Tag Archive for: Portraiture

Looking and Healing: Artists and their Doctors

Looking and Healing: Artists and their Doctors, Lecture Seminar, Centre for Humanities and Health, King’s College London (May 2012)

 

Artists and doctors share highly developed observational skills and a fundamental love for humankind.  This lecture explores some historically revealing relationships between these different practitioners, and the intellectual, social and professional complexes in which these relationships sit.  Representational, technological and ethical epistemologies can be traced in the performed intimacies of such self-reflexive clinical arenas.  Examples from both physiological and psychiatric medicine are explored, in pairings from Goya and Arrieta through Munch and Jakobsen as well as Duchamp and Dumouchel and beyond. Painting, engraving, photography and sculpture from approximately 1750 to 1990 are addressed.

An earlier version of this lecture was given at the 2006 British Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Norwich, at the invitation of Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, then President of the British Society for the History of Science. Professor Jordanova is a leading authority on scientific portraiture, and is principal investigator for the medical portraiture strand of Kings’ Centre for Humanities and Health. We had first worked together in 2002, when as Development Manager of the Royal Society, I invited her to become involved in the Society’s portraiture collection.

It is not the only subject on which she has invited my thoughts vis à vis medical humanities. In 2005, Professor Jordanova was Director of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge.  It is a vital centre for the development of interdisciplinary practice, and her directorship was a particularly dynamic period for CRASSH. Notably, she convened a fantastic workshop in December 2005 which arguably refocused CRASSH for the next decade: The Future of Interdisciplinarity.

She also invited me to speak at an exploratory closed workshop on Humanities and Medicine in Cambridge Undergraduate Education in October that same year. My contribution to the day concerned the visual arts in relation to medical practice and was entitled Looking and Healing: The Arts in Medicine.  It is linked to Artists and their Doctors by more than just the title.

What was at issue in October 2005 is still at issue today: the overlaps between medicine and the humanities and the contributions each make — and could make — to the effective practice of the other.  The two crucial issues are, I feel: the importance for medicine and medics of understanding the highly charged representational issues in medical imagery, from abstraction and realism to diagrams and data visualisation; and the field of ethics to which a truly self-reflexive medical practice could productively contribute as well as adhere to.

This is the précis of The Arts in Medicine that I handed out after my presentation:

Medical students and arts students alike need to be aware of the long historical working relationship between the two practices in the development of anatomical understanding as a legacy;

Imaging practices have gone far beyond the optical in medicine, and medical practitioners (as well as artists and the lay public) need training to parse the origins and effects of data-produced images which carry hidden within their ’visualisation’ a long complex history of representation with vested interests;

Not all those medically trained practice exclusively in medicine: investing in this deeper structure to shared intellectual territory, one which gives rise to new methodologies and not just new data, is one which could bear fruit for both medical and arts & humanities teaching;

The exploration, exposition, practice and development of the whole fundamental way in which we look at — or approach — each other as human beings is at the core of any medical activity, and emotional and intellectual instruments for accommodating it within the self and for parsing it in relation to daily practice are crucial to learning medicine: this is practicing ethics, not just ethics-as-law;

It is also true that physicians thus trained and engaged could make major contributions in turn to ethics on a much wider plane than medical ethics and legislation alone, extending to fundamental philosophical questions and the understanding of humanity — physicians could and should contribute to the humanities.

 

Interestingly, I heard this last note echoed five years later by the senior medical practitioner and former editor of the British Medical Journal, Dr Richard Smith, at the London School of Economics event, Valuing the Humanities. It is the intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and its existential power, which has potential in the field of ethics.  This is one of the conclusions of my lecture, Artists and their Doctors:

 

Looking at life, and looking at one another, is a very complex process socially, psychically, ethically. The eyes with which both artists and physicians survey the body acknowledges ‘the human’ in the form before it and the call to mercy and to transcendence which we make in standing before each other every day before even speaking a word. Attention is paid without judgement, and yet the attention itself issues from the fundamental human encounter of one person with another.

