About Cancer Ward 12

This project is a development of the successful Medicine Unmasked project (http://medicineunmasked.wordpress.com) carried out at Singleton Oncology Department 2014-2015 and is also part of an ongoing study of the nature and value of the ‘art intervention’ in medicine.

Artist statement and rationale

Art and medical science have romanced each other throughout history. As an artist and researcher the focus of my work is to reinstate the import of art in relation to medical science and achieve a productive balance between the objective necessity to treat the disease, and a more subjective understanding of the existential experience of illness. This calls for a re-negotiation of art’s role and value in contemporary practice, and, as an artist ‘in medicine’ I work towards the advocacy of patient autonomy and the ‘humanisation’ of medicine through the creation of what I call a ‘meta-language’, 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. While working with patients and with health professionals in the clinic, the ward, or the operating theatre environment, I have come to understand what I do as an empathic ‘act of witness’. My practice is based on observations and personal experiences – the ‘autoethnographic stance’ – wherein 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 exhibition form are intended to communicate across the boundaries of convention and taboo. The meta-language here becomes itself a ‘voice’ that can articulate the nuances of suffering so that, in dialogue with the drawings, 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.

The Project

The  Cancer Ward 12 project will be realised in two parts: The first part involves my being  ‘artist in residence’, on the Oncology Ward of Singleton Hospital, Swansea, 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. Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and symptom control, and ranges from radical management to palliative care. I will be on the ward for eight days, including some nights, ‘immersed’ into the day-to-day life  of the ward, interacting with patients, their carers and families, and with the medical staff. From a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ autoethnographic perspective I will document what I see and experience through drawing and written narrative. Whilst on the ward I will also facilitate and informal setting wherein patients and staff can themselves if they wish experiment with art materials

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 in my Cardiff studio. This work will form a public art exhibition to be launched in Swansea in June 2017.

I will of course be blogging here on this site throughout the life of the Cancer Ward 12 project. As always, your comments and feedback are very welcome