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This is the latest one of my drawings in the Glasgow University Anatomy Museum. It is from a plaster cast William Hunter made of a dissection of a pregnant woman at around the sixth month of pregnancy. My aim was to get a more ‘lifelike’ feel about the drawing  – to find the innocence and the warmth of the ‘real’ foetus under the painted plaster.

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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Another New Year.!..I wish all who read my work a very happy and healthy 2015.

Below is a talk I gave at the Visualising Illness Workshop held at Birkbeck College London last November. It is fundamentally a reflection on the concept behind the Illness begins with “I” exhibition. I hope some of you might enjoy it and, as always , your comments are much appreciated.

I would like to focus in this brief talk on a painting from my recent exhibition entitled Illness begins with I. The painting is called Derma and is a visualisation of the experience of psoriasis, as suffered by someone who is a friend of mine. Bearing in mind Deleuze’s distinction between concepts of philosophy, and affects of art, we can take here both a philosophical, and emotional perspective on the relation between objectivity and subjectivity, and the relation between the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’, in terms of the image and how it may be interpreted. I believe that any image, whether it be a ‘difficult’ image or not calls the viewer, touches lightly with a soft but insistent evocation of meaning that transcends mere representation. This call can be answered in emotional engagement as the viewer enters a dynamic dialogue with the work, a dialogue that characterises the act and process of interpretation.

DermaRicoeur approaches an analysis of interpretation through his conception of the hermeneutic arc as a development of the original hermeneutic circle. The arc provides a bridge between the image to be interpreted, and lived experience, where experience is defined in the immediacy of life. This naturally implicates what we understand as the ‘Self’ in the interpretive process, and by consequence, it implicates the process itself as constituting a profound and meaningful interrelation between the Self, the interpreter, and the ‘Other’, the ‘interpreted’, wherein the image, as an autonomous entity, is permitted to ‘speak’ on its own terms.

In this dialogue, the image proposes alternative ways of meaningful understanding from within its own ‘projected world’. This is the world into which the interpreter must step, just as Alice stepped through the Looking Glass, even though some images, especially those of suffering and pain, are difficult to approach. Whilst ever we hesitate to take the step towards true empathy, whilst ever we remain on safe, solid and familiar ground that is sustained by mere, even if well-intentioned sympathy, we only continue to objectify the world of the other and thus avoid the deeply meaningful understanding that is derived from subjective interrelation. Sympathy turns on the gaze, the instant recognition of the image that connects us to the superficial while maintaining our separateness from the fundamental. Empathy however reflects Arendt’s notion of compassion, which defines an immediate sense of another’s suffering that leads to a practical response. As Alan Radley notes in his book, Works of Illness, ‘We do not turn from the depiction as such but from a depiction that exemplifies unbearable suffering’, and thus it is not the image itself that repels us, but rather the deeper understanding of existential suffering that empathic engagement with the image provokes. The risk we take at this level of engagement, by fully entering the world of an image of suffering, is of losing ourselves in a strange and unrecognisable experience of illness and experiencing, in turn, the Other’s sense of horror that accompanies that of abjection.

Radley goes on to note that ill people are indeed part of the Kingdom of the Well, and as Sontag herself acknowledges, they hold dual citizenship, but the sick remain separate in terms of general experience and therefore, according to Ricoeur, the viewer who does step into their world, the world of the Other, must suffer in her own turn the vertiginous disorientating clarity that leads to understanding. Only in this way can a viewer appreciate, or ‘appropriate’, the true meaning of the image, so that it becomes real enough to ‘own’. On encountering the mirror Alice has to move forward and through it in order to get past seeing only the reflection of both herself and her safe and secure surroundings. She can easily describe and explain her own world, the familiar room, the recognisable things that seem to make life meaningful, but beyond the reflection she enters another world wherein the decision to believe or not to believe must be made with ambivalence, and once there, she is no longer, or ever the same.

Meaning then is interpreted by and through the individual, and involves a response not so much to what the image says, but rather to what it says something about, and so, just as my painting is derived from an artistic appropriation that involves my witnessing my friends suffering and ‘owning’ it in the midst of creative process, a viewers interpretation is a further appropriation of the multiplicity of meanings that the image itself embodies, outwith authorial intention. Moreover, and in part through the emotional involvement that it depends upon, such appropriation must eventually give rise to the Deleuzean Figure beyond figuration, the ‘virtual’ figure, the ‘Other’ in relation to which (or who) we all come to realise the meaning – or perhaps yet the meaninglessness – of our own existence. Deleuze and Ricoeur come together, in concept, if not in terminology or even emphasis, at this point where appropriation necessarily precipitates a profound understanding of Self in relation to the Other. For the latter it is the enactment of the concept of ‘re-figuration’, a process of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of appropriated meaning in the world of the image, that determines the way in which the interpreter comes to understand his or her own being-in-the-world. From a Deleuzean perspective however, it is in a deeper place, in the darkened corners of the your own experience of the image of suffering, and far beyond your individual ego, that you will yourself encounter the ‘Body Without Organs’ or your ‘alter-ego’. The Body without Organs is here the innate and endemic ‘dis-ease’ that we all experience when confronted with suffering, and which is characterised by Ricoeur as the ‘Otherness’ at the very heart of Selfhood. This is the true significance of Illness begins with I

