Patient-Doctor Intimates (March 2022)

Wednesday 9th March 2022, 4–5:30pm GMT / 11am–12:30pm EST

This event has now taken place.

Through art and art historical practice, Olivia Turner and Alison Syme explore the entangled, intimate, and dangerous possibilities of patient-doctor relationships, especially when these identities are embodied by women. Turner presents her moving image work O (Symptom), a feminist meditation on the signs of the medicalised body that seeks an alternative language, through gesture and the figure of the worm, to both reveal the abjection of the examined body and to reclaim the body from medical authority through blurred experiences of pain and pleasure. Syme considers the creative and collaborative relations between Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell and the largely forgotten figure of “lady doctor” Marie Moralt, a pair whose therapeutic entanglements took forms of mutual care and crafting. Together, Turner and Syme offer ways to work with and through the messiness of relationality, the porousness of bodies and selves in intimate proximity, that are often intensified by experiences of ill health, ill feelings, care, and medicalisation.

Olivia Turner (2021) O (Symptom), Performance. Still by Arto Polus.

The moving image work O (Symptom) (2021) explores the examined body in medicine through imagined encounters between doctor, patient, and cadaver, and located within the clinical spaces of the waiting room, examination room, and dissection room. The work is situated on the threshold between real and imagined experiences. The medical and pharmaceutical interventions performed on and between human and animal bodies, implicate the social, economic, and patriarchal structures of power and influence. The worm is a recurring motif within the work, on the cusp of disgust and curiosity, life and death. A metaphor for disembodied, transgressive, and othering treatment of the medical body. It slips inside and outside of the body. The worm is also intimate: a lover and a parasite to unravel experiences of pain, pleasure, and abjection of the examined body. O (Symptom) and the accompanying talk will consider the gendered construction of the medicalised body. By positioning knowledge as corporeal, embodied, and subjective, women’s bodies and voices become feminist acts of resistance against patriarchal containment and restrictive standardisation within medicine. It seeks an alternative language to reclaim the body. The current global health pandemic has exposed the fragility and ubiquity of becoming a medicalised body, highlighting the pertinence of this artwork and research.

Alison Syme, “Flesh, Paint, Stone, Wool: Vanessa Bell, Dr Marie Moralt, and Matters of Care.”

This talk focuses on work that arose out of Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell’s relationship with Dr Marie Moralt. I argue that a critical concern with health and recuperation in Bell’s domestic sphere in 1919, which began specifically in tension with male medical authority, shifted to an intriguingly tangled, creative, therapeutic, and collaborative relationship between painter and doctor, one which elicited the artist’s care and the doctor’s artistry as much as the other way around, and one in which disciplinary distinctions and other phantasms of autonomy were frayed from the start. I consider the material substrates and imaginary through which Bell and Moralt communicated solidarity and experiences of loss and recovery, illuminating the medial matrix informing Bell’s work and the therapeutic dimensions of needlework undertaken by the doctor, whose gender and disability affected her career. In this tale of two women’s experience of the messy complexities of modern art and life, I trace the female painter and lady doctor’s works’ articulation of in- and interdependence.

About the speakers:

Olivia Turner is an artist and researcher based in the Northeast of England. She recently completed her creative practice-led PhD: Between Doctor, Patient and Cadaver: The Slippages of the Visceral Body in Medicine at Newcastle University, recipient of the Research Excellence Academy Studentship. She is currently working on Corporeal Pedagogies with her collaborator, Classical archaeologist, Dr Sally Waite. Co-leading a series of experimental and experiential workshops using The Shefton Collection. This culminates in a Spring 2022 exhibition at The Great North Museum. In 2021, her artwork was published by John Hopkins University’s Centre for Medical Humanities, Tendon Magazine: Breath. Her most recent exhibitions include O (Symptom) (2021) Ex Libris Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne; Confusion of Tongues (2021) SpeakEasy, AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent; The Body (2021) Zest Hall [Online], Round Lemon; New Sculpture (2019) Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens, Northumberland; Women and Power (2018) Cragside Estate and Gardens, National Trust, Northumberland. Olivia is on Twitter @OliviaTurnerArt and Instagram – @oliv.turner. Her website is:

Alison Syme is Associate Professor of Modern Art at the University of Toronto, specialising in art and visual culture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in Britain, France, and the United States. Her work frequently explores intersections between the histories of art, literature, and science, focusing on the role of metaphors in artistic practice and poetics. She is the author of A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siècle Art (2010) and Willow (2014). Recent and current projects include an ecocritical take on Berthe Morisot’s painting, a study of Vanessa Bell’s applied arts, and a book examining Edward Burne-Jones’s poetics of materials in the context of Victorian science and print culture.

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