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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 an inspiring day! I have been drawing in the operating theatre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, working alongside leading cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Francis (Frank) Wells. Here are some of the drawings I made during the two hour long open heart surgery procedure on a middle age woman.

I was fascinated, as always, to watch a surgeon at work, and to experience what I can only describe as the ‘undulating’ dynamics of the operating theatre as everybody present played their individual part in making sure the whole thing went as planned. The intensity of the procedure rose and fell – but gently, without obvious drama – from the initial ‘opening of the chest’ to the final closure.  The ‘craftsmanship’ involved, and the dedication to the task at hand was orchestrated throughout – or perhaps choreographed might be a better description – by the needs of the patient who lay, oblivious to the fact that her heart was for a time no longer beating naturally.

Each time I attend a surgical procedure I  deepen my understanding of why I do what I do and how much I enjoy doing it! The artist and the surgeon have much in common perhaps.

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Contrasts is the title of this post and there are contrasts indeed in the work I am engaged in at the moment! I am busy with different aspects of five separate projects and I am feeling very positive about how things are going with all of them. A huge amount of my time recently has been taken up with completing the second body of work for the  Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula exhibition in New York, but it is all now complete and arrangements for the show are in full swing. Just click on the  website for more details.

I am looking forward very much of course to the NY show, and also to hopefully raising some money to fund further work on the Obstetric Fistula project. I have two other exhibitions however to work towards this year and the image here  is a ‘teaser’ for one that will be launched in September in Cardiff. It will be a show in collaboration with a very gifted fine art photographer, Luis Fernando Noriega, who lives and works in Antigua, Guatemala. My oil paintings and drawings of the Mayan inhabitants of the city that I made during and after my visit there late last year, will respond to and reflect on Luis’s powerfully emotive photographs of the crumbling architecture.  https://www.facebook.com/LuisFernandoNoriegaPhotography

Entitled CONTRASTS: two interpretations of Antigua, Guatemala, the intention behind the exhibition is to present both Luis’s local view and that of a visitor to Antigua, which together, simultaneously explore several forms of parallel interrelation: that between art and photography, that between the human inhabitants of the Antigua and its historical, cultural and architectural heritage, and, perhaps most importantly, that which defines  the cultural disparity between Mayan tradition and contemporary society.  In addition to the conventional exhibition launch event we are planning to organise an evening talk where the audience can engage with the issues that the show will raise, but more details on that nearer the time.

 

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It has been a difficult few months. Illness and surgery have taken their toll and colours have darkened around me. Things are moving on however both in health and in practice and portraiture has been a significant part of the latter recently (see previous post). This self portrait has been through many incarnations over the months, dependent on – and at the same time being precipitative of – my state of mind. This latest version suffers in itself for the constant reworking and hides much beneath the thickness on the paint… pentimento – ghosts of myself lie uneasy underneath what I think is a finished state but, reflecting life – and death, I may yet rework the painting until it is finished only through its destruction.

 

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.

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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.

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Another January. It is now four years since I began documenting my solitary travels as an artist and I am always grateful to those who choose to travel with me, even if only for a moment. This last year has given me so much room for optimism after the disappointments that ushered it in. The Broadway Drawing School (https://www.facebook.com/BroadwayDrawing) has grown from an idea and aspiration into a small but proudly  independent art school, rapidly gaining recognition as offering an education unique in Wales. The classical and traditional merge seamlessy with the ‘now’ in our courses and workshops, and it is all about the practice, and the process, and the creativity, and yes, the ‘craft’, and the laughter, and the joy of being free of the fatuous bureaucracy that seems to pervade elsewhere, in larger, grander institutions. In the meanwhile, in-between the hours and the days that call me a teacher, I continue to reside in the transitory and fleeting moment between the objective and the subjective, which translates into the relation between medical science and art. My work is towards the frailty of humanity as engendered in the individual, the subjectivity of the experience of illness and pain. I am reading Andrzej Szczeklik, Kore: On Sickness, the Sick and the Search for the Soul of medicine. I am reading Solzhenitsyn, The Cancer Ward.  My ongoing collaborative project Drawing Women’s Cancer (drawingcancer.wordpress.com) begins its second phase this year.

