Just over a week ago I spent 2 fascinating days in the company of Artists, Poets, GP’s, Academics, Archivists, Occupational Therapists, Art Psychotherapists, Mental Health Nurses and Patients at the symposium and workshop organised by the University of Kent and the exhibition PRESCRIPTIONS.

The programme of events was built around the collection of books made by Martha A Hall, that were donated by the artist to be used as a learning resource at the University of New England.

Hall’s books focusing on her experience living with breast cancer are uniquely powerful as patient narratives. The intimacy of the book form draws students into relationship with the artist’s narrative, suggesting that the body and the text are inseparable. Handling such books, which contain intimate pieces of a person’s life experience, creates deep impact for students and is especially valuable for those planning to enter the health professions, which is the case for the majority of students at the University of New England. Hall’s books not only emphasize her struggle for voice and self- determination in the medical encounter; they demand that the patient’s perspective be heard. But beyond that, they invite readers into a partnership and reframe the encounter with the patient’s body in ways that radically shift students’ understanding of the health professions and of their own embodied experience as human beings.

The above text is taken from the symposium programme where you can read about the speakers and the abstracts of their presentations.  The symposium was organised by Stella Bolaki who had studied Martha Hall’s books for some time. Here you can find an in-depth article by Stella Bolaki on the subject.  Each presentation approached the symposium title from different angles: from the medical humanities looking for a way of rebalancing failures in the current health education system; as academics and artists making and curating work to express and document ill health; as archivists using the collection of Martha Hall’s work to educate new health practitioners; from sociology understanding society and the individual through the action of making. See below for some of my free flow notes taken on the day.

If you have time do watch Martha Hall talking about making and using her books in the film below. Aside from the experience of handling the books in person, this film gives a sense of the real practical use that artists’ books can offer.

 

Artists’ books only exist in the hands. Artists’ books problematise the way we read books, they force us into new ways of reading. ..spine of the book…Palimpsest – re-writing  / re-authoring narratives – power in healthcare.  Making a book is a temporal experience as is the reading of it… Artists’ books are made for 1:1 interaction but can reach many people.  The form matches experience: balances, enclosure / exposure, inward and outward. .. We need to be producing and redistributing sensibility capital…the production of insensibility by medical culture.. Walter Benjamin ‘how we sense is cultural’…Penisula appointed a Professor of Visual Art alongside Professors of Music and Medicine…Pity (greek compassion) v’s empathy..  ‘Patients want a good conversation, they don’t want to be told certainty for it to be wrong’… ‘I just want my doctor’s knowledge not their empathy’ The arts produce ambiguity…  Turning the page…the viewer is complicit in the action….  ‘I ‘d reach for what’s closest and make what I needed.’…  Making art to make sense…  ‘Painting the mural gave me the excuse to stand on the street and talk about the grief surging in me’…  Painted blazers were a walking gallery… Artists’ Books tell the truth…equal heft to science textbooks… Some want empathy, some want knowledge, all want respect and time..Doctors need to check expectations and learn to read what people are looking for….  ‘We have answers, but we don’t get trained to deal with situations when we don’t have answers’…  Increase visual literacy and increase self-determination and expression…  Rita Charon encourages parallel charts…art practice can be cathartic but not helpful for the condition…how to make a practice informed by health needs as a preventative..to maintain equilibrium?

 

The exhibition at The Beaney was co-curated by Stella Bolaki and Egidija Ciricaite who wrote a lovely post about one of the main strands of the exhibition on the blog collective investigations.

The show features the work of 78 artists alongside 15 books by Martha Hall you can see the online catalogue below for more information on each artist and book.  The work looks great in the display cabinets and offers fleeting glimpses into each experience captured. A frustration expressed by many was that none of the books can be fully read in this state. Due to issues of insurance and liability at The Beaney, the core message, that the handling of artist’s books can increase the ability to ‘read’ others sensitively, is trapped behind the glass.  Happily, the last I heard, the co-ordinating of handling sessions were being discussed. Many  of the artists have donated their books to the Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities collection to be housed at the University of Kent for future handling, education and research.  I’ve donated the last of my home edition which can be seen being handled here.

 

The workshop gave the opportunity for a day of active reflection on the issues raised by the symposium speakers and books in the exhibition. With initial activities, led by Jennifer Tuttle and Cathleen Miller, linking the structural and material elements of Martha’s books to content, the large group very quickly engaged with the subject matter and once Andrew Malone had given the lead into the practical activity, linking technique and materials available with now familiar examples there was a visible surge in energy and focus in the room as people sought and found their visual language very quickly.  It was a very positive experience to witness a group of people, largely new to artists’ books take to the medium so quickly and with such potency. Scouring imagery and piles of materials is always fun but there felt a hunger in which we all sought them.

