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HERE NOW: ART & CARE

Because life is in constant flux, and my art practice is not resistant to changes in direction -
Here’s where I’ve been the last year…

During those long hours spent in the anatomy lab, stooped over dissected anatomies with heightened senses and pencil in hand, I’d often find myself pondering over the juxtaposition of the animate, breathing, metabolising living bodies, and the stiff, stone cold, grey toned cadavers, curious about the space in between them. I’d focus on drawing my experience of the donors’ anatomical wonder, their deathly aura, and their personalising features. I'd look closer and closer, drawing deeper and deeper, reaching beneath the surface of their skin and fascia, in search of something I could never entirely be sure of. There was always a sense of something missing, or rather, something I just couldn't put my pencil on. I would often ask the donors what it was they thought I was missing in my experience. I imagined they had a voice, and from their gapping mouths, they would tell me their story.

With hindsight, I came to realise that this sense of absence was manifested by my longing to capture something through drawing that is void in the anatomy lab. This being, dying. These donors would often rouse feelings of great sadness in me, and a distinct sense of loss for not knowing anything about their dying experience, their last breath; as sacred and profound as their first. The more attention I paid to this longing, the more I found my experience in the lab became less about the context and much more about the materiality of the dead bodies as the aftermath of their dying processes. This is when my ideas began to formulate for my chapter ‘The body beyond the anatomy lab’ as I started to see beyond the bodies as anatomical subjects and listen to the part of me that longed to access their missing dying experience.

In Summer 2015, I became a healthcare support worker, and later in Spring 2016, a complex care support worker (different titles, similar roles), caring for terminally ill people in their homes. It was a strategic move for my art practice. In providing intimate care for people approaching certain decline and death, I could position myself where encounters with the dying process were more palpable. No sooner had I completed my first care shift with a client at end of life than I realised I had found the profession I was born to do. Caring for a lady who was to arrive at her death only a week after this first shift left me with a distinct feeling of groundedness and purpose, a feeling of ‘coming home’ to myself and my inspirations. I could go as far as to say it was a creative awakening of some kind. From this point, my attention turned to working more hours in care, building relationships with clients and their families, caring with intuitive compassion and empathy whilst remaining acutely aware of individuals’ mortality and experience of terminal illness. Subtly applying all the knowledge, awareness and experiences gained so far in my career as a visual artist, my care grew whole and expansive, nurturing and transformative, for both my clients and myself.

Time and space.
Time and space to ‘do’ my art and to ‘do’ care.
The provisions of time and space have continued to burden me as I attempt to strike a balance between investment in artistic ventures and care work. 12 hour shifts in care aren’t so forgiving on energy levels, especially when the needs of individuals are very complex and they are nearing the end of their lives. I could never have imagined or prepared myself for the demands of care work. At times, the pressure is unpleasant and unmanageable. Reaching out for support is the only way through the difficult times. Despite my lessoning involvement in exhibitions, conferences, project collaborations and publications since beginning care work, the opposite trend has happened in my professional (and personal) development. And I see how this time and space, HERE NOW, is tending to the roots of my practice as opposed to flowering more art outcomes. I continue to draw every day (mostly last thing at night) to record and ‘dump’ my experiences in care (and general everydayness). The marks I make are testimonies to my sensorial encounters, with myself and others. I am active in researching all things relating to death, dying and bereavement, palliative care and end of life matters, which are collated and archived in my sketchbooks and journals. I am also currently undertaking my NVQ level 3 qualification in Health and Social Care to enable me to apply for a support carer position in hospice. This activity is also expanding my interested in the societal and political matters of care work, the role of carers and carer narratives,

My ultimate ambition is to complete training in Soul Midwifery (www.soulmidwives.co.uk) qualifying me as an independent soul midwife (also known as a ‘Death Doula’ and 'Death Midwifery') which would see me become a holistic and spiritual companion to anyone at the end of life, in addition to my employed role as a carer. I aim to incorporate this into a much larger collaborative arts and humanities project on death and dying, care giving and drawing methodologies, funded by Arts Council England. My vision is strong and ideas robust, however I envisage it will take considerable time to compose and orchestrate such a proposal.

During this time, I will continue to reflect on my experiences in end of life care through drawing, journaling and conversations, broaden my knowledge and awareness of the inherent social, cultural and political issues in the field, develop ideas on how the language of drawing and death/dying/bereavement interrelate, and invest time in disseminating my practice across academic disciplines and the fields of palliative care and EOL.

Be present. Listen. Join my conversation.