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exhibition

Book Review: This Way Madness Lies.

1 Feb, 17 | by cquigley

 

This Way Madness Lies. Madness and Beyond. By Mike Jay. London: Thames and Hudson, 2016.

Reviewed by Dr Allan Beveridge

 

Published to accompany the recent Wellcome Collection Exhibition, ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’, this book is packed with over 600 photographs and illustrations drawn from the archives of institutions in Europe and America, as well as with art work by patients from a wide range of different eras and locations. The book is, itself, an ‘object’ and deserving of close study. At first sight, it seems a marvellous exhibit. Crammed with images from a bewildering variety of sources, it entices the viewer and, perhaps intentionally, disorients them with the clash of visual material. There are countless black and white photographs of asylum inmates, architectural plans of institutions, portrayals of psychiatric treatments such as the strait-jacket, lobotomy and malarial therapy, magazine advertisements for medication, cinema posters of asylum horror movies, anti-psychiatry placards, and a selection of art by well-known artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Theodore Gericault, as well as celebrated patient-artists like Richard Dadd, Louis Wain and Adolf Wolfli. The organisers of the project have been able to mine a very rich seam of archival material and, possibly, they have been loath to exclude any of it from the book. The result is that while there are numerous large colour reproductions, there are also too many pages where multiple images have been crammed onto the one page. For example, page 16 has fifteen small black and white images of scenes from the story of Bethlem Hospital. The pictures are simply too minute and poorly defined to be properly viewed and appreciated. This is the fate of many other images which are bundled together onto the one page. This is frustrating because from what one can make out of the pictures, they are full of historical and aesthetic interest.

A more serious concern is that of the ethical questions raised by showing photographs and images of patients, often in distressed and degrading conditions. Should such images be shown? The men and women featured were not able to give consent. Should their only appearance on the historical record be that of their time as an asylum inmate with no reference to other aspects of their life such as, for example, being in a relationship, being a parent, or having an occupation? If the photographs are displayed, should the patients be identified by name or should they remain anonymous? Does anonymity serve to protect the identity of the patient or to make them even more of an ‘object’, lacking individuality?  Are some images too demeaning and disrespectful to the subject to be exhibited? These are difficult ethical questions which have provoked discussion amongst fine art commentators, historians and psychiatrists: they are no easy answers. Nowhere in the book is there a discussion of these vexed issues or even an acknowledgment that the presentation of this material may be problematic. Further, these images and photographs of patients were created for a variety of purposes. Some clinicians, such Sir Alexander Morison wanted to delineate what he saw as the particular ‘physiognomy’ of different types of mental conditions and paid professional artists to accompany him to asylums to make sketches of selected inmates. Charcot sought to capture the apparently spontaneous ‘hysterical’ behaviour of his patients at the Salpetriere, but research suggests patients adopted the poses expected of them. Other photographs of patients participating in the activities of the asylum were meant to advertise the benefits of the institution. Again, apart from the accompanying captions, there is little discussion of this or the particular context in which each image was commissioned.

One is reminded of the well-known episode in the history of Bethlem Hospital, or ‘Bedlam’ as it came to be known, where the general public were allowed to visit the asylum to view the inmates. Some saw it as educational, whilst others saw it as entertainment and a source of titillation. This practice was eventually stopped in 1770, but one is left with the uneasy feeling that this book in some ways represents a modern version of visiting Bedlam. At least the 18th century inmates were able to engage with the public and give an account of themselves. Here the patients, frozen in images and photographs – ‘mute inglorious’ –  have no means of putting forward their side of the story.

The writer, Mike Jay provides the text of the book. Generally he provides a balanced and readable account of this contentious area. Neither telling a tale of benign progress, nor, contrastingly, a catalogue of the disasters inflicted on the mentally ill by the supposedly-evil empire of psychiatry, Jay prefers to see the history of psychiatry in terms of a pendulum swinging between psychological and physical approaches to madness, and between institutional and community responses. He is thus able to see the good and bad in different periods. He is less inclined than Andrew Scull, whose recent volume, Madness in Civilisation he cites approvingly, to perceive the undoubted abuses and wrong-turnings of psychiatry in terms of wicked and self-serving clinicians, and more as a result of their misguided intentions and the sheer complexity of mental illness.

The book is divided into sections: the 18th century madhouse; the 19th century lunatic asylum; the 20th century mental hospital; and ‘beyond the asylum’. At the centre of the narrative is the story of Bethlem and its founding in the thirteenth century, which Jay goes on to trace through its evolution as a madhouse, an asylum and, finally, a modern day hospital. As Jay is well aware, Bedlam, or rather the mythology of Bedlam, has long been part of our folk-lore and culture. John Webster, Jonathan Swift and William Hogarth all depicted the institution. Jay is good on cultural representations of Bethlem and points out that, from an early stage, these portrayals bore little resemblance to the actual hospital. He mentions famous Bethlem residents such as James Tilly Matthews who drew up a visionary architectural plan for the new Bethlem which uncannily anticipated the building that was eventually created. He mentions, too, Richard Dadd, the parricide, whose strange and highly detailed paintings were, arguably, more striking than the works he created before his incarceration.

Jay also takes in developments in the rest of Britain, as well as in Europe and America. He charts the failure of the 19th century asylum which became over-crowded with incurable patients, the development in the 20th century of the mental hospital with its hope that physical treatments would return patients to their homes, and community approaches in our own time which have been ham-strung by a lack of funding. He examines the rise of pharmacology and alternative therapies. As in previous times, a variety of therapies crowd the market-place.  Jay places a particular emphasis on the story of Geel, the Belgian town where for many centuries patients have lived with local families and worked in the community. Jay sees this example as the way forward in our post asylum world.

A recurring trope in Jay’s account of the history of madness is that the world is one vast Bedlam.  He quotes the campaigner, Thomas Tryon observing in 1689: ‘The world has become a great Bedlam, where those who are more mad lock up those who are less’. (p. 52) The 19th century alienist, Dr John Conolly greatly extended the list of those he felt would benefit from asylum care. As Jay wryly observes: ‘The logic of the perfect asylum, taken to its logical conclusion, was that the entire world should become one.’ (p. 120) At the beginning of the 20th century, Jay argues,  madness seemed to have escaped the asylum and taken root in the culture at large as an entire generation was slaughtered in the insanity of the First World War. He concludes, somewhat provocatively:  ‘In the wake of the asylum, the world has become a great Bedlam’. (p. 218) Whether or not one agrees with this, it does serve to emphasise that the difference between sanity and insanity is perhaps not as marked as we would like to imagine.

