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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.

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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sicknesse

In his famous conversations with Claire Parnett, Deleuze explains that in the early stages of his illness he experienced no pain, and it seemed hardly an illness at all. Later however, he describes his sense of how TB causes the body to dissipate, to become transparent, and he defines in graphic detail an embodied experience of a ‘body turning to phlegm and mucus and sputum and finally blood’. And of air, ‘the need for better air’. He was at pains to describe his view of illness in general as both an active and reactive force that is not ‘an enemy, not something that gives the feeling of death, but rather something that gives the feeling of life…illness sharpens a kind of vision of life’, and indeed I have come across a similar reaction – albeit rarely –in conversations with cancer patients. However, in the same conversations he also acknowledges that ‘considering my actual state, it is a little bit as if I were already gone, and this seems to reflect an ambivalence toward his chronic situation, as well as his concept of the body as a perpetually self-differing, self-creating assemblage of processes and experience, both affecting and being affected by other bodies and experiences it encounters.

I am working  paintings and drawings for  two solo exhibitions. Drawing Women’s Cancer (detailed in the previous post) and ‘Seen Voices’ at The Gate Gallery in Cardiff in November this year. The image here is a piece I will be showing.

The latter will represent a very personal side of my practice as a whole, and serve in part as a ‘visual overview’ of my increasingly profound involvement in the Medical Humanities as artist, writer and human being. I strive to explore the social, historical and cultural dimensions of illness, as well as maintain those philosophical parameters within which I can move freely  and wherein the increasing urgency of the need for an alternative direction in the face of scientific objectivity is the fundamental driver for my practice.

I am in more than my usual state of flux, with various projects taking amorphous shape around me. I am feeling split, torn, rendered asunder –  yet it is a joyful disintegration of surety that leads to the heady delights of possibility and potentiality! I am returning to Galveston for May. I will have there the time and space to open my lungs to the sea air and let my thoughts breathe.

 

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