You can view the Steller Story with extra videos here
This week I was invited by Georg Jensen to visit their Mount St store in London to watch one of their Danish silversmiths from Copenhagen, Tina Bentzen, demonstrate some of her techniques, her sketches, answer questions and show us some of her amazing hand made pieces.
It was an event which was part of London Craft Week which runs from May 3rd – 7th 2017. London Craft Week is an annual event showcasing exceptional craftsmanship through a programme which features hidden workshops and unknown makers alongside celebrated masters, famous studios, galleries, shops and luxury brands.
I was really excited to visit Georg Jensen as I absolutely love their designs and also the fact that they champion design collaborations between architects and fashion designers such as Zaha Hadid and Ilse Crawford.
Tina Bentzen started at Georg Jensen as a silversmith apprentice in 2006 and finished in 2009 and since then has worked on various hollowware products and has an extensive knowledge and expertise, often being involved in product development projects, like Kengo Kuma and the re-launch of the Bernadotte cocktail set.
I have always been interested in craft and design, choosing to study the History of Design at Manchester Met years ago… a course which unfortunately I never finished as I decided to train at RADA instead . I’ve always loved design and been fascinated by working processes, so being able to have a glimpse into how a silversmith works was perfect…
Below is the original 1939 design for the Bernadotte Cocktail Shaker… There are hundreds of hammers to use in the workshop, but each silversmith has one personal hammer which they make themselves, and the one below is Tina’s… The finished Bernadotte Cocktail set…Hours of work goes into each piece with different specialists working on different elements: there is a chaser who is able to create the marks within a piece and a spinner who works on a machine to create the shape. I hadn’t realised that often silverware is a collaborative process between different craftspeople.
The soup tureen below was also made by Tina and took over 600 hours of work and used at least 7 different solders…After the demonstration I popped downstairs to have a look at their new cocktail set Manhattan as I’m particularly in love with the bowls…I just love looking at them as their smoothness and reflections are incredible…I was inspired by seeing Tina work and thought how amazing it is to have a particular craft and talent to make such exquisite pieces. I thought the personal touches, like making her own hammer, which is such an integral element of her work, was really important; creating and adapting your work tools is part of what makes every piece of art unique; it’s the artist’s hand, the artist’s movement and the artist’s personality, is what creates a truly beautiful piece of work.
I realised when I got home that I also had a favourite hammer, and although it’s only used for domestic chores, it was made by my grandfather who started off as a carpenter and it’s precious because this was his hammer…
The following day I visited the V & A Museum to see the Silver Speaks: ‘Idea to Object’ display in the Silver Galleries with a talk from Design critic, journalist and curator, Corinne Julius, which was another London Craft Week Event…
Corinne Julius discussed the works on display with a selection of the makers and there were demonstrations with silversmith Abigail Brown from Contemporary British Silversmiths as well as Tina Bentzen from Georg Jensen… Tina was working with the tea leaf container from the new Kusa tea set , designed by Kengo Kuma, before the oxidisation process which turns the inside elements to a charcoal black finish. Tina would then polish the outer silver giving it the 2 tone effect. This is one of the Georg Jensen images of the finished set…The Silver Speaks: Idea to Object display was also really interesting as it was virtually all non functional silver and explorations in design from contemporary British silversmiths alongside some of their workings such as notes, models and found objects. ’Animus’ by Kevin Gray ’Ice Tea for One’ by Rajesh Gogna Pillow Cutlery set by Angela Cork Silver and Leather Clutch by Kyosun Jung ’Urban’ Candle Holder by Anna Lorenz Alistair McCallum’s Silver Vase with Makume Gane Rim alongside his spontaneous sketches ( on betting slips! ) Rebecca de Quin’s ‘Four Vessel Set’ (with a group of her paper models below ) Below was my favourite piece in the display ‘Boscawen-Un’ Vessel by Abigail Brown who was interested in the symbiotic relationships between man and stone and lichen and stone. The vessel was designed to evoke a monolith much like the standing stones in Cornwall, which is where Abigail lives. Abigail was also demonstrating in the silver galleries and having learned what chasing was the day before, it was brilliant to actually see a silversmith doing some deep relief chasing; the silver vessel being supported and filled with pitch, made from Stockholm tar, pine resin and tallow, so that the silver still has movement when being hammered.
There is an original Georg Jensen tea pot set from 1911, made by Georg Jensen himself for a cabinet maker friend who had designed his bedroom furniture!The Silver Galleries are spectacular and show something of a completely different age…I was trying to explain to my son a couple of days ago what decadence was…I reckon a trip here would probably illustrate that pretty well!
The decadence of this giant wine cooler, in my personal opinion, is dwarfed by the simpler, stylish tea set…
…or coffee pot It was so brilliant to have a wander around part of the V & A Museum which I had never been to before. The museum has so much to offer that you can never really squash it all into one day. I’m obsessed with The Antiques Roadshow ( it really is my favourite television programme ) and I loved looking at all the little bits and pieces in the cabinets, imagining them turning up in a box of bric a brac at a car boot sale, waiting to be discovered by a potential visitor to the Roadshow! It was hard to pull myself away and head back to Brighton; there was so much to tempt me to stay longer all the way to the exit, so I will definitely be going back to spend more time exploring soon… It’s been such a fascinating and inspiring couple of days for me which has really left me fired up to connect to my own painting and making again.
