Research: Artists inspired by medical conditions or anatomy

Faig Ahmed

Faig Ahmed‘s tapestries are inspired by the idea of DNA mutating. He creates “mutated” creations that tap into his fascination with genetic research amongst other sciences. As my condition is caused by a genetic defect, I find Ahmed’s interpretation of DNA alterations intriguing. The use of something that is highly ordered and creating chaos from order can certainly resonate with the experience of others like me who’s “genetic mutation” can completely disrupt their previously ordered life.

Image Credit: Faig Ahmed Wave Function

Lois Blackburn

Since 2007 Lois Blackburn‘s primary focus has been to work with people living with dementia as well as other minority groups. For the last seven years Lois had used quilting as the centre of her practice saying

It’s a form that allows a deep, powerful and meaningful collaboration between myself and other participants. It’s a form that allows many skills, many hands, many stories, to come together. Because of its associations with comfort and refuge, it has been ideal for us to bring into troubled environments.

Lois Blackburn
Work by Lois Blackburn
Fresh Air & Poverty by Lois Blackburn Photo Garry Lomas, taken at National Trust’s Lyme Park. Part of project ‘Stitching the Wars’, artist Lois Blackburn collaborating with older people in Derbyshire and writer Philip Davenport. Supported by ACE.

Amanda Bloom

Amanda Bloom’s work The Surgeon’s Knife describes the series as being about

the fracture to life when unseen cells mutate, leaving us vulnerable and exposed, under threat from our own bodies; we are cut open, soft and raw, under the butcher’s knife, then stitched back together, a new body. Healthy cells repair and ripen. Cut up and repaired – life resumes, altered.

Amanda Bloom, The Surgeon’s knife

I have often heard that surgeons try not to think of the patients as people when they operate as it makes it easier to cut into their flesh. In fact, the only time I ever felt that my surgeon was nervous before one of my procedures was when he realised that in all the previous procedures he’d done I had been able to feel everything as local anaesthetic and normal sedation don’t work on me. Perhaps in this I have been lucky though as I was never made to feel like I was on a butcher’s slab because I had a very good relationship with my surgeon which included a high level of trust.

Matthew Cox

Matthew Cox creates embroidered MRI and X-ray scans. Matthew Cox’s embroidered X-rays are an interesting juxtaposition of a monochrome image with the coloured embroidery. Perhaps it is just my interpretation however I can understand the feeling of invisibility or feeling washed out by the focus on what is happening inside your body whilst the world continues in full colour around you. I had never considered whether I would be able to obtain copies of the multitude of scans that have been taken over the years and is something I may enquire about at my next appointments.

Wading Knees
Image Credit: Matthew Cox (2011) Wading Knees Embroidered X-ray

Eileen Harrison

Eileen Harrison turned to textile arts when she developed a neurological condition. I particularly find her work inspiring as she also has a passion for poetry and weaves this into her textile art. I am intending to split my creative arts degree between textiles and creative writing and am always interested in the ways other artists combine seemingly different creative outputs. Her blog Thread of the Spirit also documents many notes on the supplies and techniques she uses.

One of the way Harrison combines the two is to stitch words into her works such as those shown in the image below which are stitched into a nurses cape. Eileen Harrison says

 I so love having the nurse’s cape; that it is one worn by a nurse from the hospital I was both patient in and worked in makes it very special to me and I stitch into it with love.”

Eileen Harrison (2018)
Image Credit: Eileen Harrison (2018) The [nurses] cape with more lettering and glimpse of imagery including a Celtic Cross. Exhibited at the Willow Gallery

Gemma Horobin

Gemma Horobin creates artworks called Vexed Textiles which she uses as a way of translating her own experiences and sensations of migraines into textile art.

Michael James

Michael James creates studio quilts and according to his artist statement he uses pattern “as a metaphor for the complex systems that work through our world: physical systems, emotional systems, psychological systems, etc”. He talks about how many of these complex systems have and implicit order and likes to investigate how disrupting that order can give rise to chaos. “This constant tension between order and disorder is a unifying thread that runs through my work”.

In his 2003 The Nature of Things, Michael James uses cotton and dyes along with machine sewing to create an arresting work that appears to contain a narrative. It gives me the impression of despair or terror and the lack of explanation makes the work more intriguing. Similarly there is a 1999 work called Birthmark which uses the image as a starting point but the other sections of the quilt are less clear in their significance.

His collection Taxonomies seem to explore a variety of textures and colours inspired by the titles such as The Idea of Matter (2010). There appear to be photo transfers included in the works and possibly contact dyeing from plant material in works such as After Nature (209).

Sofie Layton & Giovanni Biglino

Sofie Layton worked with bioengineer Giovanni Biglino on The Heart of the Matter in 2017. The project involved speaking to patients from Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Bristol Heart Institute and the Adult Congenital & Paediatric Heart Unit of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, “to look at the heart emotionally and metaphorically in workshops with scientists, artists, students, and nurses.” The artworks inspired by these conversations were created using 3D printing, topographical maps, digital animation and “abstracted stories are given form in printed textiles, sound installations and sculpture.”

In Sofie Layton’s work Under the Microscope: In Isolation, she created a sensory installation to explore the immune system and the experiences of a young patient undergoing gene therapy.

In Isolation is a sound and visual installation which requires the audience to “scrub up” and enter an isolation tent, created in batik and screen printed Haboti silk that represents the internal landscape of the body, with microscopic imagery of the immune system and images of viruses and bacteria that attack it.

Sofie Layton Under the Microscope: In Isolation

I like the idea of using luxurious materials such as silk as an “isolation tent” as much of the textiles employed in the medical environments are primarily practical and repetitious. One of the projects we are looking at in Purple Iris is to provide people who spend a lot of time in hospital with “hospital gowns” that meet the clinical needs of the nursing staff but allow the patient to avoid the dehumanising feeling of the generic NHS hospital gowns (think paranoia of the open back, tight necklines etc)

Mary Jane Sneyd

Mary Jane Sneyd is a self taught textile artist who also works part time as a cancer researcher. She creates portraiture and nude textile artworks “and more recently has incorporated some social commentary based on the human form.”

Image Credit: Mary Jane Sneyd Pop, aged 101 made from commercial cotton fabric, batik using fused fabric collage, each piece zigzagged with transparent thread, echo quilted with walking foot

One final artist who upcycles, ecodyes and it inspired by maths and nature:

Kim Winter

Kim Winter’s background is in biochemistry and she later developed an interest in textiles and created Flextiles. She is inspired by the natural world and uses natural dyes as well as incorporating found objects.

[All links accessed on 5/07/19]

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