Sunday, 10 February 2019

Time Moves Slow

Last week I made a small footnote on the work of artist Greg Gilbert who had an exhibition opening in Southampton alongside the publication of a new book of poetry. I want to dwell on footnotes and the evolving nature of this blog, if I may. This is motivated by a number of things - not least I bought a copy of this book of poetry and find in it something far more than a footnote - but back to this in just a moment.
 A song for those of you who are lucky to be in love on the horror that is valentines day.

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance
You’ll probably be aware (but no worries if not) that the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing has merged with the similar museums organisation and is now the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance which is intrinsically wrapped up in the national picture, particularly stemming from the APPG report Creative Health. I had a role on the original alliance and similarly now on the newer alliance alongside my colleague in Liverpool Museums, Carol Rogers - both of us supporting our North West region in any ways that we can. The alliance will be launching a new website very soon - and it will have some dedicated regional pages, which I very much hope might absorb some of the regular jobs/grants/conferences input I’ve regularly updated here. This will give your blogger more opportunities to think about the alleys and ginnels of our arts, health and social change world and perhaps offer a more critical eye on it all - with music and oddities thrown in for good measure!

So while I’m thinking about the alliance, it is worth noting the conference date again, which is on 21/22 March over in Newcastle. Full details HERE. I’ll look forward to seeing any of you who can make it there. 

Love Makes a Mess of Dying
When someone gets a diagnosis of cancer, it fundamentally changes the world for them and those people who inhabit their intimate sphere. Different cancers, different diagnoses and different prognoses too. Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an extraordinary ‘biography’ of cancer in his book, Emperor of All Maladies, but all those individual and universal experiences of people living with a diagnosis, are really very complex. Into that complex emotional space its inevitable that people are drawn to making sense of everything - thank god for all those imaginations and dormant skills that are unleashed by illness. It’s quite remarkable. Mike White came and gave a talk at Arts for Health when his health was really undermined by cancer - yet he came and shared his key thinking - and (I know I’ve mentioned it before) - his one Prima Donna caveat for sharing, was that I played Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads when I introduced him. Superb man. I’ve waxed lyrical too about the place of Maggie’s Centres in the lives of people living with cancer - but more than that - the exquisite vision and drive of Maggie Keswick-Jenks who believed that things can be different. Superb woman.

Then I read and reread the article about Greg Gilbert, which I’d posted as a footnote last week and ordered his book Love Makes a Mess of Dying, and today collapsed into reading and rereading his poems and prose. Yes, he sings in a band and went to art school, but there’s something here that runs deeper than just his arts education and pedigree. It’s somehow inevitable that given his diagnosis of cancer, the work he is creating is blossoming into something imbued with a clarity and depth of beauty that his own personal experience brings. He’s clearly a very accomplished artist - but his diagnosis somehow fills his new work with urgency and a shimmering beauty. For any of us interested in this relationship between the arts and human creativity Greg Gilbert’s writing reveals something way beyond our sometimes narrow and evangelical thinking, (and in my own case, always thinking around bigger societal factors) and brings us up close to the intimate fragility of our existence. From the troubling opening prose of Blue Draped Cube to his exquisite closing poem, Tree Envy (The Field Again) this is an incredible collection. His drawings are quite sublime - his words are beguiling. I’d love to share some of his poems here, but for now, I really recommend buying this book, and you can find out how to HERE. To see more of his drawings, click on his Biro Miniature below, Affinities 1. Incredible work. 

World Healthcare Congress (Europe) 
Amongst a raft of great speakers and workshops taking place as part of the World Healthcare Congress, I’m thrilled we have Lord Howarth back in Manchester to share further thinking around Creative Health and update us as to the progress being made on the recommendations set out in the report. We’ll have CEO of Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE sharing his perspectives on the cultural landscape and the ACE ten-year strategic plan, which is under development.We’ll be exploring how we address health inequalities through cultural participation and civic action and how might we bridge the ingenuity gap in health provision, practice and policy? To register for one day or the full event click HERE. I'm so thrilled to be a part of this.

Still Ill OK… 
…has existed online as a blog and arts service for a while, but they have organised the first collective group meet up for people who have long term health conditions and/or disabilities and would like to become part of a group making art and making change. This is a great opportunity for people to get together who are passionate about the benefits of art as a coping strategy and who often feel left out of other art and political groups. The Still Ill OK Craftivist Group will be taking place on 19th Feb at Head Bar in Stretford. You can find all the details of this event on their facebook page or HERE.

A Recipe for Home
The images above relate to a community workshop facilitated by the MA Arts, Health & Wellbeing group last week. Cast members from the recent performance of Can You Here Me From Up Here? - alongside the arts activist Tracie Daly, came and gave critical feedback to the next stage of this work which will unfold in Wigan as part of a long-term exploration of life lived out in tower blocks. My personal thanks for so many of you taking part, and to the students who developed and delivered this - superb.


Tuesday 5th March 2019, 1 – 4.45pm
Event Space, HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FNOn Tuesday 5th March, at HOME, we will be holding the last Live Well Make Art event in the popular series funded through Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Great Places initiative and will explore how the arts can raise awareness, campaign, provoke, inspire and collaborate with all those who care about health, to help make change happen. To get more details about the line of of speakers, or to book a place, click HERE.

Thursday Lates: Melanie Manchot: Twelve
7 March, 6pm. Free
 - Whitworth
Portraits of Recovery and the Whitworth present a screening of Twelve by Melanie Manchot and post in-conversation with the artist, curator Mark Prest of Portraits of Recovery, and Professor Amanda Ravetz from MMU.
 Twelve is Manchot’s major multi channel video installation work exploring the intimate stories, rituals, repetitions and ruptures of lives spent in addiction and recovery. Inspired by the visual acuity of renowned contemporary filmmakers, the work connects and collapses individual recollections in which everyday situations, events and activities are rendered dramatic or abstract and infused with tragedy, pathos and humour.
 Over two years Manchot worked in dialogue with twelve people in recent recovery from substance misuse. TWELVE is directly informed by their personal written and oral testimonies, creative conceptions, and performances within the final works. To find out more, or book a place, click HERE.

And finally, but most certainly not a footnote...
Facing Out: Life after treatment for facial cancer 

An exhibition of portraits of people who have experienced facial cancers together with their choice of artworks from the Whitworth collections.22 February – 2 June 2019

The portraits have been created in public by Lucy Burscough during her residency at Maggie’s Cancer Support Centre at The Christie Hospital. Centre visitors were welcome to chat to Lucy about her work as they watched the paintings develop.

As someone who looks at faces for her job, Burscough is interested in what happens when someone experiences cancer which alters their appearance. If the face changes, how does that affect one’s sense of self? Her subjects speak of being acutely aware of the gaze of others, in the street or at their work, and they recognise that people’s eyes can naturally be drawn to people whose faces are unusual. Becoming the subject of a portrait under these circumstances is an empowering act of defiance and welcoming people to look at one’s face, scars and all, is an invitation to acknowledge a shared humanity and triumph over this indiscriminate illness. 

When one takes on the role of ‘patient’ or ‘cancer survivor’, and facets of our identity that we hold dear: jobs, hobbies or social activities, may fade into the background, our sense of who we are can take a knock. The artworks chosen from the Whitworth’s collection by the subjects to be displayed alongside their portraits, have been selected to reflect their wider identities and illustrate cherished aspects of who they are. For much more information, click on Lucy's site HERE, or the exhibition site HERE. I cannot wait to see this exhibition and find out more about the sitter's and the artists experiences. 

Next week - some thoughts on Dementia on a Stick! - and an update on The Manchester Declaration.

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