You can still catch London Craft Week as it runs all over this weekend, so if you’re in London you really should have a look at some of the events which are happening all over the capital…I certainly feel very lucky, thanks to Georg Jensen, that I was able to experience and learn so much about silver.
For the final part of this project one of the things I thought I’d look at something I reckon we’re all pretty scared about which is pain and this led me to visit Chelsea Physic Garden as I was interested in historical Native Remedies for pain.
When I was reading a witness statement from Witnesses To Modern Biomedicine I was amazed that until about 1965 there was an enormous amount of ignorance about pain and subsequently there was a lot of acute pain particularly in end of life situations and the thought that ‘men didn’t need powerful drugs’ for pain but women did, seems extraordinary.
A large percentage of us have usually experienced some form of severe pain or at least witnessed it as often it occurs at births and deaths.I certainly remember that after having my emergency c-section I would lie in the hospital bed listening for the sound of the pain relief trolley rattling down the corridor, desperate for it to arrive…
And then when my father was in his last days in hospital he would suddenly have an attack of awful pain which was swiftly taken away by a dose of morphine…the magic of seeing that was incredible, and such a relief, to witness.
The relatively recent advancements of pain relief are something that I am personally so grateful for but also just amazed that it is possible.
The witness statement below is from Dame Cicely Saunders, physician and the founder of the Modern Hospice Movement
Going to St Joseph’s Hospice, which was virtually untouched by medical advance, I was able to introduce records and the regular giving of morphine, which they hadn’t started, and according to one of the sisters of the ward that I was first in, it was the change from painful to pain-free. Having been given four patients to look after, I was soon looking after every admission into those 45 beds. So I began keeping records in detail, pre-computer, on a punch card system, and making tape recordings of patients talking about their pain from 1960, and I realised that what we were looking at was what I described later, in 1964, as total pain. And I will quote from one patient, when I said to her, ‘Tell me about your pain, Mrs H.’ She just said, ‘Well, doctor, it began in my back, but now it seems that all of me is wrong. I could have cried for the pills and the injections, but I knew that I mustn’t. Nobody seemed to understand how I felt, and it seemed as if the whole world was against me. My husband and son were marvellous, but they would have to stay off work and lose their money, but it’s so wonderful to begin to feel safe again.’ And so she has really talked about the physical, the psychological, the social, and her spiritual need for security to look at who she was, coming to the end of her life. And for another patient it was, ‘All pain and now it’s gone, and I am free.’ It is not possible to treat pain in isolation. We have to consider the whole person.
and this one from Professor Duncan Vere, Clinical Pharmacologist
I will say that until about 1965 there was entrenched ignorance, a tremendous amount of severe pain. Patients who were in severe pain, or dying with pain, were often given the Brompton cocktail, or Mist. Obliterans, as it was politely known, and it was a matter of patients being rendered so that they didn’t know what they were doing, by doctors who certainly didn’t know what they were doing. They were using medicines with actions that they couldn’t understand, because they had this complex mixture of cocaine, morphine, gin, sometimes with phenothiazine added. Parsimony was the order of the day, which rendered control impossible. Pain breakthrough was frequent, and intermittent control is disastrous, if only for the reason of the self-augmentation of pain. Hospice care had, of course, begun but somehow it didn’t seem to have come across into the general medical and surgical field in hospitals and general practice.
I think for a lot of people the idea of hospitals is really terrifying particularly for births and deaths. I think it probably has a lot to do with the lack of comfort there, and consequently a prevention of relaxation. They’re public spaces after all, so I can absolutely understand why treatments at home would be preferable.
It was also really interesting to read about some of the advancements into home treatments, like Home Dialysis for example. The witness statements below are from parent and patient and actually illustrate the difficulties of coping with being treated at home;
Dr Jean Northover, Scientist and parent of Dialysis patient
Diana had two siblings and really dialysis had to be a normal part of the family pattern; it couldn’t take priority. The other two children needed attention. The last thing I would like to say is that the funny thing about home dialysis is that when we had got past the ten-year mark – we went on for about sixteen years before Diana got a transplant in 1985 – what we found was that you worked so hard and you had so little rest, that when finally you’d finished with the dialysis, the Kiil (part of the dialysis equipment) was put on the local dump and the transplant was working, you couldn’t really remember what you had been doing a lot of the time. So this was extreme, emotional, psychological, and mental fatigue. I don’t know what the two sides of the brain were playing at! But I kept a friendship going with another dialysis mother, and she said, ‘I need you as my witness, because I have got to talk to somebody, I have got to know that we really went through it.’ She suffered from the same thing. So when people say, ‘Oh, go and learn French by total immersion’, I have to say that what we learnt on home dialysis was certainly ‘home dialysis by total immersion’.
Mrs Diana Garratt, childhood Dialysis patient
I am a renal patient, started in 1969. It was January 1970 when Rosemarie Baillod came round to set me up at home on haemodialysis with my first shunt and I remember the room very well. We had a de-aerator, it looked like a toilet cistern, high on the wall above the bed. Actually, I think I was dialyzing on the table at that time, we hadn’t organized the bed. The rest of the family went on around us; we had a small TV, my younger brother and sister and the cat, who went very soon after because it was sitting there watching the pulsating blood lines and that was very nerve-wracking, very, very nerve-wracking. We got through it, but it was an enormous effort. Every day you were either on the kidney machine, or you were hoping that the machine, which was not at all reliable compared with the modern machines, would work, that the kidney would not burst, that you wouldn’t have a blood leak.
