Category Archives: Art

Saturday…with The Welsh House Arrangement

April 15, 2017

Filed Under : Arrangements - Art - collaborations - Spring - texture - The History of Modern Medical Science - trips

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…

We then sat about chatting, stood on chairs, drank cups of tea, laughed a LOT and sort of organically let the arrangements appear…while Mrs Jones looked on ( Mrs Jones helping… )

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

Thursday…The History of Modern Medical Science ( Part 2 )

April 13, 2017

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - The History of Modern Medical Science - trips

This week’s instalment of the project for The History of Modern Medicine is much more of a visual essay showing a bit more of my process and how a story can inspire an image…

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.

So, below you will find a combination of witness statements, together with my images which have been inspired by them…

( 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 [2000]. 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.

( Witness statement from Professor Owen Wade: Population-based Research )

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 look at the visual Steller Story version of this post here  my instagram posts here and some of my Pinterest inspiration for the whole project here.

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.

Friday…The History of Modern Medical Science ( Part 1 )

April 7, 2017

Filed Under : Arrangements - Art - collaborations - The History of Modern Medical Science

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…

Alcohol ( the witness statement below is by Dr Ivan Brown, psychologist )

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…

Handkerchiefs and the Common Cold ( witness statements below from Sir Christopher Booth, gastroenterologist and Dr James Porterfield, Common Cold Unit )

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.

Cervical Screening

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.

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.

Saturday…with The Greenwich Peninsula

March 4, 2017

Filed Under : Arrangements - Art - exhibitions - London - Spring - trips

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

Thursday…with a Scented Shed

November 17, 2016

Filed Under : Arrangements - Art - Brighton - collaborations - exhibitions - My Home - Open House - synaesthesia - The Shed - Winter

photo-17-11-2016-08-42-16Each year at my Artist’s Open House in Brighton I create an installation in my shed/studio…themes over the years have included Shipwrecks, Pioneer’s Cabin, Nesting, Frozen in Time and the White Shed.

Earlier this year when I was working on the #myStJames project I visited Floris in Jermyn St, London; the oldest perfumers in the country, and I was absolutely fascinated with how a perfumer almost seems to paint with scent. ( you can read an earlier post about it here )

It made me become incredibly preoccupied with scents and memories which is why I decided I wanted to crete a space where people could almost smell their past and  to ‘dress’ the shed with a feeling of nostalgia and personal history; something smell and scent gives immediate access to.
photo-17-11-2016-08-26-12When I told Floris what I was going to do they kindly provided me with lots of scent samples which I was then able to subtly place within drawers, boxes, tins, jars and even a couple of handbags and a book; sometimes on their own and sometimes combined with other elements…I was also so chuffed when Susan Beech from A Petal Unfolds agreed to let me include some of her incredible paper flowers and Cable and Cotton gave me extra lights for the ceiling.

Also as a synaesthetic artist I often paint smell ( and taste ) and so also included within the installation some paintings which depict scent. photo-17-11-2016-08-32-17 When I was little my mum put a scented sheet of purple paper into a drawer in the spare room…I used to go in on a rainy day just to open it and take in that smell.
I can still recall it; not in a very tangible way, but more like recalling a dream; one of those you never forget…

As an abstract painter I enjoy emotional responses rather than representative, and was completely taken by surprise when I found myself weeping at the scent of ‘Iris’ having emotionally revisited one of the happiest times and places of my life 30 years ago, for a matter of seconds.photo-17-11-2016-08-28-24( the handbag above contains ‘ Madonna of the Almonds’ by Floris as well as a dusting of talc, the small top box contains ‘ 1962’ scent by Floris and the glass jar contains ‘Lily of the Valley’ by Floris )

( the binoculars case below contains Scent ‘No. 127’ by Floris, blended in the 1800’s. It’s one of my favourites because it is like directly smelling history )photo-17-11-2016-08-42-32photo-17-11-2016-08-36-10 ( drawer above contains ‘Palm Springs’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-36-59 ( drawer above contains ‘Cerifo’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-37-36 photo-17-11-2016-08-43-46 ( drawer above contains ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-45-08 photo-17-11-2016-08-39-30 ( drawer above contains ‘Honey Oud’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-35-40 photo-17-11-2016-08-33-58 ( bag above contains ‘Mahon Leather’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-40-02 ( above is some of my mother’s old cream from the 1970’s and a box with pencil shavings inside )photo-17-11-2016-08-40-21 photo-17-11-2016-08-41-10 photo-17-11-2016-08-43-17 ( drawer above contains ‘1988’ scent by Floris )photo-17-11-2016-08-32-59 photo-17-11-2016-08-31-05 ( lilies and a painting of their scent behind )photo-17-11-2016-08-29-29There are 75 smells in the shed which you can experience in boxes, jars and drawers ( anything containing a smell has a little round sticker on unless it’s a plant ).

You can pick and choose and let the smells take you back to places you’d forgotten or never even thought about.
The identity of the smell itself shouldn’t be important; it’s where it takes you in your memory which should be savoured.

So far people have had some incredible responses and everyone has come out telling me stories of smells from their childhood or past…some of my favorites so far have been:

‘I’ve just smelt a ghost’

‘That smells like an old lady’s chair’

‘Oh my God, that’s the school soap!’

‘I’ve just visited my Grandpa’s front room’
photo-13-11-2016-11-33-21( tin above contains ‘White Rose’ scent by Floris )photo-08-11-2016-16-20-34( incredible hand made paper flowers inside a drawer with the scent of Floris’s ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ from A Petal Unfolds )

I’ve also included some smells which are not so nice…not many, but I wanted people to experience a range, so if you visit, beware of this tin…it contains asafoetida!!photo-17-11-2016-08-46-25There’s nothing quite like opening a drawer or a box which not only has some interesting bits and pieces inside but which also has a specific scent…I have absolutely loved putting this installation together and I think it is only the start of a new phase for me of working artistically with smell!photo-12-11-2016-17-24-58You can visit the Open House and experience The Scented Shed, in Brighton during the last 3 weekends of November 11am – 5pm, and you can follow the accounts @64sandgate on Instagram and Facebook for more details