The book, then, is a mixed achievement. The images veer between the stunning and the indistinct, and there is a curious lack of an ethical context to them. However, Mike Jay’s text is, in the main, even-handed, and for those new to the field, an accessible and well-written introduction to the history of psychiatry and madness.

 

Dr Allan Beveridge

Art Review: Visions of Multiple Sclerosis

28 Oct, 16 | by cquigley

 

Hannah Laycocks’s Visions of Multiple Sclerosis: Perceiving Identity

Reviewed by Shahd Alshammari, PhD.

 

When artists’ work is considered provocative, you usually think that their choice of subject is taboo. While certainly not “taboo”, the disabled body, and even more interestingly the “invisible disabled body”, in itself a paradox, is a subject that medical practitioners and society continue to struggle with. What happens to the sense of ‘self’ when the body attacks the self, essentially its own being? Hannah Laycock’s photography exhibitions ‘Perceiving Identity’ and ‘Awakenings’ launched in 2015, both  exploring the disabled body and identity.

Laycock’s work is contemporary in its subject and form, while at the same time being rooted in her own personal experience with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Like Hannah, I have similarly struggled with MS. Many times during the day, I tell my body to behave. I say it out loud. I talk to my body, telling her to wake up. With MS, the Central Nervous System – to some extent the mind – attacks the body. Disconnected, alienated from the body, there is a breakdown of communication. The body must wake up. That is my understanding of the title of the exhibition ‘Awakenings.’ I root it in a very subjective experience, while simultaneously recognizing the work’s significance in urging society to wake up, to open its eyes to “other” ways of living and being.

‘Perceiving Identity’, titled in the same thematic way that ‘Awakenings’ is, raises a central question of interest to Disability Scholars, namely identity. I have called MS, a ‘Random Disease’ in the past, one that changes one’s life course, though not necessarily affecting mortality. In one of the photographs (Figure 1), Laycock captures a simple shot of a road. Uncomplicated, it is a road that is not paved with stones, holes or obstacles. It is what it is. In fact, the colors on the road seem to resemble the light of rainbow colors. My own vision understands the colors as orange, green, and yellow. The choice of colors symbolizes the wide array of MS identities, and MS symptoms (no two individuals have the same symptoms; the course of the disease differs from one person to another). Color blends onto the road, and sometimes, since vision can be affected in MS patients, this is not always a pleasant experience. It becomes difficult to differentiate between spaces. Other questions that chronically ill patients have voiced or left unvoiced, suppressed, include “where will my life go from here?” The road is the map, the new map that you are handed along with the diagnosis. This is the path, as unknown and random as it is.

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Figure 1. Copyright Hannah Laycock

 

Figure 2 is raw in its positioning of the artist at the forefront, as we are visually forced to focus on her back, on which she dangles what seems to be redcurrants, tracing her spine.

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Figure 2. Copyright Hannah Laycock

The spine of course is affected in MS, as well as the brain. The redcurrant lands in its vibrancy along Laycock’s flesh, a strong contrast between the redness of the fruit and the artist’s skin. Redcurrants are supposedly beneficial in terms of a healthy immune system, efficient nerve transmission signalling, protection from free radical damage, amongst other potential effects.” Whether this is actually proven to help MS is not the point. It is yet another attempt at rebuilding a central nervous system that has chosen to break up with its significant other – the self, one’s identity. The artist holds the redcurrant in place, exhibiting control of her body, an attempt at the very least to alter the course of the disease, to do one’s part, to eat healthy, to be vigilant in fighting the disease.

All of the photographs that Laycock has beautifully presented share this theme of disconnection, of a breakdown of what is essentially communication between the mind and the body. As a Disability Studies scholar and someone who sees through the difficulty, and randomness, of living with this undefinable and uncanny disease (uncanny because it is unhomely, it is a body that used to house me just fine), I can say that Laycock’s work is bold and does not attempt to rectify or beautify or inspire. It recognizes the unpredictability and confusion of the disease, both for the patient and for medical practitioners. Nobody has answers, as frustrating as it is. Laycock’s work tells a fragmented narrative, part of the fragmentation of MS, of living with this disease, and seems to force you into her lived experience, rather than just standing along the sidelines, using diagnostic words, and labeling MS as ‘degenerative.’ The photographs carry a sense of closeness and intimacy. As viewers we are almost forced to stop and think about the literal and figurative meanings in Laycock’s artistic vision. Each photograph encourages us to pause and to ask “what is going on?”

And that question in itself is a repeated and dominant one in the lives of MS patients and neurologists attempting to diagnose and cure MS.

Hannah Laycock’s work can be viewed here: http://www.hannahlaycock.com/Portfolio/Perceiving-Identity.aspx

 

Related reading

Devan Stahl, Darian Goldin Stahl. Seeing illness in art and medicine: a patient and printmaker collaboration. Med Humanities 2016;42:3 155159.

Exhibition Review: Rest & Its Discontents

6 Oct, 16 | by cquigley

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Rest & Its Discontents Exhibition

Curated by Robert Devcic, founder of GV Art London

Mile End Art Pavilion, 30 September until 30 October 2016

 

Reviewed by Natasha Feiner

 

Modern life is busy, exhausting, and stressful. Yet, rest remains as important as ever. But what does it mean to rest in the modern world? Does rest, or its absence, impact on individual health and wellbeing?

 

London, UK. 4th March, 2016. Campaigners from the Mental Health Resistance Network and DPAC block traffic on the busy Old St round in portest against the use of Maximus job coaches in GP surgeries to "create jobs by prescription." They say disabled people will be bullied into unsuitable work and lose benefits through sanctions. Peter Marshall/Alamy Live News

Mental Health Resistance Network, Reclaiming our lives and work struggles past, present and future

Rest & Its Discontents, a major new exhibition exploring the dynamics of rest, seeks to answer these questions. It draws on the research of Hubbub, an international collective of social scientists, artists, humanities researchers, scientists, broadcasters, public engagement professionals and mental health experts. Over the past two years the team, based at the Wellcome Collection in London, has explored the dynamics of rest, exhaustion, noise, tumult, and work, as they operate in mental health, neuroscience, the arts and the everyday. This exhibition is their final major event.

