Today I met with the Specialist nurses at the Cardiff and Vale Breast Centre and I am happy to say that the Breast Cancer: a creative intervention project has definitely got off the ground! In collaboration with patients from around the UK (thanks again here to all who have donated on the Just Giving page (see previous posts – there are still a few days to go!) and with patients and health professionals from Cardiff and Vale Breast Centre, Llandough Hospital in Cardiff, my present work with Breast Cancer will result in a major exhibition at the Hearth Gallery, from November 7th – December 7th 2016.
Here is an extract from the original proposal:
Artist Statement and rationale
Art and medical science have romanced each other throughout history. As a visual artist and writer the focus of my work is developing the potential of creative intervention to articulate the patient experience and the need to reinstate the import of art in relation to medical science in order to achieve a productive balance between the objective necessity to treat disease, and a more subjective understanding of the existential experience of illness. This calls for a re-negotiation of arts role and value in relation to medicine and contemporary practice, and, as an artist ‘in medicine’ I therefore work towards the advocacy of patient autonomy and the ‘humanisation’ of the medical relationship. In taking advantage of the complex nature of polyvocal dialogue, I use portraiture as a conceptual and articulatory ‘framework’ for my practice and I understand my visual work as creating what I call a ‘meta-language’. This becomes a form of communication through art practice that goes beyond both the verbal language with which the patient tells his or her story, and the visual language manifest in my drawings and paintings.
Through personal experience of working with patients and with health professionals in the clinic, the ward, or the operating theatre environment (and indeed in the dissection lab) I have come to understand what I do as an empathic ‘act of witness’. My practice as a whole is based on the principles of ethnograpy wherein observation and reflection on personal experience becomes the foundation of my ‘autoethnographic stance’, a position I have been developing throughout my practice wherein the concept of ‘abjection’ is profoundly understood as beyond its usual interpretation. I position myself then as the ‘abject artist’, or more precisely, as Kristeva’s ‘deject’, both observer and observed and through whom the abject exists.
My aim is not to posit objective truths, but rather to expand and enrich the dialogue between art and medical science through offering subjective insight. The results of my work, in public art exhibitions and in digital and written form, are intended to communicate across the boundaries of convention and taboo. The meta-language created in and through the artwork becomes itself a ‘voice’ that can articulate the nuances of suffering so that, in dialogue with the art works , the viewer is invited to engage at a profound, intuitive level and thus enhance his or her awareness and understanding of the existential and very ‘human’ experience of illness
Breast Cancer: a creative intervention
The primary focus of this project is on articulating the experience of breast cancer through art in order to enhance awareness and understanding of the condition. Equally the project will serve to address the current status of cancer care in terms of experience, practice and policy in South Wales. The fundamental intention behind the project is to powerfully articulate the ‘general’ cancer experience through the ‘particular’ case studies. Multiple forms of dialogue will capture and express the multiple perspectives, and the lived and learned experiences of the cancer journey.
Detailed description of project:
The artist will work on three separate yet interconnected bodies of work (see below) which will culminate in a major exhibition and accompanying events to be held at the Hearth Gallery in Llandough hospital.
The exhibition itself will reflect the progression of the narrative throughout the project, and the response of the artist to what she sees and hears. Further influences on the drawings will be derived from the theoretical, historical and philosophical background of the project, which will be detailed, along with selected imagery, on the project website (see 2).
If possible during the exhibition period, the artist will offer a creative workshop within the gallery, which would be based on the idea of a ‘Creative Clinic’. The artist has developed this idea throughout her practice wherein similar well-received events have carried out in previous art and health projects. The Creative Clinic is an informal opportunity for patients, carers and staff can interact in a way that departs from the usual patient – doctor/nurse relationship and benefit from expressing and sharing their experiences through informal experimentation with art materials.
Stages of project:
A body of preparatory work will be made on site during an ‘artist residency’ that will include up to four visits to the Breast Cancer Centre at Llandough Hospital in Cardiff. The work will constitute sketches and drawings made directly within the environ of the centre, focusing on the space itself and the daily life as it happens. Further notes and transcripts of conversations between the artist and consenting patients/staff within the centre will supplement these drawings. This preparatory material will be worked up in the studio into a series of drawings for exhibit, along with the final oil paintings (see 3).
2 – a dedicated website for the project as a whole. For every project I work on I create a dedicated WordPress website. This affords wide dissemination and has proven to be an excellent vehicle for public access to the work as it develops.
3 – a portrait in oil on canvas of up to two patient subjects and one clinician. This will be carried out where possible through up to two ‘sittings’ at the artist’s studio in Cardiff with the work being finished through reference to photographs. If sittings are not possible to organise the artist can work entirely with photographs.
The intention behind making the portraits is that within the context of the project as a whole they will portray not only the subjects themselves, but will also articulate through the particular, and through engaging the viewer in the profoundly subjective way that portraiture can elicit, the general experience of cancer, beyond the individual.