In conclusion, and from my position as an artist, I would like to take respectful issue here with a point made by Radley as he notes, ‘In artistic renderings made by a third party the spectator might be said to sympathise with the painter who has established an asymmetrical relationship with the afflicted person. One outcome of this asymmetry is that the afflicted person is identified with his or her suffering but is not seen to rise above it.’

I am happy to agree with the concept of an asymmetrical relationship that exists between artist and subject, however, I hesitate to follow through with the idea that the outcome of such asymmetry – even from a viewer’s perspective – ever fully denies the identification of the ‘person behind the diagnosis’, and thus the subjects individual capacity to demonstrate resilience and strength of will. The pose for this image was developed from as a composite of several preparatory sketches and photographs. It is intended to evoke a sense of ambivalence such that the sufferer can – and indeed sometimes does – allow himself to be overwhelmed by the condition and let it push him down, or he can – and indeed sometimes does – rise above it and stand up.

DRAWING THE WORLD OF THE OTHER

I light a candle

for your coming back

Brilliant and frail

in a darkening room

Beautiful it is and damned

not to last, only endure

Almost as fragile

As darkness itself

John Glenday

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Amongst all the things in our world there is perhaps nothing more poignant and disquieting than the ephemeral light of a candle as it breaks the darkness of the night. The veil of darkness hides our presupposed ‘truth’ of things, but the luminance of the candle tears the veil from top to bottom and the trembling fragility of the flame affects and alters the way in which we see and therefore the way in which we understand the world. Ordinary things take on new aspects, and drawing by the light of a candle brings into question the all of the ways in which we are accustomed to representing things in what we recognise as the world. The candlelight calls to us then, the candlelight draws us not towards the world but towards ‘our world’.

Our world – a distant, mythical place, full of intangible and ephemeral entities that are derived from our memories, our hopes, our fears and all the things that lie above, below and beyond everyday life. In our world we are separate from the ‘Other’. Our world is never the same as the world of the ‘other’, but it can coincide. Just as we breathe the same air, just as we can see the Other and define the boundaries that separate us from the Other, physically we can break through the boundaries and communicate with language. With language we allow the Other into our world and, in turn, with language we can enter theirs.

Who then is the Other? Being the Other, he or she can never be the same as us. Yet we can only know ourselves, who we are, because of the Other. Our own identity is constructed in terms of the Other. We inhabit our world only in the same way, and ultimately because, the Other inhabits theirs.

In the light of reason and logic. In the light of day we recognise and acknowledge the Other through many forms of language. Through the language of our senses we can see, watch, hear, touch and even smell the Other. We can have a dialogue with the Other and through all of this we can convince ourselves that we and the Other are kin and that we exist together in the same world.

We can draw the Other. We can render the Other recognisable in a portrait, but in the darkness, in silence, we cannot really ‘know’. We cannot be sure, we cannot rely on our senses and here we enter our own world, a world in which we are able to recognise the  presence of th Other only by what we can remember, by what we think we know.

Once behind the veil of darkness then we cannot rely on certainty. We cannot know the Other and therefore we cannot know, for sure, ourselves.  We might lose ourselves thus within our own world of memories, of yearnings, of feelings of being alone and in not knowing we might fear the unknown that Other has become. We might fear the absence of the Other, an absence that in the dark creates an emptiness that we can only fill with our imaginings. We might begin to feel that we ourselves are the Other.

A lit candle allows us to see through the veil of darkness but we cannot now see the solid  logical and recognisable world that we share with the Other that we know. No, the candlelight shows us another world, a fragile and nebulous world of the Other where things are never really what they seem. This is our world, a world where the Other becomes the unknown, where the Other becomes us and we become the Other. This is a world of shadows, a world of ambivalence wherein we recognise ourselves in all that we see and wherein all that seems solid become fragile in the flickering candlelight as it passes in an out of recognisable form. This is our world,

Beautiful it is and  damned

not to last, only endure

Almost as fragile

As darkness itself

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

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