Sunday, April 22, 2007


Last week saw the opening of Stethoscape, the Medical Humanities art exhibition at Imperial College. I was pleased to attend the opening night although I have to admit a certain degree of scepticism before hand – what should I expect of art works created by medical students? Yet, as I wandered around the exhibition it soon became clear that I need not have worried.

Inevitably, the quality of works on show varied enormously. What impressed me, however, was the quality of the ideas behind them which was consistently high. These works were, without exception, fresh, inventive, engaging and provocative. Some stood out more than others - Leonie Williams' Still Life is a particularly intelligent and accomplished piece - but all displayed a thoughtful engagement with the themes of the course. With more than a passing nod to Foucault, the students produced a body of work which examined the role of the doctor, the patient, the medical student, physical and mental health, power relations, emotional involvement and clinical detachment. The list goes on…

Some students used themselves as the subject of their work, others used the body in different ways, while others absented the body entirely. It was, perhaps, this later group which was most interesting from an art historical perspective. For, it is here we have an opportunity to consider the minds and bodies which are pivotal to the efficacy of the doctor-patient relationship without (re-)subjecting them to the gaze of the beholder. After all, haven’t they been poked and prodded and scrutinized enough all ready? It would seem not, since much of the work reflected on important themes in new ways, revealing new insights and leaving the beholder with much to consider.

The self-reflexive manner in which many of the students worked showed a willingness to be self-critical, an openness to the possibilities offered by medical humanities and perhaps a process of self-discovery which even they themselves did not expect. I don’t know to what extent the students considered affect – they way in which their work might impinge upon the consciousness of the beholder. How might those who visit the exhibition re-evaluate their own medical relationships whether as doctor, patient, relative or anything else? The value of artistic practice is its potential to make people look again at a situation and think, just for a moment, how that situation might be transformed.

On that note, I leave you with Alice Monk’s Statement of Interpreter(above), a piece which grips you with its presence. The brief catalogue entry relays an awful situation, one which makes your stomach churn, but you have to keep on looking...

Stethoscapes continues at the Blyth Gallery, Level 5, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London until 30th April.

1 comment:

Med-Source said...

As I medical student I am always looking for creative outlets. I think it's fabulous that a gallery actually recommitted to showing the work of "non-artists"