Have you ever walked into a museum and photographed the shadowy corner of the room rather than the glass case in the middle? Have you ever stopped to look at the seemingly boring medical stuff that surrounds us – from dentures to rollators? And how often do you think about the fragility of the bones that support us into old age?
On Thursday 26th April, accompanying the opening of Experiences of Ageing, we invited guests to investigate some of the overlooked aspects of medicine with their pen, lens, and hands, guided by photographer Mette Bersang, sculptor Joanna Sperryn Jones, and Lucy Lyons, whose artistic research is displayed in the exhibition.
We’re working hard to make an online gallery of all the photos and artwork from the evening, along with a short film, but in the meantime here’s a taster, with some reflections from the artists…
Photography: Focusing on the overlooked
[flickr id=”6971923568″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”left”] Mette Bersang kicked off the evening by showing us some of her photographs of the often overlooked spaces of hospitals, homes, and parks. The silence of the audience spoke loudly of the photographs’ bewitching, surprising quality, and the evening light flooding into the auditorium was a perfect backdrop to our encounter with Mette’s use of light to make ‘cuts’ in photographic reality.
Mette then proceeded to shake us up with some eye yoga exercises, stretching our arms wide and squinting at our moving thumbs to explore the limits of our vision. Armed with these physical reminders of the ‘tool’ of vision we scattered through the spaces of Museion, looking for things that might be overlooked, and with the challenge of choosing only one photo to share – an interesting idea in the age of digital snapping… Mette writes:
It was very interesting for me to experience the wonder the participants expressed when being encouraged to spend time looking, when being slowed down in the process of taking a photo.
Drawing: Valuing the everyday
[flickr id=”7118020671″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”left”] After the participants had reluctantly chosen a single photo from Mette’s photography workshop, Lucy led them downstairs to the exhibition room, where they were greeted by her exquisitely detailed pencil drawings of rollators, medical devices, bones, and residents of Lotte Care Home, as well as a selection of the objects featured. Lucy uses drawing to look very closely, and in doing so uncovers new knowledge – in previous projects she has helped surgeons and scientists discover new aspects of bone disease and microscopic features of seeds, and reflect on their own ways of looking.
In her research project at Medical Museion, Lucy turned this lens onto experiences of aging and the medical devices that support us as we age – and onto their location in the museum. In this workshop she challenged participants to draw fast – sketching at least 10 fragments of the objects seen through a little paper view-finder. Laying them out together on the floor at the end, we asked ourselves what we’d been drawn to, and what we’d ended up seeing. Lucy writes:
I usually ask participants to look slowly, spend time looking, drawing, getting to know unfamiliar objects. I myself take a very long time making meticulous drawings full of closely observed detail. For this workshop I wanted to take myself and the other participants out of my comfort zone by asking everyone to make 10 very quick drawings using a viewfinder. This helped prevent concerns about making a polished finished drawing – impossible under these conditions and stopped preconceptions about the objects seen. When seen through a viewfinder and drawn at speed, we were forced to see the objects we think we know, very differently, and appreciate them in new ways.
Sculpture: Breaking is also making
[flickr id=”6971945766″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”left”] Back in the auditorium, participants heard about how Joanna was inspired by her own experiences of broken bones, and by crutches used in Japan to hold up struggling tree branches, to create the delicate bone china twigs you can see in the photo. The twigs are individually molded, cast, assembled, and finished, and and make a surprisingly musical sound when handled…. Or broken!
Joanna has used the twigs in a series of installations; piled together as a carpet that crumbles underfoot, or woven into delicate walls that fall apart as people try to pass between them. Joanna’s work explores how breaking can be a creative act, and can change how we think about what was broken. After visiting a ‘behind the scenes’ room at Medical Museion, where medieval skeletons from Æbelholt monastery are being prepared for storage, Joanna gave us one final challenge – to each choose, and then break, one of the last existing twigs from her project. We gathered the fragments in tissue-lined boxes along with labels detailing the date the mould was made, and the date the last twig from that mould was broken. Joanna writes:
When people participate in my artwork there is always an element of uncertainty as each person’s reaction contributes to the event. I wanted each participant to experience breaking first hand because this is the best way to understand breaking on an experiential level. There is an empowering element of freedom in breaking that contrasts with the destructive loss. Before the event I worried that no one would be willing to explore the experience so I was relieved when a woman started the breaking and everyone (except for one person…) embraced the activity fully.
Discussion: Experience and emotion
[flickr id=”6971945864″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”left”] The evening ended with a discussion over beers and snacks. The topics ranged from the difficulty of choosing a photo, or feeling shy about drawing in public, to a debate about peoples’ emotional experiences of breaking the twigs. There were also questions to the artists about their own work, and participants who themselves make art shared comparisons with their ways of working.
This event inhabited the space between an artist’s talk, and an art class for learning techniques: here, people were invited to step into the artist’s process for looking at the world in their particular way. My impression was that this both gave a sense of freedom to experiment, and a sense that different responses to that process were all valuable: no chastisement for getting the perspective or framing wrong here!
One of the elements that started to flutter up toward the end of the discussion was the sense of an experience shared; it was a packed evening full of challenges, and as the organizer I was relieved and moved by peoples’ openness to trying something new, together.