When I gave birth to my son, it was a tricky time and there was no way we’d both still be alive if I’d have had a home birth. I had the continual intrapartum fetal monitoring when I was in labour which worked out to our advantage so it was really interesting to read that in the 1960’s when that technology was in its infancy, the enthusiastic obstetricians and midwives carried screwdrivers in their top pockets so that they were able to adjust the temperamental new apparatus when required.
The witness statement below is from Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr Mark Swerdlow
We set up a study in the early 1980s in three developed countries and three underdeveloped countries to see what the situation was at that time, what sort of treatment patients were receiving and what sort of pain relief, if any, they received. At that time I went to two or three very poor countries, to see cancer patients in hospital, and it was pathetic to see the worse-than-basic conditions within the hospitals. I remember the women’s ward in one hospital in Sri Lanka in particular – there must have been 12 or 14 women there with really advanced cancer – and as I walked round the ward, none of them seemed to be in great pain. I asked the young doctor who was in charge of this ward what treatment they were receiving. He said, ‘They get two tablets of aspirin a day’, and I just couldn’t believe it. I asked, ‘Do they not receive anything except two aspirin tablets a day? Don’t they get any sort of native herb treatment of any kind?’ He said, ‘Well, yes, they do get a native medication,’ and when I asked, ‘What’s in the native medication?’, he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know that.’ I have often wondered since then why somebody hasn’t gone out there to study those herbs and what’s in them, because they looked to be pretty effective.
I was really interested in this notion of native remedies being on hand and able to control pain so I thought I’d visit The Chelsea Physic Garden as I know that so much can be gained by what plants have to offer humans and this garden had beed dedicated to that since the 1673.
I was amazed at how beautiful the garden was, but actually I was more amazed at what I learned there…obviously I knew plants were good for your health, but I hadn’t appreciated how integral they are to medical science.
I felt quite ignorant discovering that the source of Aspirin was a perennial herb!
As a teenager I had epilepsy and I took a drug called Sodium Valprorate for years, ( even during my pregnancy which has recently been in the news as a dangerous drug to take at this time ).
But I had absolutely no idea that it was actually synthesised from a plant called Valeriana Officinalis and there it was growing in Chelsea Physic Garden.…along with many other useful and common plants and weeds ( I also liked how chocolate had been advised for consumption! ) The opium poppy is fascinating too..It’s the source of morphine, but unlike other pain relief, it works on the brain rather than the nerves, preventing the perception of pain rather than stopping it. It’s so interesting that a drug which we know can be so destructive when taken as heroin, can actually be used in such a beneficial way.
Another witness statement from Dame Cicely Saunders, physician and the founder of the Modern Hospice Movement concerning morphine is below:
At about the same time, in March 1948, I was impelled by the stories of my patients that I had experienced first as a nurse, but most of all as a social worker. I knew I had to do something about end-of-life pain and I went, as a State Registered Nurse volunteer, to one of the early homes. There I found that the nurses seeing the prescriptions of morphine four-hourly ‘PRN’, pro re nata,
as needed or as requested, by the doctors, quite quietly took ‘PRN’ off and gave the drug four-hourly, so as to prevent pain ever happening. This regular oral four-hourly giving of morphine dates back to 1935, fairly soon after the Brompton cocktail was put together. Now I was very impressed by this, because the patients were so much better with the pain control than the ones I had seen in hospital before then. During that time I took Mr Norman Barrett, the surgeon I was working for, to see this, and to visit a patient at home and so on. When I said to him, ‘I am going to have to go back and nurse the dying somehow,’ he said, ‘Go and read medicine. So many doctors desert the dying, and there’s so much more to be learnt about pain, and you will only be frustrated if you don’t do it properly, and they won’t listen to you.’ So I did read medicine.
There seem to be quite a few plants which have this duel capacity; my teenage son informed me that nutmeg can also be hallucinogenic and cause severe illness if taken in large quantities…( I think the quantities have to be pretty large though! )And then we come to Cannabis…Reading about some of the research on Cannabis I was surprised to learn that there has been resistance to utilising patient based information from volunteers who had used cannabis during illness with marked benefits.
A study on 6 mice who got better was heralded as ‘actual proof’, as opposed to research of 4500 patients, 1000 who got better, but which was said to be irrelevant because of the different quality of data.
However since 2010 Sativex, a specific extract of Cannabis , was approved as a botanical drug in the United Kingdom as a mouth spray to alleviate neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other symptoms of multiple sclerosis .