This is not just about bedside manner, or about medical legislation, or about inspiration, but about the way in which we approach each other as human beings. There are, inherent in the portraits I have been showing you, realities about the human condition – about a face-to-face that is both detached and full of love, about the different ways in which we keep each other as best we can from death and from the fear of death.

 

 

 

Further Links: King’s College London Centre for Humanities and Health; British Association for the Advancement of Science; British Society for the History of Science; CRASSH; LSE Valuing The Humanities

[Image References: Photographic Self Portrait in Dr Jacobsen’s Nerve Clinic, by Edvard Munch (Copenhagen 1908); Photographic Self Portrait, painting the portrait of Dr Jacobsen, by Edvard Munch (Copenhagen 1909); Portrait of Dr Jacobsen, by Edvard Munch (1909)]

Development Manager, Royal Society

Manager, Development Office, the Royal Society, London (2001 to 2003)

 

Successful fundraising is always closely connected to exciting ideas — and is vital to enabling ideas to become form. Having been effective in convincing a variety of arts funders to support cultural projects in which I had been involved, I took the post of Manager in the Development Office of one of Europe’s oldest scientific academies, The Royal Society.  The main project was a capital campaign to redevelop the Society’s Nash-designed, Crown Estate home in Carlton House Terrace.

I came into the post after the architects had been appointed (Stefanie Fischer of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP) but before construction had begun. It was a small office, and I worked closely with Treasurer Professor Sir Eric Ash, and then briefly with his successor, Professor Sir David Wallace.

The most exciting part of the post saw me formulating proposals for a Research Centre for Interpreting History of Science at the heart of the redevelopment, a Centre which integrated the fabric of the building with the holdings and collections of the library and archives. In the Introduction and Background to the Centre business plan, I wrote:

The vision is to create a Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science which will broaden and deepen the understanding of the history of science in Europe from 1660 onwards based on skilled interpretation, actual display and digital dissemination of material unique to the Royal Society Archive and Library. This Archive-based interpretation activity would complement both university teaching establishments in the history of science and museum exhibitions, which base interpretation around an object collection. Here, the history of science would be viewed as an essential part of the project of science itself.

The Royal Society is not a Museum, nor is it a University Special Collections Library. And yet it has been making intellectual history year on year for all of its 340 years, and its Repositorie represents an unparalleled collection of archives, objects, manuscripts and institutional documentation which is central to any understanding of science as a culture and a human activity from the pre-Enlightenment to the present day. Founded before the notion of the public Museum was even fully formulated, it is worth mentioning that Elias Ashmole was a founder member of the Royal Society, and the Society’s Repositorie (now on the UK National Register) pre-dates the Ashmolean Museum’s own foundation by some twenty years.

From Wren, Hooke and Newton to Dirac, Hodgkin and Klug, the meeting of minds at the Royal Society has produced unique holdings increasingly in demand as interdisciplinary study has expanded and the discipline of the history of science has burgeoned. If interdisciplinary Humanities study rightly sees the history of science as cross-cutting most social, cultural, political and economic history, it also understands that the history of science’s institutions and academies consequently become an essential window into the intricacy of these interactions. This is why one of the seven strategic objectives of the Royal Society is to encourage research into the history of science.

