Category Archives: London

Friday…with a St James Advent Calender

December 1, 2017

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - colour - exhibitions - London - My St James - trips - Winter

Today, being the 1st of December, means that it’s the first day we can officially open the first door of an advent calendar…

When I was a child we either had some glitter encrusted nativity scene ( and is it me or was glitter different and much messier in the ’80’s ? ) with little windows to open containing, often less than relevant, seasonal images. I loved them!

It’s something about the anticipation of Christmas combined with the contemplation of each day leading up to it which feels so cosy.

So this year I was really excited when St James told me that they had asked London Fashion Week Men to curate a physical advent calendar in St James Market Pavilion with a selection of twenty-four amazing gifts to be won every day; presents gifted by exceptional retailers, restaurants, art galleries or hotels in the St James area.

To enter, you should follow the @StJamesLondon Instagram account where they will reveal the gift to be won each day and how to enter on their Stories. You should also have a look over on their website for more details and terms and conditions.

I was at the launch of the Advent Calendar last night ( with gorgeous mulled wine and Scandinavian canopes provided by Aquavit ) where the first window was opened by Dylan Jones and Caroline Rush with carols sung by The London Gay Men’s Choir. It really reminded me of the illuminated shop windows in Jermyn St, which at this time of year look incredibly pretty.

If you’re in London over the festive season you really must go up to St James…it’s so beautiful and very atmospheric, even if you’re just having a wander around. It also feels like a true piece of London which isn’t losing it’s character; full of authentic independent retailers, galleries and restaurants.

I have been asked to work with 2 of the advent ‘windows’ for the 20th and 24th of December which have really wonderful prizes, and I’ll be posting about them on Instagram ( @5ftinf ) on the day, so do keep your eyes peeled for the reveal.

So I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the shops in St James…( some of which are participating in the advent calendar ), as well as a bit of the atmosphere from last night…
( Jermyn St is just a short walk accross the Regent St from St James Market ) Floris Paxton and Whitfield
Grenson Shoes…Thomas Pink… Turnbull and Asser… New and Lingwood…Hilditch and Key…Trickers…Sims Reid Gallery…
D R Harris… Cubitts…Emma Willis…Fortnum and Mason… I particularly love Jermyn St, but there are also loads of other beautiful streets with some lovely windows to have a look at..
I will be telling you a bit more about the gifts offered behind these 2 windows on the day they are opened via my @5ftinf instagram account but do keep an eye on the @StJamesLondon IG account for details of how to enter each day…and good luck!

You can read more about St James and the area on a few My St James blog posts here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

* This post has been very kindly sponsored by St James

Saturday…with Burberry at Old Sessions House

September 30, 2017

Filed Under : Art - Autumn - colour - exhibitions - London - texture - trips

This week I visited Burberry at Old Sessions House in London for the exhibition ‘Here We Are’ curated by Christopher Bailey, Lucy Kumara Moore and Alasdair McLellan – in celebration of the September 2017 Burberry collection. I’d seen that Skye from @georgianlondon had been via her Instagram Stories and thought it looked wonderful…and it was! It finishes tomorrow so if you read this in time you really should go…and the cafe is great too! You can see the Steller Story Version here

Friday…with ‘Perfume’ at Somerset House

August 4, 2017

Filed Under : Art - exhibitions - London - Summer

This week I was invited by Somerset House to experience their current exhibition ‘Perfume’ – A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent and I also had the opportunity to create my own, personal scent with the Experimental Perfume Club. I was really excited as those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know how inspired I am by scent and the incredible memories and stories it provokes.

Last November I created a scent installation for the Artists Open Houses in Brighton which you can read about here in my post about ‘The Scented Shed’  and there are also links to some of my other scent related blog posts at the end of this one. The exhibition is about the journey of contemporary, niche perfumery; perfume as works of art creating a whole experience rather than just a fashion accessory.