Witness Statement below from Dr Geoffrey Guy, Industrial Pharmacologist
A large number of patients have reported, in the vernacular, that use of street cannabis in smoked, cooked or other forms, was giving them marked benefit. My temptation was to believe them. Why other people didn’t, I’m not sure. What was interesting when we started the programme was that as soon as we announced it, people started writing to us. We had a secret address and still do, but they wrote to the newspapers that covered the stories; they wrote to the BBC; they wrote to the Home Office. We used to receive a mailbag from the Home Office once a week. Over time, we had about 4500 patients who wrote to us and about 30 per cent of them had experience with cannabis. We then drew up, I think, a 70-point questionnaire and wrote back to them all. We wanted to know everything about what they did: where they found their cannabis; what type it was; whether they felt some was better than others; what caused them to take more; what caused them to take less – supply was the problem that caused patients to take less, not side effects – and what other medicines they’d been on. We found a very clear picture of what the material could do and what we had to do then was to try to maintain that. Information from David Baker’s research, and a lot of research throughout the world, was beginning to add biological and scientific credibility to a quality of data, which, sadly in this day and age, physicians don’t heed very well. I think it is at their risk that they don’t heed and don’t seem to listen to the patients. I know that David’s study was absolutely heralded as ‘the actual proof ’, in that six mice got better; so that was fine. The fact that we had 4,500 patients, 1,000 of whom had got better, was irrelevant, because it was a different quality of data.
And finally I wanted to touch on one of my favourite paragraphs from Witnesses To Modern Biomedicine by Dr César Milstein, Molecular Biologist, Immunologist and Nobel Laureate which has the heading of ‘Laziness’
Laziness is the mother of good science. Creation comes from moments when you don’t have anything to do. When you have no teaching, and basic admin, and extra commitments are seen to interfere with research, what if you have strong motivation, and don’t know what to do? If you are teaching, you can fill your gaps by teaching, but researchers have to fill the gaps with thoughts. Applications of science are important and socially attractive but they detract from the single mindedness of research.
I learnt more in unofficial discussion around the swimming pool, than I did from any of the formal presentations, because I met people, I talked to them informally, and I got many ideas and contacts from that very nice relaxing two hours. There is a lot to be said for not overburdening your conferences with too many papers.
I suppose I like these last 2 witness statements as being an artist I often spend time, rather guiltily, either sitting doing nothing other than drinking tea and looking into the distance, or doing things I love, like gardening or cycling, when I feel I should be working. But it’s usually in these moments that I have my best ideas or inspiration…they’re important moments when the pressure is off.
Reading these statements reassures me that this is all just part of the process, both scientific and artistic and over the last couple of months since working on this project I have become more aware of creative similarities between researchers and artists.
This project has been a real journey of discovery and the stories and witness statements I have focused on here in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and this Part 4 are only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the other stories I found fascinating involved Facial Recognition, the Familigram, Self Experimentation, Obstetric Ultrasound and the first designs of the Ultrasound Scanner, but there are loads and if you are curious you really should have a read of Volume 50 which is an A–Z, comprising of a series of extracts from previous volumes, contributors include clinicians, scientists, patients and numerous others involved in modern biomedicine, in the UK and beyond. Topics in it range from ‘age discrimination’ to ‘Zantac’, and feature memories from every decade between 1930s and the present. The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group hosted its first Witness Seminar, on monoclonal antibodies, in 1993 and since then more than sixty such meetings have been held. These all sought to go behind-the-scenes of contemporary biomedicine to find out ‘what really happened’.
I have genuinely been surprised at how inspired I have been artistically from science and medical based information and so excited when the science, the research, nature and art have all come together.
It has also meant that the ‘fear’ element of all things medical has definitely been shifted for me…my mother was SO right when she told me that if I took great interest in something it would become less intimidating, less fearful, and far more interesting, and I have personally found that I can now add ‘inspiring’ to that list of benefits.
You can also find out more about The Modern Biomedicine Research Group funded by The Wellcome Trust, on their website here , their Facebook page here , their YouTube Channel here and their Twitter account here.
In this third week of my work with The History of Modern Medical Science, I wanted to look at a recurring theme which seem to run through quite a few of the stories from Witnesses To Modern Medical Science.
It became apparent to me that the element of hobbies, external interests and passions often lead to a greater understanding or insight into some aspect of research.
Professor Estlin Waters for example was an epidemiologist ( the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. ) as well as a keen naturalist and spent time on the island of St Kilda writing notes for ornithological journals about birds, particularly the wrens, and grey seals and he could later see the connection with monitoring wildlife to population based research.
In my case, there was an overlap between counting birds and epidemiology. I had been interested in birds from a very young age but I was also interested in the scientific side of birdwatching, especially bird migration and bird numbers. When I was on St Kilda I wrote about a dozen papers and short notes for ornithological journals and for the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London on various aspects of birds and on the grey seal. I was interested as a naturalist. At that time I didn’t have any real knowledge of statistics. It was my birdwatching that kept me scientific during my medical student days. I used to read some of the bird journals; the medical journals were too heavy to read as a student. I don’t know how some of our medical students now manage, but they can and do. I felt the teaching we had at London was not very scientific, it was more of an apprenticeship: I do this, so you do this. The birdwatching kept me critical of the scientific side of things. When I joined the MRC it was very much the other way round. It was the epidemiology that was the scientific side, and I think I have been able to apply a bit of it to my birdwatching. The two have run together, one perhaps ahead of the other, but the two are related. I think that someone who wants to count wrens on St Kilda has got something in common with someone who measures the haemoglobin level in a population. My experience of working alone on St Kilda and writing papers on natural history probably helped me when starting in medical research.
I was inspired by his witness statement to take a trip to my local Natural History Museum in Brighton; The Booth Museum. I also wanted to look at some wrens close up as he had been so intrigued by them.
