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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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Remnants

There’s that smell again

Familiar to me now

not the smell of Death so much as of lives once been

Remnants steeped in Thiel fluid

the smell of life deconstructed

Number [—-]

A head torn from the vertebrae

Mouth agape as if gulping a final breath

Skin flayed from the mandible

Eyeless sockets that still see me

plead to be once more hidden under the plastic shroud

Cold

I am cold

It is cold in here

The remnant of his eyebrow expresses such pathos

Defying recourse to objectivity

to cold death

My drawing begins to change

I pull back the plastic shroud even further

ignoring entreaty

images

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.

In a week I will be returning to the warmth and the hospitality of Galveston, Texas, once again the guest of the University of Texas Medical Branch Institute of Medical Humanities. I have bought new sandals.

This time, two motivations. I will continue to write on Drawing Women’s Cancer, and I will take up again the kind offer from the Director of Anatomy to observe and draw in the human dissection classes. I mean to work on some drypoint plates – the cadavers lend themselves to inscription through the diamond  which I hope will cut into the plate with a delicacy and a ‘tenderness’ that will do justice to the life that once was and the body that is. Spidery tendons and multiple layers of flesh and fat over bone. It is the subjectivity of experience that will occupy my mind and hand this time.

I am also pledged to teach on a Medical Humanities workshop to incoming medical students. I will adapt perhaps the workshop I gave in Glasgow. Here is a quote that I used then from a book that I found in the wonderful second hand bookstore in Glaveston on my last visit; a book that had a powerful impact on me. I used it that day in the city that claims a large part of my life and the lives of my children – who have grown strong and healthy. The quote  is about a child who did not, and the suffering she left behind.

‘Senora’, he began, ‘I am sorry’.  All at once he seemed to me shorter than he was, scarcely taller than she. There was a place at the crown of his head where the hair had grown thin. His lips were stones. He could hardly move them. The voice was dry, dusty. ‘No-one could have known. Some bad reaction to the medicine for sleeping. It poisoned her. High fever. She did not wake up.’ The last, a whisper.

The woman studied his lips as though she were deaf. He tried, but could not control a twitching at the corner of his mouth. He raised a thumb and forefinger to press something back into his eyes.

‘Muerte,’ the woman announced to herself. Her eyes were human, deadly.

‘Si, muerte’. At that moment he was like someone cast, still alive, as an effigy for his own tomb. He closed his eyes. Nor did he open them until he felt the touch of the woman’s hand on his arm, a touch from which he did not withdraw.

(Selzer, Richard, 1996 (1982), Letters to a Young Doctor, New York:Harvest Brace)

Suffering comes in many forms including the anguish that pervades so many aspects in between  life and death. The image here is one I came across again recently. I made it for  “sometimes I bleed…” an article I wrote some time  ago for the Journal for War and Culture Studies (Volume 4 Issue 1 (01 June 2011), pp. 127-139. It was a piece of ‘academic’ writing that nevertheless interrelated word image and subjectivity in a way that I still aspire towards.

Head

Innocence dies at the hands of the child who is destined to become the stranger within us all

In painting the image of a child dying of hunger, my aim is not to make a re-presentation of a child dying of hunger, or to elicit or express what it feels like to watch a child dying of hunger. My aim is to paint hunger itself.

Art is the objectification of feeling, Herman Melville

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