Rest & Its Discontents features the work of over twenty-five Hubbub contributors. Work from a number of different academic disciplines is presented in a multitude of formats including audio recordings, film, and interactive installations. A number of topics are explored in the exhibition, including therapeutic relaxation, breath and musical ‘rest’, and sleep studies.

antonia-barnett-mcintosh-breath-still-from-film-2015-image-courtesy-of-ed-prosser-2

Antonia Barnett-McIntosh, Breath, still from film, 2015. Image courtesy of Ed Prosser

nina-garthwaite-default-mode-radio-network-image-courtesy-ed-prosser

Nina Garthwaite, Default Mode Radio Network. Image courtesy Ed Prosser

Highlights include ‘The Cubiculum’, which invites visitors to explore the history of mind-wandering through sound and spoken word, and ‘Cartographies of Rest’, a multi-screen installation that visualises interactions between noise and mood.

The exhibition is accompanied by an event series, including workshops, poetry performances, and panel discussions with psychologists and journalists. I have booked tickets for ‘The Meditative Response’ workshop, which will bring together historian Ayesha Nathoo and composer Eugene Skeef. The workshop promises to ‘create a collective experience akin to the relaxation response’. Other events this month will centre on anti-work politics, self-tracking, and mental health.

A BBC Radio 4 series, The Anatomy of Rest, also accompanies the exhibition. First broadcast in September, the three-part series it is now available in full on BBC iPlayer. Presented by Claudia Hammond, the series asks what rest means to historians, poets, and neuroscientists. The final episode announces the results of the ‘Rest Test’, which asked 18,000 people from 193 countries why and how they rest. The data from the test has been visualised as a fabric pattern covering a series of benches in the Mile End exhibition space.

claudia-hammond-the-rest-test-rest-zone-2016-digitial-print-image-courtesy-of-lustlab

Claudia Hammond, The Rest Test & Rest Zone, 2016, digitial print. Image courtesy of LUSTlab

An open access publication, The Restless Compendium, explores many of the exhibition’s themes further. Comprising twenty-two essays on rest and its opposites, it extends and develops many of the exhibition’s major themes. The Restless Compendium is available here as a free download: http://hubbubresearch.org/restlesscompendium/

Rest & Its Discontents is wide-ranging in its exploration of rest and its opposites. It is, like the Hubbub project more broadly, truly interdisciplinary. As a result it offers novel and interesting perspectives that, while at times abstract, will no doubt interest humanities scholars, scientists, and medical practitioners. The exhibition is best enjoyed alongside its accompanying event series, radio show, and publication. These are all speak to each other and add new layers of depth and meaning to the installations and displays at the Mile End site.

sj-fowler-maja-jantar-soundings-iii-2016-image-courtesy-of-ed-prosser1

SJ Fowler & Maja Jantar, Soundings III, 2016. Image courtesy of Ed Prosser

 

For more information, and to book events, visit: http://hubbubresearch.org/

 

The Mile End Art Pavilion, Clinton Road, London E3 4QY.

Opening hours 12:00-18:00, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed on Monday.

Late opening Thursday 6 October, until 21:00.

Admission is free.

 

Natasha Feiner is a PhD student at the University of Exeter. Twitter @natashafeiner.

THIS IS A VOICE at Wellcome Collection reviewed

16 Jun, 16 | by cquigley

L0081645 'His Masters Voice'. Painting by Franci

‘His Masters Voice’. Painting by Francis Barraud, 1919. Credit:Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust

 

THIS IS A VOICE

Wellcome Collection, 14 April – 31 July 2016

Reviewed by Steven Kenny

 

Approaching the exhibition entrance of THIS IS A VOICE at the Wellcome Collection, it is easy to think the voice is treated as criminal, being contained, controlled and its behaviour segregated from the world outside. Initial thoughts would suggest that it is being acoustically surveyed; with the steady opening and closing of the exhibition door, sound rushes to the exit. Yet its attempts are ultimately futile, the room has been sound proofed, noise restricted from accessing the outside world. On entering the space, grey triangular padded shapes line the walls, detail reminiscent of a kitsch science fiction film from the 1980s. The exposed patterned structures, evocative of the décor of Ridley Scott’s periled spaceship in Alien, enclose you in a warm, familiar hug of nostalgia. Sensing that this space is one visually tread before, it is easy to forget the prestigious institutional context of the exhibition. THIS IS A VOICE, a show investigating the potential of the voice in all its forms, techniques, objects and cultural baggage, is particularly engaging for it knowingly understands such a topic cannot be wholly represented (due to various cultural and language complexities). Yet it does a heartfelt job in attempting to at least understand how the voice as a product, both commercially and non-commercially viable, can be exhibited. Curatorial flourishes can be found everywhere, from the nooks and crannies of seated listening stations to the maze-like paths that allow a gentle flow of avid listeners from one space to the next. From attending numerous shows at the Wellcome Collection I must comment that THIS IS A VOICE is one of the most stimulating and generally refreshing exhibitions to be held in its space.

It would seem that an inner versus outer exploration of the body and the voice is focused on throughout. One telling example of this is immediately apparent in the work Circular Song, 1974 by Joan La Barbara. A half dome like structure hangs from the ceiling, the speaker’s hollow interior pervading the space below with sound. The experience of entering this wall of sound is generally unnerving, a constant and increasingly uncomfortable echo of inhaling and exhaling performed by the artist, breathes all over you. It is nightmarish, a deathly noise that would seem totally apt in the exhaling howls of a victim being chased by a stalker in a nerve inducing slasher film. Sound in this manner is represented as an abject substance, an uncanny emotional pulling of the visitors’ own sentiments to the body and the amplified vocalisation of a body process that now seems one of disgust. Yet this is in direct contrast to Marcus Coates multi-screen film installation Dawn Chorus, 2007, which is silly, funny and surprisingly touching. This room is filled with the fluttering sounds of birdsong, a number of monitors positioned at varying heights depicting subjects in everyday locations comically singing along to each sound created. Experiencing this work initially seemed deceptive­­–I could not understand how both image and sound aligned so perfectly, as though the birdsong was actually being produced by a human lip whistle. Subjects pursed their lips and jotted their heads up and down in perfect alignment. The façade is lifted on reading the work’s description: ‘After recording the dawn chorus with multiple microphones, the individual birdsongs were slowed down to last approximately 16 times as long, which enabled the participants to imitate them, while being filmed’. Yet not knowing these details did not matter as my imagination roamed freely around the space. I observed each subject as one would watch a bird in the wild, mesmerised by its harmonic whistle and merry bouncing of its head.