The whole museum is like a historical exhibit in itself, being primarily full of Victorian stuffed animals, and collections of insects and minerals… While I was there I also wanted to look at the collections of butterflies and moths as there were another couple of stories relating to them…
Professor Peter Harper, medical geneticist, describes how important it is to sometimes stand back from immediate specifics in one field, whether that’s serology, paediatrics or obstetrics for example, and look at it as a kind of research problem from first principles. He describes how Sir Cyril Clarke, a physician and geneticist, was particularly talented in this area. He says in his witness statement:
Workers in genetics use model organisms all the time, and now in human genetics one shifts, as indeed Cyril did then, between one species and another without much trouble. We know the genomes are all very similar. I think Cyril may have chosen butterflies as a rather unorthodox model organism, and I am quite sure one of the reasons he chose them was because they were more enjoyable than something like Drosophila ( fruit flies ) to work with.
I was also interested by the statement below from James Lovelock, who then worked in the Common Cold Unit, about how Sir Christopher Andrewes ( the virologist who helped discover the influenza virus ) used to take the researchers to the New Forest looking for butterflies as entomology was his sideline:
One of the things I remember most fondly about the days at Harvard Hospital were visits from the parent institute in London of Christopher Andrewes, Forrest Fulton, and other scientists, and there would be the most long and intensive discussions on the virology of the problem. Andrewes had a wonderful trick of suddenly coming into one’s lab in the afternoon and saying, ‘I say, would you like to go for a walk in the New Forest?’ He had a car and, of course, in those days very few people did, and we would be driven into the New Forest and he would be carrying his butterfly net, because his sideline was entomology, and there, while walking along the path, one would talk about what experiment should be done next on the common cold.
I really loved looking at the butterflies and moths as amazing and incredibly detailed manifestations of design and which then in turn completely inspired a new project for me into silk scarf designs, and so although I have taken the aesthetic qualities of something in nature, I can absolutely see how a scientist could look at the genetics of an insect and be inspired to take their research into areas they may not have considered before.There was also a witness statement which made me think how much easier life is, especially for the medical profession, now that we have plastic.
Now plastic isn’t something I usually get excited about ( although there’s a great song by The Beautiful South you can listen to here about Tupperware and Plastic! ) but reading about how it has basically revolutionised work in hospitals is staggering, and to imagine life and health care without it it is actually a bit scary. The fascinating witness statement here is from Professor David Galton ( physician and secretary to the MRC working party on Leukaemia )
I think very few people below a certain age can remember our working conditions in the early 1950s. For example, nowadays people use butterfly cannulas for intravenous transfusions and they can do all kinds of things with them. In our day we had dreadful glass syringes; they had a central nozzle and there was no way you could get into a small vein – we always had to use the cubital fossa veins. If we wanted to put up a drip, for example, we had to rummage about in a great cardboard box where there were lots of rubber tubings of different sizes, and we had to fit these up and stick them into a glass rod that fitted into a hole in a cork in a bottle – we didn’t have any plastic transfusion equipment. All this took a great deal of time.
and Dr Pamela Davies, ( consultant paediatrician ) who worked in Neonatal Intensive Care describes how essential the introduction of plastics was for their department:
In 1962, Victoria Smallpeice in Oxford started feeding babies who weighed 1,000 to 2,000g at birth early, with expressed breast milk. The relatively newly available polyvinyl feeding tube passed into the stomach was a great advance over the teaspoon and ‘fountain pen’ dropper. An enthusiastic young nursing staff showed that even ill babies could be fed small amounts frequently from soon after birth with indwelling tubes strapped in place.
This was of particular interest to me as my son had been in intensive care immediately after he was born, and I remember those feeding tubes leading to his stomach, which I hated, but which were helping to keep him healthy. This story made me realise just how much I personally take for granted with these recent advancements which weren’t available before the 1950’s.
And there was one story, connected to plastics:
Dr Ethel Bidwell ( research scientist in blood coagulation ) was working in Haemophilia research in 1950 and was helping pathologist, Professor R G Macfarlane, to devise new ways of treating haemophiliacs. She had to collect blood from the local slaughterhouse for her research and only had her Vespa to transport it. It conjures up a bit of an odd image but illustrates again how important plastics are:
I went down to the slaughterhouse on my Vespa motorbike and I came back with a large glass container. I got concerned lest I tipped off my motorbike and tipped blood on the floor. People don’t realise that plastics were only just coming in. It cost me about the equivalent of a week’s wages to buy a plastic container to put the blood in so that it wouldn’t break on the road to Oxford.
And finally there was a short witness statement which, as a very slow reader, I found really interesting ( and which inspired me to create a tiny stop frame film ), from Professor Alan Baddeley ( Director of MRC Applied Psychology Unit ):
At the Applied Psychology Unit, John Morton, among other things, used to do some research on speed-reading, at least he used to do practicals on speed reading. This would involve all the students being encouraged to bring a paperback book and to read it for x minutes, followed by a period when John would urge them to go faster and faster and faster, and demonstrate then that they could actually read a lot faster, and that there was nothing very magical about it. It was just that we tend to read slowly – it’s a habit.
