'Breathe' - photographic installation
Shown at 'Afterhours' at The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
I have always been attracted to the Pitt Rivers collection by the sense of hope and desperation behind the creation of many of the handmade objects here. Often, their purpose was to heal or protect the physical body.
In the Summer, I spent a number of weeks at the Horton Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital due to a collapsed lung, and my thoughts turned once more to these items. During my stay I managed to collect my own set of objects, those used by the medical team to restore my health.
In one sense, this photogram is simply a repetition of curatorial practice at the Pitt Rivers. These are transformative objects, imbued with faith, and carefully arranged by myself, the patient.
There are differences, however. Unlike many of the treasured objects in the collection, all hospital implements, even scissors and clamps, are usually disposed of after use. The photogram monumentalises these objects, but only as marks of their absence, traces left on photographic paper.
The realm of the medical can also seem particularly austere, its devices made by unknown hands. To an extent, the formality of the photogram is true to this aesthetic, yet it also grants these seemingly cold and functional objects a ghostly beauty. And so it should be: these objects saved my life.
The appeal to the clinical and controlled is questioned in another sense: I deliberately did not use an assistant in the construction of this image, not only to indicate the work to be an act of personal story telling, but because in taking full responsibility for the challenging technical process, ‘flaws’ in the image inevitably occurred. Again, this is the way it should be: My experience of medicine was not of a ‘perfect’ activity, but one touched by the unpredictable, and made bearable by the humanity of the nurses and doctors charged with my care.