Words

THIS IS A VOICE at Wellcome Collection, 2016. Credit:Photography by Michael Bowles

Dotted around the exhibition are various textual works, the written word laid bare. Erik Bunger’s wall text I Hearby Command You to Give Voice to These Letters Silently or Out Loud, 2011 was surprising in that it forced an involuntary restriction of my own voice from permeating the gallery. I so badly wanted to shout out loud the words I was reading yet thought better than to add to the already noisy space. Yet on second thoughts maybe that would have made for some interesting spectator reactions. Bunger’s playful register, was paralleled by Mikhail Karikis’s digital prints (photographs by Thierry Bal) Sculpting Voice, 2010, where the artist was photographically recorded pulling various facial gestures. Three prints line the wall in sequence, each exhibiting Karikis’s comically retuned face, made even more comical by the muting of what would probably have been quite a painful or otherwise loud projection of sound.

L0081817 THIS IS A VOICE at Wellcome Collection, p

THIS IS A VOICE at Wellcome Collection. Credit:Photography by Michael Bowles

 

The exhibition saved its loudest and most intriguing work for last. Entering the final room of the show, you would think that you might have woken in a Lynchian nightmare. Best described as an interactive, participatory constructed, sound installation, a lone and somewhat foredooming sound booth, tempts the spectator.

L0081800 Matthew Herbert, Chorus, 2016

Matthew Herbert, Chorus, 2016. Credit:Photography by Michael Bowles

The aptly titled Chorus, 2016 is by the British electronic musician Matthew Herbert, whose work ‘asks visitors to sing a single note within a professional recording booth following a set of instructions. The visitor’s voices are then automatically added to a chorus of voices, including performers and staff from the Royal Opera House, forming an ever-expanding sound installation that plays in the exhibition space and at the Royal Opera House’s Stage Door in Covent Garden’. I entered the space to sing the requested solitary note. Escaping my throat, my voice joined the squeaks, squeals, and sometimes correctly pitched notes above. Noise reverberated violently throughout the room, puncturing the space like a diminished fifth encroaching a melodic passage. The voice in this exhibition is presented as an ever-changing entity, one that is able to attack, calm and arrest.

 

Articles from Medical Humanities on the human voice:

Kelly BD. Searching for the patient’s voice in the Irish asylums. Med Humanit 2016;42:87-91.

Demjén Z and Semino E. Henry’s voices: the representation of auditory verbal hallucinations in an autobiographical narrative. Med Humanities 2015;41:1 5762.

Puustinen R. Voices to be heard—the many positions of a physician in Anton Chekhov’s short story, A Case History. Med Humanities 2000;26:1 3742.

 

A little Danish mermaid and other stories (of rare diseases)

7 May, 16 | by cquigley

 

 

A reflection on Sofie Layton’s Under the Microscope by Giovanni Biglino (Bristol Heart Institute, Bristol, UK)

 

The voice of a little girl and the sunlight filtering through layers of green batik – a series of coral-like structures representing real heart models displayed under bell jars – anatomical drawings – and the story of a boy’s heart transplant…

With her ambitious piece Under the Microscope, artist Sofie Layton has created two powerful installations, both rich in imagery and charged with people’s voices, during a yearlong residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.

The artwork aims to explore how patients and families process medical information, particularly in the context of rare diseases. Layton’s delicate rendition manages to achieve the aim and to go beyond, in a moving exploration that encapsulates the technicalities of scientific research around rare diseases as well as the strength of young people that are born with these conditions.

The installations focus on two different medical scenarios. In isolation is centered on severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), whilst Making the invisible visible explores congenital heart disease.

The first recreates an isolation tent, made out of fluttering green/yellow batiks on which the artist has printed golden and silver viruses. Inside the tent, there is a bed, and a touching soundscape in which three voices alternate: a young Danish girl that candidly speaks about her growing up with SCID and the treatment she has received in the hospital; an immunology specialist discussing the condition; and the artist herself reading excerpts of H. C. Andersen’s Little Mermaid. The tent’s fabric suddenly transforms into a sea. The artist reads a bedtime story to the girl and tells us about transformation after treatment.

FIGURE 1

Figure 1: Visitors sitting on the bed inside the isolation tent.

The second is a powerful presentation of different facets of congenital heart disease – its shape, its frailty, its treatment, its narrative. The piece mixes 3D printed models, set on a steel table, with large silk panels on which the journey of a patient is symbolized in its phases, from anatomy to medication to new technologies that can help diagnosis and therapy.

The installations show stylistic links with previous work by Sofie Layton, particularly her piece Bedside manners (Evelina Children Hospital, 2014), which also included a site-specific installation with a bed and a soundscape, her intent clearly that of making the installation as immersive an experience as possible for the viewer. In the current piece, for instance, entering the isolation tent involves wearing latex gloves, a mask and a plastic apron, all of which immediately heighten the awareness of the viewer around the medical issue.

The artist has undoubtedly explored, appropriated and re-elaborated medical language in her process. Viruses’ names are scribbled in a doctor’s hurried handwriting on the fabric of the isolation tent, and language is central to the cardiac-themed piece, with five large silk panels listing congenital lesions, medications, technologies, but also keywords emerging from patients’ stories, all printed in the background of large anatomical drawings that, in turn, dialogue with the 3D anatomical models. Rather than a repetition of technical jargon, this creates an emphasis on the meaning and the power of these words – life-threatening conditions and life-saving medications, there shining on the precious silk backgrounds – technical/anatomical terms mixing with heartfelt imagery from patients’ narratives. Whilst the non-expert viewer would question the meaning of some of these words, the expert viewer would pause and wonder what stories are hidden behind and in between them. The language element is echoed in the soundscape, which opens with a young boy struggling to pronounce “ventricular assist device” (the boy, in real life, has been on mechanical heart support awaiting heart transplant).

FIGURE 2

Figure 2: Language is recurrent throughout the piece, such a name of viruses (left) and of cardiac conditions (bottom right), but also poignant quotations from parents and patients the artist has met during her residency (top right).

Another key element to the artistic research is an interesting exploration (microscopic and macroscopic) of shapes. On the one hand, viruses and cell structures are magnified. On the other hand, the anatomy of the heart and its variations in the presence of congenital lesions are beautifully presented with the use of 2D and 3D representations. The artist looks at the topography of the heart in a separate panel (exhibited in the entrance to Great Ormond Street Hospital), a rather abstract shape of intricate lines, a map, a blueprint of the engine room, but also suggesting other paths and other stories that have crossed. And 2D representations of the anatomy are complemented by the use of 3D models, manufactured from patients’ imaging data. Here the artist allows herself the license of going beyond the engineering aspect of 3D modeling, and includes in the cardiac landscape a small heart cast in bronze, which is suspended inside its bell jar – an evocative and immediate reminder of the preciousness of the organ.