It is my consciousness of the fragility and tension of what lies ‘in-between’ that gives rise, I believe, to the restlessness that is always a part of me and I am now beginning to accept is a guiding force in more ways than the obvious. I have no need or desire any more to follow my feet, but rather I mean this year to follow my thoughts, my cares…change perhaps the way I see things from the inside, by standing still, rather than by moving on. I think this way I may travel further! So – I am writing, drawing, painting and reading , reading reading. I have two book chapters coming out in 2014, two exhibitions to work towards and a monologue to write. I am teaching. And I am constantly learning. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

The daffodils are in bloom and the doors of The Broadway Drawing School are now painted daffodil yellow in empathic enthusiasm. The sun is still cold on my back (the short but chill month of my birth still shadows me, even as March marches in) but my suffering soul that at the end of last year almost froze in the icy grip of disappointment, now feels warmer and more recognisable as my own than for a while.  Drawings that I had some affiliation to – a guiding hand in – and which covered studio walls in an institution where I once believed I had a future have now come to represent, in my memory, the beginnings of an alternative future; a future that even though poorer, is yet richer way beyond the confines of a bank balance. And I continue to guide…. My hand and my eye follow the creative gesture and the gaze of others who share and believe in the same things that I do….and I feel a debt of gratitude.

I was thinking about yellow; about essences; about portraiture; about this drawing of my son; and I found these words:

“It is a mark of contemporary life that personal identities have become fractured, complex, and splintered, and that they are in a state of constant re-definition. Similarly, contemporary art has also become more heterogeneous and discrete as ‘major themes’ in art are less evident. As a result, two of the most basic questions, ‘Who are we?’ and ‘What is art?’ share the same concern: they both struggle with the challenges of subjectivity”

Steven Holmes, Curator, Subject: Contemporary Portraiture May 14–Aug.14, 2006, Llyman Allyn Art Museum

They resonate…..

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Another break in my train of thought  – another hiatus over the Christmas period that actually owes more to a death than to a birth.

2012 was a great year – it was the year I truly realised how much I  am drawn to working across the disciplines in a creative web of theory and practice and how much that relates to why, and how much in itself, I love teaching. It was also the year in which, through my entry with eyes wide open into the world of  human suffering and illness, I finally discovered the profundity of my lifetime obsession with identity, and the ‘other’, and the way the two collide. The philosophical and the scientific and the art in 2012 were so very alive, just as were my students who constantly surprised me and gave so much of themselves in their work just because I asked them to. I will miss the ‘life’ classes on the 5th floor because  2012 left me with its head down… my (d)alliance with the Cardiff School of Art came to an end and I was left wondering….

But life, having backflipped yet again, has made its usual recovery and has put me down in Broadway. Broadway in Cardiff that is, at The Broadway Drawing School. I am teaching, drawing, painting, writing and dreaming still, and this time in my own space, in my own time and most especially, on my own terms. Any level of security is now minimal, but strangely, shock brought me to a point where it felt fine to actually shed that blanket and the cold I now feel as a consequence is somehow not as debilitating as the weight of its presence, which became in the end, that of a shroud. I am lighter now.

I am writing – a paper – and I have been thinking….. Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic notion of the ‘mirror stage’ defines the infantile structuring of subjectivity through a fascination for the self-image reflected in a mirror, as an ‘imaginary order’, a deception, a field of images. The age at which this formation of the ego actually occurs disputed is the subject of some dispute but it is immaterial here since it is the ‘alienation’ that Lacan insists is caused by a conflict between our perceived visual experience and our emotional experience of self that is, for me, of interest. The mirror stage defines the understanding of the ‘self’ as essentially a process of objectification that marginalises a more subjective experience of a truer reality of the self in the world, and this resonates with the way that, in terms of human suffering, the very real yet subjective experience of illness is objectified by clinical necessity into a more exclusive focus on the particular disease. The ‘suffering-self’ is therefore again alienated or marginalised in favour of the specific agent of suffering, and in the construction and ‘interrogation’ of the ‘patient-self’, the mirror is one-way.

‘A life lived is what actually happens. A life experienced consists of the images, feelings, sentiments, desires, thoughts and meanings known to the person whose life it is’ Bruner E., M.,  Anthropology of Experience)

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