The artists were asked to think of an object(s) of significant importance to them and to focus on the meaning of the artwork rather than the aesthetics. The created artworks narrate different aspects of identity, memory, creativity and well-being. The chosen images are diverse in their nature with each exhibitor interpreting the brief openly, in their own unique way.
In the summer of 2018 I returned from teaching in Libya with persistent stomach pain and cramps and took myself to The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, thinking I had contracted an exotic and possibly unpleasant disease or parasite. My blood and ‘hot stool’ samples were negative, but the professional and committed staff were keen that I should not ‘drop through the net’ and recommended further investigation.
I was told immediately after the colonoscopy that I had cancer, the medical specialist who talked to me more distraught than I was, reassuring me that ‘it’ was ‘eminently treatable’. As it turned out I also had three metastases in the liver as well, but by mid December I had had two operations to remove the disease and was recovering at home.
I had already willingly agreed to different trials through my treatment journey when my oncology professor suggested another and introduced me to Katie, and I am so glad he did. Chemotherapy was often a depressing, demoralising and boring process. Just as I began to feel a little stronger and could face food willingly, the process would start again, but I found that the therapy that Katie offered to be not only a distraction from illness, but rewarding and absorbing. I was shown a range of artefacts, asked to comment and think about a creative response. Significantly, despite the malaise that chemotherapy induces, I found I had an interest in developing a response and as the days grew warmer I would photograph buildings and objects as I walked or tubed to Huntley Street from St Pancras station.
Initially I had been sure that my work would grow and develop from an interest in the surface textures on some of the objects that I had been shown, and in the beautifully clean stark lines of the internal architecture of the MacMillan centre. But as I spent more time in town I noticed first the monolithic nature of the Post Office Tower (as I shall always call it), and then as the weeks and months past, the intricate mix of architectural structures around the redeveloped St Pancras site. Their elevation, combination of form and accompanying negative space an intriguing juxtaposition between the transient, the rigidity of steel, and purposeful movement.
The process that began with a range of unusual objects has encouraged, or perhaps given me permission to again express an interest in form, space, architecture and life, and now the confidence to exhibit the results.
I find baking therapeutic, even though it is labour intensive. For me it is a way of focusing on something less troubling. I get a sense of self achievement when I look at a finished cake.
An ever present difficulty coping with a cancer diagnosis is trying to avoid taking hold as a constant nagging worry; this only serves to adversely impact on ones’s mental health. Seeking to find a balance between regular hospital treatment appointments and trying to set these against a ‘normal’ social life can be difficult.
To cultivate a detachment from nagging thoughts centred on a medical diagnosis.
Creating situations that offer a distraction can be beneficial as a means by which to overcome undue mental stress. For myself I favour a spontaneous approach- taking the car for a drive into the countryside. I find that it enables me to enjoy the opportunity to:-
•Distract my mind from the ever present medical issues; having to concentrate on driving or if as a passenger assisting with navigating the way.
•Enjoying soaking up the natural surrounding once in the countryside, creating a sense of wellbeing.
•Observing and enjoying the seasonal changes.
•Stopping off at some pleasant village……………….time out for coffee/lunch.
•Perhaps visiting a National Trust property.
•Or if the route takes in a trip to a seaside town, enjoy strolling along the promenade, enjoying the refreshing ozone.
The above represents one approach that might assist in distracting one’s thoughts away from a medical issue. Other avenues could encompass a visit to an Art Gallery, Museum, an organised ‘walk’; each offering an opportunity for social interaction. Another alternative might involve taking a neighbours dog for a walk which often creates an environment to facilitate meeting other dog walkers/social interaction.
POST-OP AND COBALT BLUE The night ward was a tent and he was in the jungle. His mind was light and frayed and full of chimeras Till the anaesthetic loosed its grip and they let him go. They discharged him too soon, freed him of their support. Motivation is the key to life; there must be will. He wanted only to lie in bed or do short tasks, Short tasks and incomplete, half dressing, half tidying Before once more lying banjaxed on the bed. A friend came round to cook; he struggled with the food. At night he turned the lights off so thankfully. A bottle of cobalt blue from some tip or pharmacy Twinkled on the window sill catching the light outside Long days and weeks passed; he recovered slowly. He walked just to his café but felt like Vasco da Gama. Then a night in Bexhill by a windy shore He heard the rigging of boats rattling around the masts, A empty echo of a sound as he was an empty shell. But he mended; his body filled the gap of things removed. His mind engaged; his soul woke from hibernation. Days were once more filled with meaning And nights complete with replenishing sleep. But he did not forget what once had been. Every night as he retired he still saw the cobalt bottle, Its brilliant blue encapsulating everything, All the suffering, the ennui, the long pointless hours, All reflected and burnished in a piece of glass.