There are 10 perfumes exhibited, in simple, atmospheric installations where you can soak up the scent and allow your memories and imagination to mingle with the perfumes. The perfumes are representatives of key moments of the 21st Century shift into using synthetic scent. The perfumes are exhibited unlabelled so as not to hinder your sensory journey. But before you explore the exhibits there is a table of perfume history…L’Origan by Coty, 1905,  ( below ) was the first floral oriental perfume and was pioneering for its use of synthetic ingredients in conjunction with natural materials and Chypre by Coty, 1917, ( below ) is regarded as one of the scents that defined modern perfumery… Shocking by Schiaparelli, 1937, ( below )  was arguably the first multi sensory perfume and captured the high glamour mood of the 1930’sPossibly the world’s most famous perfume, Chanel No 5, 1921, ( below ) created for Coco Chanel by Ernest Beaux… Youth Dew by Esteé Lauder, 1953, ( below ) created to be an accessible luxury for the emerging, post war middle classes and marked a transition in global perfumery, shifting its influence from Europe to America…Opium by Yves St Laurent, 1977, ( below )…it is considered one of the most controversial scents of the century, apparently bringing illicit thrills to a decade which embraced more casual conversations around sex…( my mum wore this one in the 1980’s!! ) After exploring the table of scent history we explored the main exhibition and were encouraged to make notes…and maybe create a new sort of descriptive vocabulary… Being a synaesthete I was in my element being able to make visual notes rather than trying to use words…even though I didn’t have time to complete them.

I don’t want to spoil things for you in case you’re able to get along to the exhibition so the following photographs show how the perfumes are displayed and how you interact with them, ie; there are objects in all the images which were infused with the scent. You can spot them by noticing a hole or circular mesh, rather than just telling  you what they are or who the artist was behind them…( although I list the artists and perfumes at the end of the blog post so you can have a stab at guessing. ) 

After the curated tour of the scents we then had the wonderful experience of creating our own personal scent in Le Petit Parfum workshop with Emmanuelle Moeglin from The Experimental Perfume Club; using our instincts to select our favourite olfactory notes and accords…
I discovered that I’m naturally drawn to citrus top notes, spicy heart notes and woody and oriental base notes and I managed to blend a perfume I was really happy with!

…and then to the shop, and of course I had to go home with the complete set of exhibition scented postcards! …and in my dreams Daniela Andrier’s ‘Rain Cloud’ would have been the scent I would have really liked to take home… …instead I satisfied myself with a shot of one of the wonderful staircases at Somerset House as I left the building, but very definitely followed by olfactory ghosts which stayed with me for days.The exhibition runs until 17th September and the 10 perfume ‘provocateurs’ are: Mark Buxton’s ‘Comme des Garçons 2′, Geza Schoen’s ‘Molecule 01’, Antoine Lee’s ‘Sécrétions Magnifiques’, Bertrand Duchaufour’s ‘Catholic Mass’, Daniela Andrier’s ‘Purple Rain’, David Seth Moltz’s ‘El Cosmico’, Lyn Harris’s ‘Charcoal’, Andy Tauer’s L’Air Du Desert Marocain, Killian Wells’s ‘Dark Ride’ and Prada’s ‘Iris’ 

If you wanted to read about some of my perfume and scent projects here are some previous blog posts: Monday…with Pop Ups and Perfume, Saturday…with Scented Reflections and Thursday…with Floris and Scent

Tuesday…with ‘Breathing Colour’ by Hella Jongerius at The Design Museum

August 1, 2017

Filed Under : Art - colour - exhibitions - London - Museums - Summer - trips

Last month I visited the new Design Museum in Kensington, London for a look around the ‘Breathing Colour’ exhibition by Hella Jongerius.

I didn’t know much about it but knew that it would definitely appeal to my obsessive sense of colour…

What I hadn’t anticipated was how the exhibition and the way in which Hella Jongerius explores and works with colour, would form part of a new appreciation I am personally exploring at the moment with colour, light and shadow.

I recently read Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’ which opened up so many questions and thoughts about how I view light and shadow, and so to then walk into an exhibition which examines how colours change and ‘breathe’ with times of day was not only serendipitous but also completely fascinating.The exhibition examines how we perceive colour and encourages us to be receptive of the effect that shape, texture, pattern and colour have on each other and Hella Jongerius has created a collection of Colour Catchers and textiles in an immersive light changing environment which leads you to experience metarism where colours come to life, changing and morphing at different times.

Hella Jongerius says of the Colour Catchers which she creates;

‘These Colour Catchers are an abstaraction of all the daily objects which surround me. They are the ultimate shapes for researching colour, shadows and reflections. They are my canvases.

She also says:

‘The colour phenomena and optical effects demonstrated in this exhibition are not just abstract theories. The exhibits are designed to provide knowledge about colour that can add value to practical objects and improve our daily lives.’ I have always found the perception of colour fascinating and when I was studying Art A Level my  art teacher completely opened my mind to seeing colours in places I had never seen them before. My work at that time became way too obsessed with colour, because it really was like I was seeing the world with new eyes…shadow and tone went out of the window and to be honest, they are still always something I have to work harder to see.

This exhibition really re-awakened my interest in colour as well as colour theory but also opened another door into the joy of shadows, alongside the Tanizaki I’d been reading.

