experiences of illness, and of different forms of giving and receiving treatment.

The second part of the project will involve developing all the notes and sketches made on site as a basis for creating a substantial a body of work  for public exhibition.

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In support of the development of my Drawing Women’s Cancer project toward working with women who have gone or are going through the experience of breast cancer I have taken what is for me an unprecendented and indeed quite scary step! I have created a Just Giving page which can be found here.

https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/drawingwomenscancer

You can find more details if you click on the link, and on the DWC website, but a snippet from the Just Giving page may help…

for the majority of the work I have been self-funded, and the work has taken place within the Wales area. Now I would like to expand the project to include breast cancer and take the work beyond Wales. I am totally committed to the Drawing Women’s Cancer project and from the responses and feedback I have received since the very beginning I am convinced of the necessity to continue developing the work.

Already though after only a few hours I have received some donations so I am humbly appreciative of the support out there for my work.

Its been a while since my last post and things have been quite frantic. Since returning from Tanzania I have been working on drawings for the Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula show at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London in May (more on that later) but now I am in Glasgow working in the Medical Humanities Research Centre, with many thanks to the Wellcome Trust who have funded this three month visit.

Through this post are some of the drawings I have been doing in the Glasgow University Anatomy Museum.

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I am writing a paper in which I hope will put the Drawing Women’s Cancer project into historical and philosophical context. All of the work up to now on the project has been directly concerned with the here and now – with the experiences of women in the present, and this was the primary aim from the beginning . I feel however that to enhance the validity and indeed the credibility of the work, it is very necessary to ‘ground’ the project in relation to what has gone before. Here is a pertinent section of the proposal that WT approved:

The paper will look at how perceptions of the woman patient between the 18th century rise of obstetrics and the ‘man-midwife’ persona of William Hunter and his Scottish contemporaries, through the 19th century advancement of gynaecology to the present day treatment of gynaecological disease, have influenced present day attitudes – both medical and general – towards gynaecological illness and its overall impact on women’s lives, and moreover, how these attitudes were and can be affected by and through visual art. I will focus on a methodological and philosophical comparison of Hunter’s Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (drawings by Jan Van Rymsdyk) and the development of my own drawings for Drawing Women’s Cancer as a basis from which to explore how visual art as a form of expression and communication can, as a form of ‘metalanguage’, effectively serve to ‘speak the unspeakable’ in this area women’s health.

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I have been here for two weeks now and it is the historical context that has been engaging my time and thoughts  as I have discovered the University Anatomy Museum. The experience of drawing from the very same bodies that Rymsdyk drew from is a gift and in many ways very humbling. Further, Glasgow University Library holds the full set of Rymsdyk’s drawings for the Gravid Uterus in their Special Collections and I spent a whole afternoon studying them, trying to understand how he executed them – one artist to another –  and I have to admit I had a few surprises after only ever seeing the reproductions. I discovered that he definitely does use graphite in the drawings,  which are often considered to be just red chalk alone, and he also uses what looks like dilute ink in blue yellow and green. The drawings are less defined and precise in the flesh -and better for that!. In some there is definitely a ‘wetting’ if the chalk – and this is further evidenced by the buckling of the paper- but it is a technique he seems to use sparingly. Most of the tonal quality comes from exceptionally sensitive blending of the chalk and overall, to my mind, he does indeed have a very ‘painterly style.

In the drawings here I have used red chalk (or at least the modern equivalent) and graphite. I am not in any way trying to emulate Rymsdyk, I am simply trying to ‘get inside his head’ in search – through practice – of the subjective nuances of what he was doing. I am also – undeniably – enjoying myself enormously, and especially savouring the necessity to get back to a level of ‘discipline’ in the work!

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In my work on the various projects in medical settings the making of the art, for me, is a creative act that goes beyond documentation. It is an act of empathic witness and the art itself becomes both agent and advocate of patient autonomy through its unique capacity to engage the subjective sensibilities of the viewer. This goes far beyond Alan Radley’s concept of the asymmetric relation – it is a complete immersion of one subjectivity into the world of many others and the results that are derived from such a conflagration serve only to further blur the boundaries between objective rationalism and the passionate human need to co-exist and share experience.

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So, for the last two weeks I have been immersed in the culture, and the sheer dynamism of the Oncology Department at Singleton Hospital in Swansea on the first stage of the Medicine Unmasked project. You can find out more about the project and follow its progress here: medicineunmasked.wordpress.com

I have been shadowing four students who are now two weeks into their five-week  ‘oncology apprenticeship’ on the Graduate Entry Medical program at Swansea University College of Medicine. Through shadowing, observing, taking notes, engaging in and recording one-to-one conversations with students and medical professionals, and generally getting the feel, from my artist’s perspective, of the students own experiences in terms of learning and teaching of their placement on the department, I have amassed copious notes, sketches and ideas that will all be used as ‘data’ for when I  return to the hospital for a further two weeks in January. During this second stage of the project I will work on a body of artwork, drawings inspired by  the process as a whole, but until then, and in the meantime, I will offer a series of posts on this blog that relate to the project both directly, as the experiential nature of the project demands, and more theoretically, as the same experiential nature of the project has encouraged! Needless to say I would appreciate any comments/feedback for the posts on this site as all such content potentially impacts on the process of the research as a whole and is therefore very valuable.

“As an experienced doctor you may have seen twenty patients who, say, have had a heart attack. But this patient has only seen one. It’s their first experience so I think that’s what we have to bear in mind.” (2nd year Student)

I want to begin by expressing my deep appreciation and gratitude to everybody I have been working with; the students themselves, the consultant oncologists that are working alongside, specialist nurses, all nurses on the wards, radiologists, staff in the hospital library, in the cafe, and indeed all hospital staff who I have met and who have been so wonderfully accommodating of someone who –  let’s face it –  must seem a slightly strange presence in the day-to-day dealings of the hospital as I sit quietly and watchfully with sketch-book or dictaphone in hand! I also owe huge thanks of course to the patients who have been so willing to let me be a witness, alongside the professionals and the medical students, to their experiences during consultation, examination and, in one case, of having a ‘shell’ made of his head in preparation for radiotherapy.

As a small group of two boys and two girls, three in their second year and one in her fourth and final year the students have enthusiastically welcomed me into their world as they tackle the demands both professional and personal of working in the department, and in the process my own learning curve has been close to vertical! As much as I have been learning about the student experience both in the specific terms of the apprenticeship model, and in the more general terms of the GEM course as a whole, I have also had the fantastic opportunity to engage with the theory, and most directly the practice of oncology in a way that has had a profound impact on my perception of myself and my practice as an artist working in medicine. It has confirmed, in a very visceral way, that this is the right place for me to be in terms of how I understand my art and what it can do.

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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.

Page1Here is the poster for a new exhibition of work entitled Illness begins with “I”.

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.

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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.

 

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