During the PhD development I attended a workshop in which we were asked to use an object to describe ourselves as a researcher. This first-hand experience enhanced my awareness of how personal objects can enrich emotional depth when being used to convey a story…
First of all, I am very grateful to all those who have shared their objects, experiences and stories with me. I feel very privileged to have met every individual and to have had the opportunity to get to know them throughout the process. I feel that it is important that I, in some way, acknowledge this by means of reciprocity. Sharing my own personal object of importance, which conveys aspects of my own experience and identity.
The object I have chosen to share is a necklace, created by an Irish jeweller, Enibas, with the inscription ‘ Do Shaol … Do thuras’ ,meaning ‘Your life, your journey’. It was given to me as a leaving gift by a lady who I worked with for over 10 years. She had given the same style necklace to her own daughter who too was moving to London at the time. The necklace for me symbolises a link to my Irish roots, friends and my family. It has acted as a source of strength and comfort during difficult times. The asymmetric shape reminding me of life’s irregularities, an assurance that I can endure the twists and turns of life. I have layered the object with an image of the seaside, near my home, reinforcing my connection to home & nature.
The animal sketches I have completed throughout the research process have been a mindful and therapeutic exercise. The images also have relevance to my experiences throughout the PhD process and have helped aid my awareness during my art psychotherapy informed supervision.
The ball reveals its secrets
I inherited the ball from my mother after she died. Beyond that I cannot be certain of the source but I assume that it was previously owned by her parents.
An Internet search for an identical ball proved unsuccessful although two objects proved to be very similar. A Victorian carved treen sovereign case or snuff box puzzle ball was described as highly collectable and dating from the 19th Century. The second, an antique turned wood treen puzzle ball/ trick snuff box was closer in appearance and construction but quite different from mine which is in very good condition, shiny and smooth with no sign of wear or denting anywhere on the ball which measures about 2.5″ / 55mms in diameter. If the ball now in my possession was manufactured in the 19th Century I would like to think that it belonged to either my maternal grandfather who was born in 1878 or his wife who was born a year later.
I first discovered the ball alongside other ‘tiny treasures’ such as a little crystal ball and a miniature Coronation coach tucked away in the bottom draw of a tallboy in my parent’s bedroom. They were obviously there to keep them safe from the investigative fingers of a seven-year-old. Although the ball sparked my intrinsic curiosity its existence did, in time, slip from the forefront of my mind.
Its whereabouts remained a mystery until a house clearance following my mother’s death in 2003 revealed the small dark, hard wood ball once again. On first inspection it appeared to be purely decorative but I soon discovered the secret compartments which, as the Internet confirmed, were designed to hold coins or snuff. My ball currently contains a small quantity of silver 3d pieces.
There are four small containers forming a ring around the main cylinder which passes through the centre of the sphere. The five sections could hold as many as 60 coins and to access these small secret containers you are required to exert pressure on one end of the central core and once it is removed you can push free the remaining boxes from the inside.
It appears to have little value as an antique but it does have considerable sentimental value. I enjoy holding the ball in my hands and feeling its smooth surface. The invitation to draw this fascinating object has carried me along an unexpected avenue of expression and prompted the rebirth of happy memories. Whilst it could not be described as part of my grieving process it certainly has given rise to a genuine strengthening of my love for my mother.
The invitation to create artwork inspired by this beautiful wooden artefact revived vivid memories of my childhood and fond thoughts of my mother which fired the commitment I made to paper. What I have achieved with my drawings has given me a huge amount of satisfaction. This opportunity of expression has been interesting, challenging and very fulfilling. If my mother knew what the ball had inspired, she would be thrilled, would have a really good laugh and probably shed a tear.
In her latter years she was a prolific writer of odes and this challenge prompted me to write an Ode – there being no better way of paying further tribute to her and the ball, which she unknowingly handed down to me. I have called it ‘Hidden treasure. Lasting Memories’.