The exhibition is a brilliant contemplation of colour and really lets you think and look at the world around you; the visual, tactile world as well as the intangible, ever changing world of light and shadow around us.

If you are in London over the Summer and up to 24rd September, you really should try and get to see the ‘Breathing Colour’ exhibition and visit the Design Museum itself. It’s an inspiring study and collection of work focused around colour which would appeal to fellow colour enthusiasts like me, but also those people who struggle with colour.

More information about the Design Museum here

Wednesday…with Greenhouse Textures ( Part 2 )

June 21, 2017

Filed Under : colour - Gardens - London - Summer - texture - trips

Chelsea Physic Garden in London was a discovery for me in March and has recently inspired some of my new silk designs. The greenhouses are really wonderful, as are the textures and plants… and the journey of a design…

You can find my silk designs in my on line shop HERE and if you use checkout code: SILKSALE20 you’ll be able to get a 20% discount…there’s also a Steller Story version of this post which you can flip through HERE 

Thursday…with The London Library

June 1, 2017

Filed Under : collaborations - London - My St James - trips

Last month I was given a tour of one of the most incredible unsung heroes of London; The London Library.

It’s situated in St James’ Square and I signed up to become a member immediately.

Apart from anything else this is a library which looks exactly like how you would want a library to be…it’s so full of atmosphere and history that I know it’s going to take me a little time to calm down about how amazing the place is and actually start working there!

Philosopher, writer and historian Thomas Carlyle, effectively launched The London Library in 1841 after becoming frustrated with The British Museum Library. With this new subscription method, library members were actually allowed to borrow books and take them home which is still the case…I was amazed, and really excited to learn, that they basically lend any books printed after 1700. You can even borrow an original copy of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ which was directly inspired by Carlyle’s ‘The French Revolution: A History’

The library was first situated in Pall Mall and then moved in 1845 to the longest standing building in St James and has gone through many alterations and reshaping over the years.

I love the sort of eclectic feel it has; there are different sections which have been added over time and which all have a unique yet unifying character to them…

The first 7 floors of cast iron bookstacks were built between 1896 – 98 when the premises were being rebuilt and then a second 4 floors of bookstacks were built between 1920 – 22, this time with opaque glass floors, hoping to reduce the number of static electric shocks members would occasionally receive…( it didn’t work, so be careful! )
The bookstacks are the part of the library which I particulary love but there are 5 allocated reading rooms, including The Reading Room itself which is the only one entirely wifi and mobile free, complete with armchairs and silence!There are 134 desks to work at throughout the building; you can’t book a desk, so you have to be a bit flexible…it would seen that the London Library were operating a hot desk system way before anyone else!!

…and there are great views from wherever you decide to work
The beautiful St James’ Square is right outside the library and is one of my favourite quiet places in London…to be honest the whole area of St James is my absolute go to place in London ( you can read more about My St James by clicking here on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3  )
The library also has a search engine called Catalyst which you can access from home and where you can reserve and renew books. If you live in the London area you can take up to 10 volumes at a time and if you live more than 20 miles away your initial allowance is 15 volumes with a one month borrowing time ( there are no fines by the way, just a secure trust that the books will be returned ). Books can also be posted to you throughout the UK and Europe if you can’t get up to London but need to research something specific.

I was really excited to borrow my first books and actually bring them home…and the first four books I now have here are SO beautiful that they completely justify any membership fee!

This Mrs Beeton book is from 1890…

This practical gardening book has really interesting tips as well as beautiful illustrations… this little French book of roses hasn’t been borrowed since 1976!!And this is my favourite book which I’ve been wanting to pour over since I discovered it last year…Florence du Cane’s painted illustrations are absolutely stunning… I urge anyone with a love of old books, libraries , history, research, an inquisitive mind and also the need of a quiet place to work in central London  to join The London Library…it is a great joy, literally on many levels.

You can view the Steller Story version of this post with some extra images HERE

Saturday…with Georg Jensen and London Craft Week

May 6, 2017

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - exhibitions - London - Museums - Spring - trips

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.

After the talk and demonstrations I had a look around the Silver Gallery.

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.

Friday…The History of Modern Medical Science ( Part 4 )

April 28, 2017

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - colour - Gardens - London - moving stills - My Home - Spring - The History of Modern Medical Science - trips

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.

But what I found really intriguing this week was the subject of Native Remedies and how there is a feeling that a lot more research could be done into these areas…

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 also really liked what Dr David Wheatley, Consultant Physchiatrist says in his Witness Statement:

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 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.