FIGURE 3

Figure 3: A series of anatomical patient-specific models is presented under bell jars, including elements such as the suspended bronze heart (scaled from a medical model).

Layton’s work is exquisite in its layering. There is something rich and soft in the choice of silks. Something organic and fragile about the white 3D models. And a gentle lightness about the batiks of the isolation tent. But Layton’s work is above all exemplary in that is shows how art can be a powerful vehicle for sensitive stories charged with medical significance. The work is not sentimental or condescending and, albeit visually stunning, it does not embellish the pain of the stories it embodies. And equally it is not provocative, it does not intend to make the viewer uncomfortable by facing the complexity of rare diseases and the consequences on people’s lives. The work manages to strike a balance and what emerges, in the end, is a great respect for the humanity of the stories. The stories of patients, of course, but also the stories of their families, of physicians and their medical endeavors, and of researchers and scientists who look under the microscope in their daily practice.

FIGURE 4

Figure 4: Elements of the visual landscape of congenital heart disease. Left: one of five panels representing the journey of a patient, in this case medications, including a representation of a patient’s heart following multiple repairs of congenital lesions. Centre: a piece bringing together the voices of several patients and carers, every metal plate having been embossed by a different person with whom the artist developed a conversation during her residency. Right: representation of the topography of the heart.

The recognized importance of the narrative of illness experiences[1] is clearly central to the artist’s work, but so is the idea of the dialogue. The dialogue that she has had, through her participatory practice, with patients and families during workshops and on the wards of the hospital, over a period of several months. The dialogue that she has also fostered with researchers and clinicians, looking for that language she set out to explore in the first place, entering the lab herself and beginning to look under the microscope. This dialogue is completed with the inclusion of the viewer in the conversation, by means of the immersive nature of the pieces. The installations (both are site-specific for spaces in Great Ormond Street Hospital and the adjacent Institute of Child Health) rely on an array of media, including fabrics, embossed metals, the sculptural 3D models, but also soundscapes. The latter are absolutely integral to the installations and serve to further engage the viewer. Dr Jo Wray, health psychologist and senior research fellow at Great Ormond Street, remarked on the quality of the soundscapes, and how the looping of the recording is able to render the time element of living with rare diseases as something that represents itself day after day after day (for the patient but also for the carer). The viewer is thus included in the conversation and is also invited to look under the microscope. To look at the complexity of this world, crystalized in the technical jargon and juxtaposition of anatomical models – but also at the humanity that emerges so powerfully through the voices and through poetic quotations that the artist has blended in the pieces. “Now don’t suppose that there are only bare white sands at the bottom of the sea. No indeed! The most marvelous trees and flowers grow down there…” (H. C. Andersen)

FIGURE 5

Figure 5: Details of the isolation tent.

 

Note from the author: congenital heart disease is not, strictly speaking, a rare disease; however, some of the lesions depicted in Layton’s work represent cases of complex congenital heart disease and can be considered rare/unique in their anatomical arrangement.

Sofie Layton: http://www.sofielayton.co.uk

Go Create! Great Ormond Street Hospital arts programme: http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/about-us/our-priorities/go-create-arts-programme

Images courtesy of Stephen King. Do not reproduce without permission.

 

[1] Garden R. Who speaks for whom? Health humanities and the ethics of representation. Med Humanit 2015; 41:77-80

Khalid Ali: London Human Rights Watch Film Festival 9-18 March 2016

7 Mar, 16 | by Ayesha Ahmad

London Human Rights Watch Film Festival

https://ff.hrw.org/london, 9-18 March 2016

Various venues across London

Over a period of 10 days, London will host the ‘Human Rights Watch Film Festival’ showing 20 feature and documentary films. The opening night will screen ‘Hooligan sparrow’, a documentary in Southern China following a group of activists campaigning to unravel the truth behind the rape of a group of young school girls. ‘Mustang’ the closing night film from Turkey tells a story of five sisters fighting their family and community to have control over their education and choice of future husbands. Women as fighters for political reform in the Arab world feature in the documentary ‘The trials of Spring shorts’.

 

BMJ

 

‘Hooligan sparrow’ opening the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival, 10 March 2016

The history of gay rights in different parts of the world are seen in: ‘Larry Kramer in love and anger’ which chronicles his fights as a novelist and activist to push the AIDS agenda into public health policy in the USA, and ‘Inside the Chinese closet’ which portrays real stories of fake marriages between gay men and lesbian women trying to conform to their community’s social and religious rules that do not tolerate homosexuality.

The plight of international refugees is seen in ‘Mediterranea’, ‘Desperate journey’, ‘If the dead could speak’, ‘At home in the world’ and ‘The crossing’; telling heart-breaking real and fictionalised accounts of violations of humanity towards asylum seekers from Burkina Faso, Syria, Somalia, Eretria and Iraq.

If you are interested in films focusing on Palestinian/ Israeli issues, you might want to watch; ‘P. S. Jerusalem’ about a family trying to start their life in Jerusalem, or ‘The idol’ a fictionalised account of the story of Mohammad Assaf, Palestinian winner of ‘Arab Idol’ TV music competition.

British conflicts between the residents of Tottenham, London and the Metropolitan Police that followed the killing of Mark Duggan in 2011 are analysed in ‘The hard stop’.

The rise of fundamentalism is uncovered in ‘Among the believers’ a documentary filmed in a school in the Red Mosque in Pakistan.

Most of the films screening will be followed by Q and A discussion with the film-makers.

 

 

 

Related reviews

http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-humanities/2015/05/26/khalid-ali-fil-review-mediterranea/

 

Address for correspondence

Dr Khalid Ali, Screening Room editor

Khalid.ali@bsuh.nhs.uk

 

 

 

 

The Reading Room: ‘Patients as People’

30 Jul, 15 | by cquigley

 

Emma Barnard MA (RCA)

___________________________________________________________________

 

PATIENTS AS PEOPLE – an Exhibition by Emma Barnard in collaboration with consultant surgeons and patients within the ENT department, Whipps Cross University Hospital, Barts Health NHS.

As a fine artist working predominantly within the field of photography, video and sound, I have for the past few years been resident at Whipps Cross University Hospital, Barts Health Trust, collaborating with ENT and more recently Dermatology consultant surgeons investigating what it means to be a patient within the NHS. My focus is on the human condition rather than diagnosis, and on how one might feel as a patient in a clinical, alien environment.