Speed Reading stop frame film below…
Just to go briefly back to what I said earlier in the post about being inspired by butterflies but in a slightly different way from Sir Cyril Clarke, here are some of the patterns I’ve created from elements of this particular post which are now silk pocket squares. I had absolutely no idea that this project was going to lead me into designing a selection of textiles, and I’ve really enjoyed the fact that my passion for aesthetics has been able to be informed by genetic research, epidemiology, early plastics and the psychology of speed reading!
You can also find out more about The Modern Biomedicine Research Group funded by The Wellcome Trust, on their website here , their Facebook page here , their YouTube Channel here and their Twitter account here.
Whilst I was staying at Ty Unnos with artist Sophie Abbott as part of my field trip for The History of Medical Science project I’d had an idea that I could work on an arrangement with some copper piping, and then quite wonderfully, Dorian who owns and runs these utterly beautiful welsh cottages knocked on the door bearing heather, lichen, blossom, pegs and a feather…
For more information about Ty Unnos and the other cottages you should go to The Welsh House website HERE and have a look at my previous post about the house itself…it’s amazing and I massively recommend it!
You can see The Steller Story version of this post is here
I’d made a plan to go on a field trip to Wales as I had read in “Witnesses to Modern Biomedicine” by Tilli Tansey ( you can read more about it in Part 1 here ) that there had been lots of population based research in South Wales started by Archie Cochrane, the renowned epidemiologist, and largely carried out or supervised by Peter Elwood ( Director of the MRC Epidemiology Research Unit in South Wales ). He and his collegues carried out research into pneumoconiosis, glaucoma, dust diseases in flax, asbestos, steel and slate workers, with later work on iron deficiency anaemia, environmental lead, migraine, asthma, and two high-profile trials showing improved survival following a heart attack with regular use of aspirin and with consumption of a diet rich in oily fish.
I wanted to be able to capture a sense of going back in time as research had started in 1960 and the essence of Fieldwork seems to have had to change considerably over the last 50 years. My starting point was St Fagan’s near Cardiff; an open air museum which chronicles the historical lifestyle, culture and architecture of the Welsh people ( you can read my post about it here )
I had decided that I wanted to concentrate on 2 particular elements which were the research into Environmental Lead and early X-rays given to Welsh miners with potential occupational lung disease.
I took some copies of x-rays of lungs with lesions with me so that I could see how they appeared in the environment and also in the buildings. Somehow the fact that respiratory problems had crept up on, and grown, almost silently, with a community working for years in the mining industry felt very melancholy but a part I felt important to include.
I was also fascinated by the visual similarities between the capillaries in lungs and leafless trees, wattle and rib cages and the open doors of the ironworker’s houses at St Fagan’s. I thought they had echoes of lungs too; being at the centre of the buildings, like they are in the body, and like the lungs, letting in essential air. They also echoed of the old days of fieldworkers being able to knock on an open door and have a chat with locals which enabled them to discover some incredibly useful information.
( Witness Statement by Mrs Janie Hughes: Population-based Research )
Fieldwork has changed enormously because people distrust you nowadays, whereas, perhaps even 20 years ago, working in the Rhondda, in particular, was easy because everybody left their keys in their door and you just turned the key and shouted, ‘Can I come in?’ and they would say ‘Yes’, without even knowing who you were. In the early days, I think I am right in saying this, we didn’t even write to the people and say we were coming, we just cold-called, which we are not in favour of doing at present . Years ago people knew their neighbours, they knew lots about them, they knew the people across the road, they knew the people down the road. Nowadays no one wants to tell you anything about anybody, because they are always afraid of being accused of revealing things to agencies like the DSS (Department of Social Security), and so it’s a closed shop. You can rarely get any information from neighbours these days. You cannot call at the corner shop, or the post office, which is what I used to do a lot, to learn about people’s movements, that’s out now.
( Witness statement from Dr Philip D’Arcy Hart: Population-based Research )
We worked from a schoolroom, which was lent to us and did clinical examination of the miners, X-rays, some sort of respiratory disability tests, rather crude ones I have to say in retrospect, was all we could do, and history taking. There was no X-ray set-up there and we used a mobile van, Portable X-rays Limited, which trundled round the valleys, and it is amazing what beautiful X-rays they took for the period. We confirmed by X-rays and by post mortems that coalface workers who had not worked in hard rock did have serious, disabling lesions. And they did not look like classical silicosis. So this confirmed the suspicions that had been around…We were able to do that, not by following people along, of course, but by taking people who had been for different periods at Ammanford colliery, and matching them against the lesions they showed in their X-rays.
One of the interesting differences between the survey work I did in south Wales, and my later work in Belfast was the names. I don’t think we realised how difficult it was going to be when surveying miners in south Wales where so many men had names like Jenkins, Jones, Thomas, or Williams. Archie Cochrane solved this by ensuring that every man X-rayed was also photographed holding a board with his X-ray number and his name. When the unit returned four or five years later to re-X-ray that pit, it was possible to identify and radiograph the right Mr Jones. Of course, the miners all know each other by Jones ‘longtuff ’ or Jones ‘big nose’ or some phrase of that sort, but that wasn’t very useful to the survey team.One of the brilliant things about looking back into medical history is seeing how so much has been achieved in a relatively short space of time…the transition from a basic way of living, with no medical research and little help, to detailed investigation and a subsequent knowledge of environmental illnesses, and then offering practical solutions or choices, is really incredible. Whilst on my field trip I stayed at the most amazing traditional Welsh cottage, Ty Unnos, near Carmarthen which felt very inspirational and just the right place to create more images…( the blog post about my stay there is here )
Another branch of population based research which was carried out in Wales helped define problems occurring from Environmental Lead and this also really interested me.
