The Street Gallery
University College London Hospital
United Kingdom

About the exhibition

Objects of Meaning and Importance explores the relationship between objects and those who have been diagnosed with cancer. All participants have engaged in the PhD research project Relations with Objects, a CHEurope http://cheurope-project.eu/, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Horizon 2020, funded project. The exhibition draws together material objects, museum objects, photography, poetry, drawing and creative media to express the perspectives and experiences of those who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The participants 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.

The researcher, Katie O’Donoghue, has a background in Art Psychotherapy and many years working in the health service. The research aims to reframe the experience of cancer treatment as dynamic interactions with diverse object-worlds in order to understand these ‘relations with objects’. The research investigates patients’ use of such objects as resources in the re-forming of self/ personhood and in the desire to self-heal. The project responds to the need for new approaches to support patients that could utilise the skills and competencies of patients and the NHS workforce so the provision of care and support can keep pace with need.

The lived experience of cancer survival is a multifaceted, subjective, meaning-making phenomenon and it continues beyond patient and treatment experience (Pascal, 2006). Research has evidenced that meaning-making is a key component in the promotion of patients’ well-being during and after a traumatic event such as cancer diagnosis and treatment. This exhibit illustrates exhibitor’s meaning-making processes with respect to time perspectives and their objects. It explores how narratives can become a therapeutic and supportive means for individuals with cancer in a crisis of temporality, empowering the making of new semiotic connections and coping with the difficulties of the disease.

This research aims to inform a therapeutic intervention which could be delivered alongside the chemotherapy treatment plan. Previous research has found that developing earlier interventions related to coping and stress management may be a way to foster resilience outcomes in patients with cancer across the cancer continuum (Molina, 2014). This supportive intervention would attend to the emotional aspects of cancer management, therefore contributing to the creation of a more holistic approach to treatment. There is an evident need for patients to have a space in which to express and explore the difficulties they are facing while also being convenient and avoiding extra appointments and waiting times.

UCLH arts and heritage https://www.uclh.nhs.uk/aboutus/whoweare/arts/Pages/Home.aspx is the hospital arts and heritage project that serves UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and its surrounding community and is funded entirely by charitable donations and fundraising. UCLH arts and heritage is committed to providing a welcoming, uplifting environment for all patients, visitors and staff through the use of a varied and stimulating arts and heritage programme. Its work aims to improve the patient experience, boost staff morale, increase engagement with the arts and celebrate the Trust’s unique heritage and community.

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