Our January peer group marked our 51st peer group since September 2015. This month we had 2 artists presenting — Zara Pears & Jill Mueller. Both artists shared deeply personal works related to their lived experience.
Jill Mueller shared her project See Me Through This about her experience of living with the BRCA1 gene. Certain variations of the BRCA1 gene lead to an increased risk for breast cancer as part of a hereditary breast–ovarian cancer syndrome. Jill shared about her personal decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed and presented work about this experience. This multi-layered project combining photographs (in collaboration with photographer Maja Daniels), stitching into photographs and images, personal writing, her sister’s PET scans, medical documents and more.
Jill asked some crucial questions to the group that we offered feedback on:
- Where does the boot sit? Is it in the photobook world, the literary world?
- Who is the audience?
- Who might publish it?
- How might I fund it?
- What networks might I be able to tap into?
- What should I be thinking about that I haven’t though to ask?
So much of us were really affected by the complexity of the project and how it would appeal to a number of people: artists, clinicians, people affected by breast cancer or genetic inheritance. We talked about the book not having to fit into any one area. The project being more than just a photobook but layered with so many different aspects that only serve to enrich the experience of the viewer. People suggested putting together a dummy book or even just printing out the pages and beginning that difficult editing process and sequencing. Julia mentioned about the possibility of speaking the words if it were an exhibition, incorporating the sound and literally the artist’s voice into the work.
In terms of the audience we suggested galleries in medical environments, places like the Women’s Library or the Feminist Library. The work could be shown at academic conferences or within medical contexts to bring in the powerful and humanising patient voice. Sue had a fantastic final thought about bringing in reflections on the decision making process Jill must have gone through, from a place where she now has some distance.
This was a deeply personal, beautiful and vulnerable project shared by Jill that we were honoured and privileged to have seen and supported. Thank you Jill!
Artist: Rosy Martin
Artist: Jessa Fairbrother (and her use of textiles & stitching into photographs).
Artist: Paloma Tendero
Artist: Fiona Yaron-Field (and her work with her daughter on living with Downs Syndrome)
Artist: Emma Barnard and her project Patient as Paper
Artist: Celine Marchbank’s book Tulip
Artist: Rikard Österlund’s book Look I’m wearing all the colours
Exhibition: Misbehaving Bodies by Jo Spence & Oreet Ahsery @ Wellcome Collection
Book: Laia Abril’s The Epilogue (for its mix of photographs, letters etc)
Funding: Jerwood New Work Fund
Funding: Jerwood Bursaries
Zara Pears returned to us after a bit of a break, sharing two different projects. Zara brought a dummy book of her Photography MA work, Unseen Physicalities. The work was made in response to her move to London, something that prompted a time of anxiety and panic. The book deals with the idea of losing control but not showing it on the surface. Zara’s main question about this book was about the use of text and whether the format in the book helped lend itself to the sense of panic or control. We discussed how to play with text — letting it spill over and out of the page, experimenting with size and colour, whether an overwhelming amount of text helped or hindered the understanding of panic/control. Zara’s pages used tracing paper and we talked about how to play with that by tearing through it to reveal words, to play with the actual physicality of the book.
Zara’s second project was a series of photographs exploring the idea of trauma and stress manifested in the body. We talked about how to create and hold that tension in the body and the use of hair was fantastic. We discussed resources related to [psycho]somatic experiences — internal difficulties in the body manifesting as physical illness.
Zara mentioned that her work is often quite dark, asking how could she lighten it? We talked about whether it was important for her to inject positivity in the project, or whether it’s OK for the work to be dark and distressing because that’s the experience of pain and trauma. People suggested working with mental health organisations who may be able to provide coping strategies for panic attacks etc, taking the burden off of Zara to provide the ‘lighter’ side of things.
Artist: Liz Atkin
Book: The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Book: The Divided Self by R.D Laing
Book: It’s All In Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan
Book: Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag
Exhibition (finished): On Edge at Science Gallery London
Trauma Therapist: Peter Levine & Somatic Experiencing
Resource: Kristin Neff on Self Compassion
Conference: Trauma Summit 2020 (June, Belfast)
All in all this was yet again another fantastically inspiring group where the artists’ vulnerability was strengthened by the support and encouragement of the peer group. A huge thanks to Zara and Jill for sharing these works — we look forward to seeing how they develop and hope you’ll join us in the coming months to update us on the work.