( Witness Stement from Dr Peter Elwood: Population-based Research )
The MRC Epidemiology Unit conducted studies on environmental lead from 1976 to 1982 and chose three areas in Wales with different levels of traffic, from a rural area to a very heavily polluted area. The heavily polluted area was Port Talbot, where there’s a motorway, which is elevated above houses. Along this motorway we chose houses on the main road and houses with the motorway over above, and we did lead sampling in blood and lead air sampling, and confirmed that the lead levels were very, very high, and air lead levels were very high.
I was intrigued by the witness statement below about the high levels of lead in people’s blood where there was lead piping and then the subsequent drop in levels when the piping was replaced by copper pipes.
( witness statement from Dr Peter Elwood: Population-based Research )
The Welsh Office asked the MRC Epidemiology Unit to look at water lead. Some of the areas in Wales have a very acid surface water and old lead pipes. One or two studies had shown that the lead levels in the water were really quite high, higher than the WHO recommendation. We went to north Wales and did a number of surveys of water lead and blood lead, and estimated that the contribution that water was making to blood lead levels was quite substantial.
As a lover of classical history I was aware that the use of lead pipes in Roman times was extensive and I couldn’t understand why all the Roman’s hadn’t died of lead poisoning…I then discovered that, unlike today, there was a huge amount of calcium in the water during Roman times which formed a crust within the lead pipes, therefore unwittingly protecting the population from lead poisoning. I also discovered that the word ‘plumbing’ comes from the Latin word for lead ‘plumbum’ and that after the fall of Ancient Rome water supply and sanitation stagnated and even regressed for the next 1000 years!
I liked the idea of an image where copper pipes could be visible within nature; to show the beauty of a simple copper pipe which works to protect us and keep our water clean which is why I included lichen in the images which naturally only thrives in clean air.
Working on the image above then led me back to the x-ray…the images from the day before had felt quite bleak and now I felt that I wanted to breathe some new Welsh Spring life back into the lungs…
I had also been struck by the description of how beautiful the early x-rays had been so I wanted to embrace some more abstract images, making patterns from the x-ray; making them beautiful again.( Nb…I wouldn’t encourage anyone to pick or damage lichen as some are protected by law…the pieces here were found on the ground )
Next week I’ll be looking at the importance of hobbies, vocational passions…and laziness!
You can also find out more about The Modern Biomedicine Research Group funded by The Wellcome Trust, on their website here , their Facebook page here , their YouTube Channel here and their Twitter account here.
You can see my Steller Story of this post with extra videos here
At the beginning of this year I had a meeting with Professor Tilli Tansey to talk about working on a creative digital project connecting to The History of Modern Biomedicine…I was really excited as I’m fascinated about the connections to be found within science and art and also it’s not your usual Instagram project, so I jumped at the chance.
Tilli Tansey OBE is a Professor of the History of Modern Medical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, and for the last 5 years has been working on a research project funded by The Wellcome Trust, “The Makers of Modern Biomedicine: Testimonies and Legacy”, recording oral testimonies from people who have contributed significantly to modern medical science.
My job was to find a way to illustrate some of these testimonies visually; creating photographic compositions to share on Instagram, here and Steller Stories and create opportunity for more people to access and read about this research particularly at The History of Modern Biomedicine website. Over the next 3 weeks I will be sharing my photographic illustrations as well as a bit of background around them and what stories interested me.
To be honest medical and science-ey things often make me feel a bit uncomfortable as I don’t feel the aesthetics oozing out of them like I do with plants and colour, so I knew the project was going to be a challenge…I fundamentally wanted to create images which draw you into a wider context and which also pull out details which not just science based people could connect to.
I read Volume 50 of ‘ Witnesses to Modern Biomedicine”, An A-Z’, to work out which stories sparked up images, or an interest which may provoke an image.
( You can read it by clicking on this link here and as it’s an A-Z you’ll be able to find the corresponding stories to the images I’ve created really easily ).I can honestly say that the project made my brain work overtime on a creative level, as some of the witness statements cover subject matter that most people don’t encounter, and probably don’t want to encounter, on a daily basis…but it has led me to actively think about science, and particularly the researchers and what they have achieved for the greater good over the last century and specifically over the last 50 years. I have discovered connections with my own artistic processes, Roman history, the benefit of passions, and a dedication to vocational work; all of which have made me a lot more able to engage with health issues which can be difficult sometimes, and at times frightening.
Some of my mother’s best advice to me, and she still says it, is that if you’re scared of something you have to make yourself become fascinated by it; look at it in detail, find the colours in it, understand exactly what it is, and even make a project out of it.
I remember desperately trying to heed that advice during my emergency c-section in Lewisham Hospital; trying to be really interested in what was going on rather than being scared by it…I have to say it wasn’t a massively successful task that night, but it did give me a focus!
