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So, the Cancer Ward 12 Exhibition at the Dynevor Centre Gallery is now closed but you can see it on the new exhibition page on my other project site https://cancerward12.wordpress.com

Once there just click the appropriate heading on the page menu and do scroll down as there is  lot to see!

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The exhibition might be over but the work continues. I am currently putting together a publication based on the project which will be available in e-book and print format. More on that very soon.

I hope that you enjoy the page and that it provides some feel of the physical exhibition. Please do send comments/feedback either by posting here or contact me directly: jacsaorsa@hotmail.com   All such feedback really helps in progressing and developing my work.

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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.

Here is an early invitation to another show that I will be putting up at the Waterloo Gallery in September. This time the exhibition will be at their Wyndham Arcade venue in the centre of Cardiff, and I am excited to be working in Collaboration with Luis Fernando Noriega. Luis is a gifted fine art photographer based in Antigua Guatemala, and since my visit to the city last year we have been working together to produce something which I hope will present a rather special collaborative insight into life and culture in the city.

The good writer possesses not only his spirit but also the spirit of his friends, much like the photographer has an undeniable connection to his surroundings. For me, that perception-altering connection was made with Antigua Guatemala. A city filled with history and unique colonial architecture, Antigua offers a perfect setting to capture a compelling frame on every single one of its cobblestone streets and avenues. The contrast of the mundane wonders of everyday-life against such a unique dreamscape of a city creates the necessity to frame every shot in a way in which the foreground and the background become a single story to be told. For this exhibit I want to present Antigua in a way that no one else has seen it before. The angles and the light are crucial because Antigua has been photographed so many times and I want to take a fresh look at what my city means to me. Luis Fernando Noriega, 2016

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Having spent time in Antigua, Guatemala, I was struck by its cultural richness and by my own responses to the emotional ‘nearness’ of the suffering endured by the Mayan people throughout half a millennium. Peace Accords that finally ended the conflicts of recent history were signed in 1996 but contemporary Guatemala bears the scars of war and the wounds are deep. In my practice I often use portraiture as a conceptual framework for exploring the relationship between culture and contemporary society and this collaboration with Luis Fernando Noriega is a great opportunity to bring together our two different approaches to a subject matter that is deeply meaningful. This exhibition will fully realise the affinity between art and photography, where both are conceived as discrete art forms in themselves, yet at the same time they are interrelated processes of visual exploration. Jac Saorsa, 2016

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.

Its going to be a fast moving few weeks I think, now the Illness begins with I exhibition is over. It turned out to be a successful show, especially in terms of the generous and sometimes humbling feedback I received. Most importantly for me it validated once again that what I am doing is worthwhile.

Now I am off to Glasgow to meet with my colleague at the University there to discuss my visit next year, and then I am very pleased to be going to Birkbeck College in London where I have been invited to present my work at the Visualising Illness workshop this weekend. http://www.bbk.ac.uk/art-history/research/visualising-illness I will be writing a review of the event on the  blogsite for Durham University Centre for Medical Humanities. This by the way is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the Medical Humanities and well worth a visit.

On Monday I will be beginning the Medicine Unmasked project as artist in residency at Swansea University and next weekend I fly to Tanzania to begin the Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula project

Finally – at least for now! – In the new year  I am delighted to have been invited to give a talk about my work and a masterclass in drawing with cadaveric material with students on the Medical and Forensic Art PG courses at Dundee University http://www.dundee.ac.uk/study/pg/medicalart/

I will be posting on the relevant websites as well as here as these projects develop…I hope you will follow to see how art and medical science continue to interrelate and it perhaps goes without saying that all comments and feedback on the work is greatly appreciated.

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Here is the link for a new project that I am beginning with a ‘pilot’ study research visit to Tanzania in December. http://drawingof.wordpress.com/

Entitled Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula: exploring the ramifications of maternal birth trauma through art, the project is intimately related to Drawing Women’s Cancer in terms of the methodology and the primary aims. I am very excited about developing this work and optimistic too about the potential for visual art to cross international, cultural and linguistic borders, especially given language  itself is such an important factor in the philosophical framework of all my work that is rooted in the art-medicine relation. You can read more details about this new project by following the link and I hope you will follow the progress of the work on the associated artist’s blog page.

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