Four years ago, I found myself surrounded and engulfed by the pastel walls and polished floors of the hostile, medical space, as I was guided by the yellow line that led me to my appointment with an ENT consultant. Back then I was just another terrified patient sitting in a visually depleted waiting room, anxiety heightened by the wait itself. Two hours later, I was seen by the consultant when, hanging on to his every word, my auditory senses were heightened over visual ones – thinking just tell me it’s nothing serious…please! He did, I relaxed, and then without too much thought proceeded to blurt out ‘Has an artist ever done any work on patient experience?’ I subsequently wondered why I had voluntarily offered to spend time in a place that most people avoided at all costs.

The process that followed was not easy. In particular, convincing the relevant people at the hospital who believed that having an artist on site involved setting up an easel in a packed to the gills clinic, brandishing a palette and being creative with a paintbrush, took a lot of persuading.

‘Without your medical file you don’t exist within this environment’. First spoken to me by the ENT Head and Neck surgeon Michael Papesch FRACS, these powerful and thoughtful words triggered the name for the project, Patient As Paper. It was not long before the French philosopher Michel Foucault and his book The Birth of The Clinic came into view.

‘When medicine becomes the only social language, the distinction between the doctor and the patient gets more explicit. Their perception of each other becomes hierarchical. In this relationship, the physician is the healthy, wise and authoritative one; whereas, the patient is perceived by the doctor as sick and powerless, even though the doctor may also get sick sometimes. This is what Foucault calls the “medical gaze”.’

Hsuan and Lincoln 2007: 23

Foucault says: ‘Facilitated by the medical technologies that frame and focus the physicians’ optical grasp of the patient, the medical gaze abstracts the suffering person from her sociological context and reframes her as a “case” or a “condition.’

Hsuan and Lincoln 2007: 23

Image1

Patient As Paper – CType digital print 2013

 

As Nancy-Scheper Hughes exemplifies in her article ‘The Mindful Body’, ‘the doctor searches for the “real” cause of the headache, ignoring the social and personal implications of the illnesses with which the patient deals. Thus, through the discourse of medicalization, the sickness emerges as “a form of communication – the language of the organs – through which nature, society and culture speak simultaneously.

Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987: 3

Patients are seen as the voiceless, lost in a system that reduces them to their diagnoses. Having previously been an advocate for various other groups, such as hard to reach NEETS (youth who are not in employment, education or training), Patient As Paper presented an incredible opportunity for me as an artist to once again make the unseen visible through art, by giving patients a voice. I am interested in using art to explore the patient’s perspective on being in hospital, and their emotional response to becoming a product of investigations and treatments. Patients may feel overwhelmed and disorientated by the hospital environment, and may experience loss of control. I am also interested in what doctors experience when looking after patients, particularly when this is emotionally challenging.

After a trail of recommendations, we were fortunate to meet Chris Mc Manus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at UCL, who wrote the following:

‘“Patient as Paper” explores photographically the meanings of silent biomedical artifacts such as notes, scans, micrographs and surgeons’ theatre drawings (be they on paper or skin). By inverting a patient and their notes, using superimposition and image-processing, photography forces a critical reflection on being a patient in the foreignness of hospitals, and on the complementarity of patients’ and surgeons’ visions of each other, as objects and people.’

Discussion dictated my next step. Following observation of the patient and surgeon consultation, I presented patients with an opportunity to express their reality, thoughts and feelings through art. In an ENT department, the face, the most potent visual correlate of the person, and personal identity are especially pertinent. The photographic portrait, taken after some discussion with the patient, is printed out and the person is encouraged to note what has impacted them the most about being a ‘patient’. Is there a defining thought, word or image? Proving that human beings can never just be a number, each individual is unique, and no two individuals have ever written or drawn the same content.

Image2

Emma Barnard working with patient Lee Anderson 2015

‘As a doctor I wanted to look at patient experience and different ways of understanding what the patients are going through mentally and emotionally and not just physically. Working with Emma allowed us to investigate this through the medium of fine art photography as a radically different way (from a medical perspective) of assessing patient experience. We as doctors are often subject to focusing on the science of medicine, despite our best intentions of treating patients as people. The core of this project is about the need for establishing this human connection as well as understanding what it means to be a patient.

To reflect upon these images invites the doctor and other healthcare professionals to consider what the patient is expressing about their care. Some images are very literal, others less so.  It is not so important that the viewer understands exactly what the patient themselves is thinking. The challenge for us as health care providers is to allow ourselves the opportunity to reflect on these images and thereby consider, in a novel, visual and artistic way, how the patient experience can affect us all.’

Mr Michael Papesch FRACS ENT Head and Neck Consultant Surgeon

‘Working alongside Emma has certainly changed my view of the patient consultation for the better. Many of the actions, words and phrases that are commonplace to me seem unusual or even shocking to a non-medically trained professional such as Emma. Emma articulates these thoughts and I gain greater insight into how the patients’ must be feeling. The images created by the patients never fail to amaze me. We all need to look at how we interact with patients during difficult and sometimes upsetting consultations. This kind of work reminds us that we are dealing with real people with real thoughts, fears and emotions and as such it has great value’.

Mr Paul Stimpson FRCS (ORL-HNS) ENT Head and Neck Consultant Surgeon

Now that I had secured this invaluable patient-centred work, it was important to give these people a voice in a more public way. Thus, the Patients As People exhibition was realized. Displaying artwork in a hospital setting comes with incredibly complex rules and regulations. Individual framed portraits on walls can be tricky, something that years of working with galleries and various venues had taught me. I sought inspiration from my biomedical environment and the many tests some of the patients had to endure in their pursuit of ‘getting better’. The idea was a play on the word and function of the X-Ray, a vision of one’s internal world. The exhibition itself could similarly be seen as a reflection of what was taking place within patients’ minds. A free-standing display was designed, containing several pockets where patient portraits could be contained.

Image3

Patients As People exhibition – George V Wing, St Barts, NHS Barts Health

Two and a half years ago, the launch at Whipps Cross University Hospital took place. Today, the exhibition is currently installed at its tenth venue, St Peters Hospital, Surrey, having toured the country to include the Department of Health London, Lancaster University and the NHS Leadership Academy in Leeds. One of the hosts Justine Thompson, Patient and Public Participation Lead, Strategic Clinical Network and Senate (East of England) Cambridge comments:

‘From the woman who is ‘boiling over’, to the young man who has totally obliterated his own face, every photograph in this powerful exhibition stops us in our tracks with its raw communication of human emotion.