So, knowing I have a tendency to be slightly squeamish ( which I wanted to overcome through gaining a more defined interest ) I started with some witness statements which, although quirky, did not freak me out completely and were actually incredibly interesting…
As some of the research has been put into an A-Z of witness statements, one of the first stories I discovered was…
In the 1970s we were looking at the effects of small amounts of alcohol on driving performance – this was before the breathalyser came in – and I set up an experiment around the streets of Cambridge. I was using the dual-task method for measuring peoples’ performance, giving them a subsidiary task to do as they drove around, and I set this up with a local car club. All car clubs met at a pub somewhere in Cambridge and we would go along and the people who volunteered would be there and I would say, ‘While I am telling you what I would like you to do, because we are developing this method of measuring drivers’ performance, would you like a glass of sherry?’ One of my colleagues, by the way, paid for the sherry, not the Medical Research Council, and I was able to do a proper experiment by treating the subjects, some of them to one glass of sherry, and some to two glasses of sherry. Naturally I had to join them, so it didn’t look phoney, and then we went out and ran the experiment. They would show that even after one glass of sherry there are ways of measuring small changes in drivers’ ‘reserve capacity’, as we called it at the time, but it was a bit naughty.
I found it fascinating to learn that research data had been obtained in such an informal way, and it seems that a lot of research over the years was obtained like that, and sometimes these methods got very useful results easily, whilst some of the basic research experiments have definitely been helped by progress…
Booth: The method you used in the early 1950s for measuring the severity of a cold was simply measuring the weight of a number of tissues was it?
Porterfield: Not so much weight as quantities. There were several different markers. How many handkerchiefs they used, whether they were sneezing and coughing; these would be recorded for each volunteer and then at the end of the trial these would be totted up.
Another piece of wise advice my mother always advocated from my late teens was to make sure I always booked that appointment for the thing which makes every woman I know shudder…the cervical smear!
How incredible then that this way of testing has proved so invaluable to women over the years and has become such an important part of identifying early cancerous cells. So it was incredible to learn that when these tests were first offered to women in 1964 there were actually no formal plans of how it should be done and basically every pathologist became responsible. However as the job was so time consuming the pathologists were willing to take on people with basic training, on a trial basis, during which time they were given no office and no desk. Professor Dulcie Coleman ( consultant cytopathologist ) remembers having to set up her microscope on the mantlepiece of the fireplace where she was left to get on with it.
Mrs Marilyn Symonds ( cytologist ) describes below how important the early cytoscreeners were:
To start with, we had people who were formally training to be laboratory technicians and then I think it was probably in the 1970s that we took on a group of women, mainly part-time, who became cytoscreeners. They were different to the people who were qualified with the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS); they didn’t have any formal qualifications, and they were often derided and called shopping-bag screeners, but they were absolutely fantastic at what they did. They were able to sit down quietly and concentrate and look at every cell that was being passed under the microscope, and I can say that that group of women now are nearly all retired, and it’s extremely difficult to replace them. The IBMS now think that we should have biomedical scientists with degrees and formal qualifications in cytology, but I can honestly say that on the whole they are not nearly as good at screening as those women from the 1960s and 1970s.
And so, on to the last witness statement for this week which is one which I found kind of jaw dropping, so much so that I had to Google it ( you can see an interesting wikipedia page about it here )…although by the time I had reached the ‘P’ section I was more interested in the stories than horrified..Placentas ( witness statement below by Professor Alan Emond ALSPAC )
It was common practice, but not widely known, that maternity hospitals used to sell placentas for cosmetics. It was traditionally viewed by the midwives as a bit of a perk, and the money that was gained, I think in most hospitals, went into what was effectively a slush fund for midwives to use. It was only a small amount of money per placenta and I suspect the cosmetic companies made huge profits out of it. The important thing was that most women who delivered didn’t know that that was going to happen, and the hospitals were, in my view, unethical in not telling them. So when ALSPAC came along and wanted to take the placentas away, this was a potential barrier to the midwives’ participation. I’m not sure how we managed it, but we managed to pay 50p per placenta.
Next week I’ll share more images from the field trip I took to Wales, which was inspired by a lot of the Fieldwork and research which took place there.
You can look at the visual Steller Story version of this post with extra images from ’the cutting room floor’ here , my instagram posts here and some of my Pinterest inspiration for the whole project here.
Yesterday I was invited to The Greenwich Peninsula to see the new floral art installation ’The Iris’ by Rebecca Louise Law at the NOW Gallery… The gallery itself is lovely and I was particularly taken with their mini pink cinema… Over this weekend there is also a free event called SAMPLE which is celebrating the start Spring showcasing fresh produce and modern craftsmanship with workshops and even an experimental perfume club! All these little marquees were preparing for the weekend ahead… I was also treated to cocktails and a really wonderful dinner at Craft, the restaurant directly opposite the gallery… The views are absolutely fantastic and it manages to be spacious and cosy at the same time… The restaurant is beautiful and the food, a lot of it locally sourced, is absolutely amazing! It was such a treat to visit a new area of London, let the afternoon bleed into the evening watching the sun go down over the city and wake up inspired.You can view my Steller Story version of this post, which includes video of the trip HERE
( lovely breakfast with Bulova watches ) The new Paper Aviary in St James’ Market, London An Edward Hopper postcard from the new exhibition After The Fall at The RA in London This mug is in support of The Human Rights Campaign…you can buy one on line here You can see the Steller Story version of this post here