… and this is what was proposed:

The Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science would be comprised of:

1. New mobile stacks, environmentally controllable storage, and purpose built work areas for the Archive and Library commensurate with its international significance and increasing active current use

2. A three year digitisation programme designed to mirror the first hundred years of the Archive holdings, contributing both to their long-term preservation and their electronic accessibility: this is as a focussed, institution-led digital profile of the history of the Royal Society’s formation and the Enlightenment

3. A permanently endowed post in Interpreting History of Science designed to integrate and highlight the work of the scholar-users of the Archive and Library, the Royal Society Archivist, and that of sister institutions in the UK and elsewhere: the post’s purpose is to create, out of the Royal Society’s archival wealth, timely multi-platform interpretive materials in the form of exhibitions, publications, study/seminar events and other resources for the history of science

and, to that end,

4. Small, versatile Archive study, education and seminar meeting rooms built to integrate with other seminar activities taking place in the larger Mercer Rooms in the new underground redevelopment as designed by architects Burrell Foley Fischer

5. New exhibition space and facilities — both localised as integral to the new underground redevelopment and mobile with tabletop exhibition cases in the Library Reading Room and Reception area as well as in upper floor meeting areas

6. A unique ‘Archive Bridge’ display structure designed by Calum Storrie to address interpretation of notoriously difficult text-based material in rolling, quick-response exhibitions

These assets and resources will enable the Archive to work in tandem with the expertise of the scholars and historians who regularly consult the Archive and Library and colleagues in other institutions in the UK and elsewhere.

 

I also liaised with colleagues at the Science Museum in order to help negotiate a home-coming of sorts for a number of key instruments and objects which the Royal Society had given in care to the institution best suited to look after them. One of the instruments I was most thrilled to see installed in a bespoke case at the Society when it reopened was Hauksbee’s Air Pump, which I had first seen many years before in the Enlightenment Galleries of the Science Museum.

For access reasons, sadly, the architects were not able to integrate the fantastic ‘Archive Bridge’ — designed by Calum Storrie — into the suite of exhibition facilities the building now boasts.  Calum and I worked closely to devise a multivalent display structure for notoriously difficult paper, book and text-based material to be shown in rolling, quick-response exhibitions. Part ‘open storage’, part plan-chest, part merry-go-round, I hope some day to see his elegantly-designed structure installed somewhere that deserves it.

The redevelopment of 6-9 Carlton House Terrace was completed in November 2003, and though not all of the wish-list above has come to pass in the last decade, much of it has. There is now a Centre for History of Science embedded in the Library and Archives at the Royal Society — and when working at the Natural History Museum, I collaborated with its Exhibitions and Events Coordinator, Dr Felicity Henderson, on Science Voices, a conference about oral history of science.

There were other pleasures, too, such as setting up a programme for serious scholarly work on the portraiture collection, which gave me an opportunity to work with Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, (author of Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture), for the first time. Alongside the then Librarian Karen Peters, and the Archivist Joanna Corden, we also devised a cataloguing programme that was subsequently fully funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, for materials as diverse as the Society’s Early Letters to the penicillin papers of Lord Florey.

And of course, lots of less interesting but quite important things as well — such as a strategy paper on management restructuring of the Development Office for more effective fundraising, and participation in the drafting of the Society’s corporate Business Plan. Over the two years that I was Development Manager, the Office raised more than half of the £7m redevelopment cost.

 

 

Further Links: Centre for History of Science; The Royal Society; Burrell Foley Fischer LLP; Hauksbee’s Air Pump; Calum Storrie; Professor Ludmilla Jordanova; Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture

[Images: Newton’s Telescope, Royal Society Collection; The Library at the RS around the time when I was working there — no, it is not me in the pic, but yes, my computer really was that big; Hauksbee’s Air Pump installed at the Royal Society, Burrell Foley Fischer LLP]

Open Book

Open Book: Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Science Museum (1996)

 

This object exchange between an art museum and a science museum was a meditation on the communicating vases of matter and spirit. I brought together Joshua Reynolds’ camera obscura, now in the optics collections of the Science Museum, with his portrait Girl With a Baby (c1782), and conjoined them in a purpose built case at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  In the Optics Gallery at the Science Museum, I filled the void in the case made by the loan of the camera with Lyne Lapointe’s enigmatic work, Pharmacie, a pastel box in which each colour has had attributed to it a noun which relates metaphysically to the colour itself.