Some of the pictures show outward serenity – but the self-authored graffiti often tells another story. These photographs are a graphic reminder that every person’s health story is as unique and individual as they are and that every encounter with a health care professional is likely to be an unwelcome voyage into the unknown. This is essential viewing to reconnect us all to the core of our own humanity.’

After a successful launch at St Peters Hospital the exhibition will remain there until the move to Ashford Hospital in September, launch date 19th October. If you would like to attend the launch, please contact: Giselle Rothwell on giselle.rothwell@asph.nhs.uk

Heather Caudle, Chief Nurse who commissioned the exhibition to be installed at Ashford and St Peters writes ‘Seeing the person before the patient’: http://www.ashfordstpeters.nhs.uk/about-us/message/1269-seeing-the-person-before-the-patient

 

Future bookings are now being taken, if interested please contact Emma through one of the following:

Web – www.emmabarnard.com

Twitter – @PatientAsPaper

FB – Emma Barnard Artist

The Patient As Paper project is currently seeking funding/sponsorship. If you would like to contribute to this exciting initiative please contact Emma.

Other artwork, which explores medicine and religion from the Patient As Paper project, is being shown in the following touring exhibition:

‘If Yesterday Were Today’

Tuscany – 11th – 18th July

Berlin – September 12th – 20th

London – 3rd – 6th December 2015

 

References

Hsuan L. Hsu and Martha Lincoln, Winter 2007, Biopower, Bodies . . . the Exhibition, and the Spectacle of Public Health’, Discourse, Volume 29, Number 1

Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margereth M Lock, 1987, The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future World in Medical Anthropology, Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1 (1)

 

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Parkinson’s Disease and Being Human: Through a Lens

7 Oct, 14 | by Deborah Bowman

‘Over the Hill’ at Create Gallery

New England House New England Street, Brighton, BN1 4GH

until 17 October

 

Tim Andrews was working as a solicitor when he was diagnosed in 2006 with Parkinson’s Disease and was obliged to retire. The following year he responded to an ad in Time Out for ‘real-life’ nude models – as opposed to professionals – and enjoyed the experience so much that he carried on responding to similar ads. Volunteering to be photographed soon developed into a project in which Tim became the active subject in charge of a (still expanding) portfolio of work by more than 300 photographers. Photographs and films by nearly sixty of these artists are currently on show at Create Gallery in Brighton.

This project is extraordinary for several reasons but most importantly because the quality and range of work is outstanding. It would be unfair to mention a selection of names or personal favourites, so do look at Tim’s blog for more information http://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.co.uk

The fact that all these lenses have been pointed at a single human subject transforms the collection of art works into one giant multi-faceted portrait not only of a man, but of everyman. Tim is Tim in all the shots, he says, adding that he has not had to act a part for any of them. Instead he feels that every photograph shows a different side of him. It is this quality of confrontation with each camera, open collaboration with each photographer (eloquently described by Tim in his narrative captions accompanying the photographs), which brings integrity to the collection. In a way that is both more natural and more deliberate than with most portraiture, Tim is not so much the subject as the co-maker of each photograph.

He is clear that although he set out to be ‘photographed by different people during the course of my illness’ he now feels that ‘it has not been my intention to document my illness but rather to document myself at a time when I happen to be ill’. I think both intentions are palpable in the wholehearted way that Tim has made his life into an art project. There is memorializing and there is documentary inherent in the business of recording our bodies with cameras. There is also, in Tim’s case, intense playfulness and a rare ability to reimagine, and have reimagined for him, a body – a self – that is simultaneously seriously unwell and vibrantly alive.

In his speech at the opening of the exhibition, Tim thanked those who had taken the photographs, those who had helped him put on the show, those who have treated and continue to treat his illness. He also said thank you to Parkinson’s Disease, because as he put it ‘without it, none of us would be here this evening’.

In a society which insists most of the time on presenting our relationship with incurable illness as a battleground where campaigns are lost or won, this ability to own and even to embrace what happens in the diseased body is remarkable. Tim’s way of seeking wholeness through creation and re-creation is an inspiring example of living well with disease. The exhibition itself is a stunning showcase of photographic talent.

 

Clare Best

Writer in Residence, University of Brighton, 2014-15

www.clarebest.co.uk

http://selfportraitwithoutbreasts.wordpress.com

Beautiful Science at the British Library: A Review by Isobel Elstob

3 May, 14 | by Deborah Bowman

 

We are delighted to publish this guest review by Isobel Elstob who visited the Beautiful Science Exhibition at the British Library for Medical Humanities. The exhibition is showing until 26 May 2014.

 

Review of Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

Folio Society Gallery, British Library

20th February – 26th May, 2014

 

Isobel Elstob

Correspondence to: izzyelstob@hotmail.com

 

 

How do we represent the material – and immaterial – world visually? This is the question that underpins the Folio Society’s exhibition Beautiful Science at the British Library. The Folio Society Gallery, in which the exhibition is displayed, is a small and awkward space that functions vertically and can be entered from two sides. This is important because such a space has very little to offer the curators in terms of dictating a visitor’s viewing route. The result of this is a non-linear viewing experience that the curators have counteracted through a thematic, rather than chronological, display of objects.

 

The themes that the curators have selected for representation are ‘Weather and Climate’, ‘Public Health’ and ‘The Tree of Life’. Within each of these sections, too, there is less a sense of chronology than the ambition to compare like-with-like pan-historically; in fact, the desire to demonstrate either the accuracy or the usefulness of past methods of visualising phenomena by displaying them beside recent, most often computerised, models. A particularly attractive example of this approach is the inclusion of HMS Rochester Ship’s Journal from the early eighteenth century (1709-12) displayed dialogically beside the UK Met Office’s computerised and interactive two-dimensional globe on which bright pink and blue lines shift and shimmer. These lines represent weather data collected along the spice trade routes between the continents, such as that laboriously recorded by the Captain of the Rochester. This relationship between two examples of data collation and representation demonstrates the intelligent contemporary exploitation of the documentation of information historically. But it reveals something more problematic, too, for an exhibition that seeks to contrast the sophistication of our technology with the originality of our predecessors: the finely-rendered tabulated descriptions found in the Rochester‘s captain’s journal are more beautiful – to use the exhibition’s own choice of word – than the impressive computerised globe etched with brightly-coloured streaks. Beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is inherently a natural phenomenon, and, therefore, one that exists – and that we will find – in our own, human, creations. The page of the Rochester‘s journal that has been selected for display demonstrates this – beautifully. Perched amongst the looping, precise handwriting of the ship’s captain, that describes ‘Moderate gales of Wind and fair Weather’, sits an ink drawing of a small, speckled bird. The captain, we are told, frequently interspersed his tables of data and description with similar sketches of ships, wildlife and places that he observed throughout his voyages. In such pages, then, are represented two aspects of this man’s – and all men’s – approach to the world: the objective and the subjective. The interaction and relationship between these two ideals permeates this exhibition. Before the mid-nineteenth century the concept of objectivity, as we understand its meaning today, did not exist. Rather than science requiring the removal of human agency in the representation of natural phenomena, it was experience, not self-effacement that had counted previously. We can see this in the words of Edmond Halley, whose 1686 map, An Account of the Trade Winds and Monsoons, is exhibited. Halley writes: ‘It is not the work of one, nor a few, but a multitude of Observers, to bring together their experience requisite to compose a perfect and complete History of these winds.’ The change in attitudes might be traced in Luke Howard’s 1847 Barometrographia, which we are told is amongst the earliest consistent scientific observations recorded, and, more than that, is, in part, mechanically drawn by a self-recording barograph over which Howard subsequently plotted the phases of the Moon. Mechanical objectivity in its genesis is thus displayed.

