data | devices | diagnosis

Biomedical imaging & artists’ practices: Ilona Sagar and Flis Holland in conversation with Samantha Lippett, and with a response from Jane Macnaughton

This event took place on Wednesday 20th July 2022.

Artists Ilona Sagar and Flis Holland explore the processes and power relations entangled in ‘non-invasive’ biomedical imaging techniques. Their aim is not to illustrate the hidden workings of the technology or to offer a transparent documentary account of patient experience, but to draw critical attention to an encounter between bodies, image-making technologies, interpretative practice and knowledge production.  Facilitated by curator Samantha Lippett, this artists’ conversation will explore topics including diagnostic categorisation; data visualisation; gender bias in clinical care; the relationships between patients, health-care workers and devices; creative practice and co-production; and the complexities of working with lived experiences. The event will conclude with a response from Jane Macnaughton (Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University), reflecting on how researchers working within the field of medical humanities might respond to these complex artistic articulations of healthcare as experience, practice and technology. 

About the speakers:

Ilona Sagar works with a diverse range of media spanning moving-image, text, performance and assemblage, forming research-led works that resonate with the politically charged social and historic infrastructures found in the public and private spaces we inhabit.

She is one of the current Stanley Picker Arts Fellows and the Saastamoinen Foundation, Helsinki, artist in residence for 2022. In 2018 she won the Research in Film Award at BAFTA HQ. In 2023 she is embarking on a new solo commission with Firstsite Gallery, Colchester. Recent commissions include Radio Ballads, Serpentine Gallery, where she is one of four new commissions with Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock and Rory Pilgrim (2022), Deep Structure (2019) S1 ArtSpace, Sheffield, Living with Buildings, Wellcome Collection, London (2018/2019); Self Service publication and event series, CCA and GOMA, Glasgow as part of Glasgow International (2018); Correspondence O, solo exhibition at South London Gallery, London (2017/2018); GLORIA, Yinka Shonibare Guest Projects 10 year anniversary, London (2018); HereAfter group show as part of the SPACE HereAfter residency, The White Building, London (2017); solo project at Pump House Gallery, London as part of The Ground We Tread (2016).

Still from Ilona Sagar, Correspondence O. Dual-screen HD video, stereo sound, 2017.

Click here to watch an excerpt from Ilona Sagar, Correspondence O (2017).

Flis Holland uses sci-fi to talk about crisis. They work with live performance, video, and spoken word, and often use mobile apps to stage and share their productions. In 2022 Holland is artist in residence at HIAP (Helsinki) and is supported by Koneen säätiö. 

In 2019 an iron meteorite was filed to dust, stirred into cream, and fed to 36 people. Holland’s uterus was rife with tumours soon after. Their belly swelled as a fleshy block pushed its way out at astonishing speed. From the first poke of a finger, to WebMD, to a disastrous MRI scan, every tool came up short. The resulting digital video work, Subserotic Bulge (2021) asks about diagnosis, and how certain people’s testimony is dismissed as unreliable. From meteorite falls to trans experiences of the medical system, it’s a documentary that slips into sci-fi, without always being clear which part is which. 

Still from Flis Holland, SUBSEROTIC BULGE (2021). Digital video, 17′42″, captions (English), audio described.

Click here to watch an excerpt from Flis Holland: Subserotic Bulge (2021). The artist recommends that headphones should be used.

Flis is now starting work on a sequel, diving deeper into their riotously reproductive uterine cells and looking more closely at the MRI signal loss. 

Samantha Lippett is a curator and educator working across arts education, social practice, and independent radio. Her work responds to lived environments, placemaking and politics/ articulations of health. She has held curatorial and learning positions at South London Gallery and PUBLICS Checkpoint Helsinki, developing programmes for local residential contexts and young people, and co-produced public art commissions such as an artist designed playground by Celine Conderelli (2019-2021). She has worked as a freelance curator-educator for Wellcome Collection, Gasworks Gallery and Birth Rites Collection. She is currently developing research on PTSD and timelines of recovery – in particular, articulations or perceptions of embodied or invisible illness.

Samantha’s independent practice has received funding from Association of Art Historians, Frame Contemporary Art Finland, Lithuanian Council for Culture and Nordic Culture Point. She has been curator-in-residence at Chisenhale Art Place and Rupert Residency developing trans-disciplinary programme on chronic illness and ends of life care. She has published texts on care, interdependence and disability rights/ justice, and has received commissions from CAC Vilnius, Rupert Residency and this year, Index Stockholm for their Aural Exhibitions series alongside key figures Hans Ulrich Obrist and Lucy Lippard for the 59th Venice Biennale. Samantha holds an MFA in Curating from Goldsmiths University and has lectured in Visual Cultures at Brighton and Middlesex Universities since 2017.

Jane Macnaughton is  Professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University in the UK and Deputy Vice Provost for Research.  Until 2021 she was Director of the University’s Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH).  Jane has been centrally involved in the development of medical humanities in the UK since 1998.  She was part of the working group that set up the Association for Medical Humanities in 2001, and she established the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research in 2013. 

Her own work focusses on the idea of the embodied symptom and she has just completed a five year project exploring the lived experience of breathlessness.  Jane was a member of the Wellcome Trust Expert Review Group for established career awards in medical humanities from 2010-2020.  Jane is a qualified doctor and until recently did sessional work as an Honorary Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University Hospital of North Durham.

Twitter: @RJMacnaughton

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