Reynolds’ camera obscura folds down into a box disguised as a book, and when unfolded, its green leather curtain is very like a woman’s skirt.  Hanging the half-length portrait above the unfurled skirt created one body from the two objects, both of which would have been so familiar to Reynolds.

A modest project, it nonetheless involved complex loans and brought the Dulwich Picture Gallery in contact with the Science Museum for the first time, as well as positioning Reynolds’ portrait and instrument in the same room together for the first time in over 200 years.

Arguably, this work brings together into closest contact the three pre-occupations I had at the time: history of optics, history of the book as a form, and fine art as a philosophical investigation of matter. The chemistry of pigments, the physics of light, the convention of portraiture, the rapport between mother and child, the metaphysics of the experience of colour — all were brought into close contact.

 

 

From my text for the exhibition leaflet:

In Reynolds’ Girl With a Baby, two figures form a fused body. We sense the same substance that goes to make them both up also, strangely, makes them distinct: it is pigment, in delicate variation. With an abandoned brush stroke, a sure handling of raw pigments and bitumen in suspension, Reynolds has proposed that these two bodies are one in the field of energy he has made manifest, as if the paint itself were iron shavings clustering subtly around the two poles of the magnet which so deeply attracts them. It is a field which bonds these two bodies together forever.

Reynolds’ camera obscura folds down into the shape of a book with a spine, a headband, a fore-edge.  The conceit of making an object a likeness of something else is a disguise that reveals a great deal, rendering visible through metaphor things otherwise invisible. Much ‘knowledge’ is contained in this ‘open book,’ which in this juxtaposition becomes both the Girl’s lower bodily stratum, and also the site of the origin of Reynold’s paintings — of which she herself is one.

Displayed within the case usually occupied by Reynolds’ camera obscura, Lapointe’s pastel box opens out much like the camera obscura, showing approximately 120 pastels, all of which have been ‘used’ by an artist, and each of which has a label.  In the Optics Gallery, there are already a number of references to artists’ tools in light and colour: the prismatic camera lucida, the Dark Glass of Claude Lorraine, Reynolds’ camera obscura, artistic uses of the hologram. Optics is both an element of physics and a tool for its study: Lapointe’s pastels, too, are artists’ tools, but also a work of art, quietly addressing the complex subjectivity of our experience of colour.

 

 

The Optics Gallery at the Science Museum was created in the early 1980s by Senior Curator of Classical Physics, Neil Brown, and is sadly no longer in place.  By the time I created Open Book in 1996, it had already been a mecca for me (and doubtless many other artists) for some time. This was five years before Hockney and Falco published Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2001). I never really understood what the fuss was all about — it is obvious that artists use instruments, optical and otherwise, and always have.  This is an important meeting point between the history of science and the history of art, just as it is between science and art tout court.

It was also in the early 1980s that Lyne Lapointe and I incorporated a camera obscura as a punctum in the facade of the building of our first large-scale site specific project, Projet Building / Caserne #14. If you are interested in optical instruments and their epistemologies, I highly recommend Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, published seven years after Projet Building / Caserne #14, in 1990.

Open Book was the first of many times that I would work with the collections and curators at the Science Museum; it was also the first time I worked with James Peto.  James, then working at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, was the curator for Open Book.  Lyne and I had first met him in 1990 when came to Montréal to interview us while working for AN Publications, researching his article ‘Roles and functions’ in Susan Jones’ Art in Public: what, why and how (1992).  I would later work with James again at the Design Museum, as an assistant curator on his exhibition there entitled You Are Here: The Design of Information (2005).

I was to explore the continuity between matter and spirit in much greater depth later at the Science Museum, with Atomism & Animism (1999).

 

 

Further Links:  Science Museum London; Dulwich Picture Gallery

[Image References: Girl with a Baby, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (nd: c 1782); Installation shots of Open Book by Rose English; detail of Lyne Lapointe’s pastel box work, Pharmacie, photo by Paul Litherland]