Here are some pictures of the book I made. I used the workshop as a chance to digest what I had heard and seen the day before and approached the book making as a reflection exercise, thinking about my relationship with health and healthcare and my role in the health of others through personal relationships and my job within healthcare.  Andrew gave us each a length of concertina folded paper which is a great place to start from and a lovely way of comparing and sharing experiences later. I used my own concertina as a dividing line between myself and healthcare, myself on one side, healthcare on the other, and used openings and translucent layers to suggest the links between the two. I don’t often use collage but found it a really helpful way to think things through, as visual metaphors continually jumped out at me from the piles of imagery and tactile surfaces! Lots of engineering diagrams, traces of past civilisations, Victorian style explorer illustrations and offcuts from Andrews’ own work – absent subjects hinted at by the contours of a backdrop. No epiphanies yet but it’s a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday 16th and Saturday 17th October

11am – 5pm

The Holden Gallery

Manchester School of Art 

Exhibitions. Artist’s tables. Reading room. Workshops. Suppliers.

see here for more details

and then it was spring

March 22, 2015

And I wondered just what I had been doing since January…Well, among other things I’ve  been printing and gathering and now I’ve started compiling the books I intend to take with me to Bristol Artists Book Event in April and Turn the Page, Norwich in May.

Today I finally returned the box to the allotment after spending last summer cutting the one in the other or cutting the other into the one on the other….are we all following?!  I also brought one of the full textile prints I had taken of the box and hung it between canes to photograph. I’m making a book of the box prints on paper, these will be housed in a portfolio which should also include one of the stills I took today, to offer a little more context to the piece. It turns out that whilst taking stills my camera is also, without my knowledge (I really should have downloaded the manual) able to take film. So here is a brief preview of what stills may be available!

So Turn the Page Artists book fair has been and gone and in between the rest of life and work I can assure you I’m getting together all the bits and bobs I need to finish the books I promised to post out to new homes.  It was a lovely weekend by all accounts. The sun alternately warmed and dazzled us through the glass ceiling as we circled, sat and wondered at the variety and splendour of the artists book / book arts field. The central showcases worked well to display the more sculptural works, enticing people into the space, diverting the flows of movement around the tables and breaking the stiff-neck-close-focus-rictus even the best book fair adventurers must suffer from.

I got to meet some lovely people, generous with their advice, tales and praise but am ashamed to say that as usual I didn’t get to see all the people and work I’d have liked.  From those artists I did manage to speak with Gloria Ceballos‘ wild flower work, Theresa Easton’s colourful books full of social and science history and Stef Mitchell’s caravan printing adventures all inspired.

Next stop Baltic Artists Book Fair 14th and 15th June

A Fine City

April 29, 2013

Norwich  Market (post revamp)

On Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of May between 10am and 6pm each day my books will be sat out for all to see on a table at the Forum in Norwich. On Friday my lovely sister will be there masquerading as me and on Saturday I will be there myself, perhaps masquerading as her. If you happen to be nearby come along and say hello.  Turn the Page Artists Book Fair has installations, demonstrations, workshops, readings and sculptural works unfolding on the day alongside 60 exhibitors.

Norwich is also a lovely place to come for a day trip, so if you are wondering if you could really spend a whole day looking at books, perhaps you could also have a walk along the river Wensum that winds its way through the city, see the (most beautiful) cathedral and cloisters and massage your feet up one of the many cobbled streets….

-in between- news of

November 11, 2012

 

 

Left in a meditation hut in Oxford and avoiding the clutches of a one year old on a narrow boat.

Thanks to the lovely Jess for the photos.

 

-in between- more news

April 15, 2012

 

…this time dropped on a park bench in the beautiful Berkshire village of Waltham St Lawrence.Once again thanks to Matt for dropping and Sarah for shooting.

book post

February 15, 2012

In the autumn I made the biggest edition I’ve managed so far – 100 little concertina books. With images drawn and screen printed from the etchings I had made about the special wilderness found, for example, under tramlines and between canals and railways.  As I’m not the best at anything and hate wastage, around 40 of the 100 books are a little like special wilderness themselves – smudgy, wonky or a bit scruffy. These 40 are being sent out across the country to 10 wonderful destinations where kind people will start their journey off into who knows where.  I hope to keep some sort of track of them here.

home

August 10, 2011

I made a film to show this work when I was trying to figure out how to display the piece in the Womans Work exhibition at the Link Gallery in Winchester. In the end Linda Hasking was kind enough to make a shelf for the work, but now I have a film too!