Well, it’s poster week at UWS and I’ll be in Ullapool. So, in the meantime, here is my work in progress essay/poster. You’d think being an artist there’d be more pictures? Well, it’s about clarifying my aims at the moment, so there are words words words…
“The Adaptive Prism”
Emancipations for the Exhausted Artist
The Creative Practitioner and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
“Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance” Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
“Adaptability [is endowed with] a highly personal dialectic nature, one of disruption followed by one of rapid response” – Havi Carel, Illness
Adaptation towards my personal illness with its murky causality and for which treatment was ineffectual has necessitated an equally personal triage and treatment: in my case, I self-medicated with bespoke art and music projects, with strategies developed over a ten-year time frame.
I am a digital artist and musician/composer. Since my diagnosis with M.E. in 1998/9, I appear to have been unconsciously creating my own ‘Art School for Exhaustives’. The work of consciously unpicking and evaluating these projects has just begun. Practice has preceded formal research or reflection until now. I am also creating new work based on these reflections.
At the heart of my art school’s ‘imaginary charter’ lies a metaphor – the Adaptive or Augmented-Prism. In reality, this is the process of identifying and implementing those alterations, adaptations and strategies which successfully augment this particular chronic illness.
Primarily qualitative and auto-ethnographic in approach – even idiosyncratic, this PhD asks what is required to define and hone those techniques which may liberate (in the first instance) the art practitioner with exhaustion-related illness? Then, via a methodology which covers bases as wide as conceptual art, existentialism, biomusicology, minimalism, psychogeography and astronomy – asks: (in the second instance) what lessons learned in the artist’s auto-ethnographies can liberate others with similar illnesses?
If a beam of light can be thought of as a metaphor for a healthy life, then this light, when refracted through a prism, creates a rainbow of the full visible spectrum. Continuing the metaphor, each colour here could represent an aspect of human opportunity; health, independence, leisure, happiness, prosperity, and so on. We may call this a rainbow of opportunity for the well. I came to call this ‘full-spectrum living.’
But in the sick and ill, the light-source is not steady or bright, but erratic, unpredictable or weak, then so it follows that the rainbow would be compromised. This led to my main question:
What lessons have been learned in the Art School for Exhaustives – in order to implement ‘An Adaptive Prism’ reinstating or even improving on the idealistic ‘full spectrum living’ ? – and if that couldn’t be done, what could replace aspects of it?
What is required would be a kind of living-prism of the psyche – which would be both analytical and diagnostic in approach, but also, crucially: adaptive and philosophical in execution; contained within a feedback-loop of listening and dispensing – the very definition of reflexivity; illuminating, articulating and formalising the creative insights of this particular sickness.
In this way, we create a new Prism, a listening Prism capable of being re-calibrated. Pushing the metaphor even further, instead of a hard quartz crystal we have a more fluid, dynamic instrument, a personable, flexible Prism. Or, as my fellow North-Easterners would say, a canny Prism.
I like this quote from philosopher Havi Carel:
“Being able to improvise and create new ways of compensating for a lost capacity shows the plasticity of behavior and the human capacity to adjust to change.”
This “plasticity of behavior” could lead to the emancipating the practitioner. What I previously thought was a series of low-energy works to occupy myself in illness has unconsciously been the beginnings of defining a practical philosophy of illness. Over the remainder of my PhD I hope to refine my adapted bricolage-approach into a meaningful and potentially transferrable praxis.
So, to recap: I am developing a series of short-form, bespoke, reflexive art experiments & texts, aimed at both myself and other art practitioners who suffer primarily from the suite of health conditions known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E., Post-Viral Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and CFIDS.
Here are some of the aims and outcomes of designing a series of art projects and texts :
1. To improve the quality of life to the practitioner
(i.e. maintaining access to education within cognitive fog, fun, satisfaction, participation, wonder, awe.)
2. To explore the value of ‘Process Vs Product’ in participatory arts
(i.e. Would you know it was made by an ‘exhausted’ artist – and if so does this add or subtract professional value to or from it? – is it important that a product is made at all?)
3. To explore the idea of simplicity across disciplines
(i.e. To what extent is the project conceptually sleek? Does it require a lot of cognitive activity to register the insight of the practice? What can be gathered from the history of minimalist art and music here?)
4. The idea of replicating the process
(i.e. To what extent does this research interest only artists with exhaustion related illnesses? Who is this aimed at, what level of skill does it require? What is the easiest way of making the project inclusive without diluting authenticity? Do you have to be ill to benefit from this research?)
Here are just a few questions the project aims to investigate.
What techniques and paradigms would this new “exhausted school of art” have to develop in order to function at a level alongside that of non-exhausted peers? Should it even have to try and do so? What are the insights of such an art practice? Must there be compromise? Can a creative practice in itself help the sufferer develop qualities across other strata of life? To what degree is such an art practice political? What place do aesthetics have here? What are the lowest energy forms of art practice? Within biomusicology: are there frequencies which aid healing across a wide range of individuals or is this also a personal and bespoke area? Is overtly therapeutic art a lesser art? Minimalism: Is not making art at all the ultimate art? Investigating broken instruments as metaphor and many more questions and investigations.
“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – Benazir Bhutto