 

Objectivity today relies on the satellites and the supercomputers that are now at the disposal of scientists. But the representations that such methods produce may well still be beautiful, such as the NASA map depicting the ocean surface currents between 2005 and 2007 that is shown at one of the exhibition’s entrances. One wonders, however, if it is not the subject – our blue and swirling oceans as seen from space – rather than the method of representation, that makes such computerised renderings so appealing. A direct comparison can be drawn between paper and screen within the ‘Public Health’ section, which includes Florence Nightingale’s ‘Rose Diagrams’ depicting the causes of mortality in the ‘Army of the East’. Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University has taken Nightingale’s engraving and made it interactive to help the viewer better understand its purpose. Such an appropriation is a productive method, too, for highlighting the ‘Lady with the Lamp’s’ work as a statistician in her own right, rather than merely an attendant of wounds. Furthermore, whether it be the Rochester voyaging in gales along the spice routes, or Nightingale sourcing her data from the military field hospital through which she paced, many of the historical documents in Beautiful Science invoke a far wider cultural context than the particular information that they describe. John Graunt’s Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality (1662), for example, is a collation of sixty years of London parish records on causes of death. Within the table we find that the number of people in the capital who died due to being ‘Burnt or Scalded’ was three in the year of 1647, and rose to eleven in the year of 1651. Medical conditions such as French Pox, Rickets and Worms are listed alongside causes of death such as ‘Hanged and made with themselves’ and even ‘Frighted’ (of which nine people are recorded to have died in 1660).

 

But it is Beautiful Science‘s exploration of the motif of ‘The Tree of Life’ that is the most poignant section of the exhibition (this is also borne out, perhaps, by the fact that this area appears to attract a far greater concentration of viewers). Interactive technology here, in the form of the One Zoom Tree, allows the viewer to discover the evolutionary links between thousands of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Interestingly, these, very modern, representations of our own – and many other creatures’ – location within the animal kingdom is depicted as a sprawling tree, with branches emerging intermittently from a central trunk. Life on earth has been represented in the form of a tree across the ages and across multiple civilizations. From Mayan to Nordic culture, to the tree from which Eve plucked the apple, this organic life form has functioned pan-historically and pan-culturally as the most apt metaphor for visualising the force and centrality of Life on our planet. Beautiful Science reveals this tendency through some remarkable inclusions. Ernst Haeckel’s The Pedigree of Man (1879) is displayed beside Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), which is open at the only page within the publication that contains an illustration: a lithograph by William West that depicts the relationships between various species and their descent from common ancestors in what has become known as ‘The Tree of Life’ diagram. At once more problematic and more affecting, cultural attempts to depict the very nature of life will always be more personal to us than representing ocean current patterns or even epidemics of disease. For what is being represented in such imagery is our selves. Beside the historical publications of Haeckel, Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck is displayed a pair of back-lit black panels that contain a series of brightly-coloured circular diagrams – each one shining with a luminosity that is indeed beautiful to behold. These Circos Visualisations of Genomic Data compare the human genome with those of the chimpanzee, the dog, the opossum, the platypus and the chicken. Within each circular frame these comparative diagrams rise and descend and swirl and ebb like a collection of precise but abstract paintings. Perhaps technological representation is most striking when it represents the essence of us and how it is that we slot into nature’s own material manifestations. In contrast to the evolutionary implications of Haeckel’s and Darwin’s diagrammatic representations of life stemming from a unifying central source, the curators also show us an example of the way in which the relations between creatures had been visualised in Western culture prior to evolutionary theory’s successful claim of the mantle for understanding the natural world. Robert Fludd’s 1617 The Great Chain of Being depicts an hierarchical pyramid encircled by the cosmos, with Sophia the Goddess of Wisdom represented in human form standing for the pinnacle of natural perfection: us. A human-centric model such as this has Aristotelian roots, and monopolised cultural interpretations of the natural realm right up until the nineteenth century. It is not only possible but probable, therefore, that the ‘Tree of Life’ itself will be replaced with what will be considered to be a more suitable model at some point in the unforeseeable future.

 

The question that Beautiful Science most explicitly asks is how have we represented the world around us. But perhaps a more intriguing thesis might be why do we possess the compulsion to represent it at all? It is clear from this exhibition that the motivations behind visualising data and information have been as numerous as the methods invented to do so. The ways in which such visualisations have been accomplished suggests that science is not yet (and may never be) entirely objective. Indeed, Beautiful Science demonstrates, rather, that the human, subjective desire for beauty is as strong as the human, objective desire to possess information, and that our thirst for images is as compulsive, perhaps, as our thirst for knowledge. But let us hope that the technological age in which we live does not alienate us from nature to such a degree that we consider ourselves once more to be Gods of Wisdom, superior and dissimilar to all that surrounds us.

MASK:MIRROR:MEMBRANE-A Deborah Padfield Exhibition, London 6-16th July 2011

15 Jun, 11 | by Deborah Kirklin

Here’s one for your diary, an exhibition of images by Deborah Padfield, in collaboration with patients & clinicians at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, entitled Can you see Pain? Anyone who knows Deborah’s work from her previous exhibition and book entitled Perceptions of Pain won’t want to miss this.

http://www.dewilewispublishing.com/PHOTOGRAPHY/Perceptions.html more…

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