Thursday, 26 March 2020

An Almost Virus-Free Zone

How about this little French film from 1958 for some pleasant distraction - no dialogue and no unpleasant bugs, but just music and movement and a shy young man looking for a dance.
. . . 

CHWA annual conference It was a disappointment to us all that the Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance annual conference was postponed, but given the circumstances, it was a very rational thing to do. I'll look forward to seeing those of you who can make it to the rearranged event in the fullness of time. You can keep abreast of the national arts and health scene by checking into the CHWA website HERE.

The Virtual Social Centre
Social Solidarity in the time of Social Distancing

A big thanks to Dr Frances Williams, (and huge congratulations to you on your PhD) for sending me this link to the extraordinary useful online resource: The Virtual Social Centre which there's a link to HERE and where which you'll find some wonderful free and imaginative resources. Superb and necessary work. 

. . . 

Here are some events and opportunities, but with a caveat that not all things will necessarily happen in a time of flux...

Arts Council Funding 
Emergency funding packageACE will offer individuals and organisations working in the cultural sector new financial support during this crisis, totalling £160 million. We’ve re-purposed all our investment strands to be able to offer this support. These emergency funding streams will be open to applications very soon. More details HERE. 

Moving With... 
...are events that promote health and wellbeing through movement. This particular event is aimed directly at arts and health practitioners, a time for us to move and explore our creativity, and take time away from our busy working lives. On April 29th, we will be exploring our voice in relation to our movement, and we will be outside at a forest school site, having time to connect with the earth, the trees, and to leave feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. In this workshop we will sink into the sounds of the landscape, discovering subtle relations between movement and voice. We will explore how the voice guides our path and connects us with our ancestors. Through this meditative and mindful journey, we will tune to nature's pulse, transforming sounds of songs and longing into a burst of spring joy. We will be moving outdoors at the Horsefield in Slaithwaite, a forest school site nestled in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire at the edge of the Pennines. Full details are HERE.

The BBC is looking for scripts about self-isolation to be made into short films DEADLINE 30th MARCH
An exciting opportunity has come about to see your writing adapted into a short film for the BBC.

BBC Writersroom has announced Interconnected, a competition asking for original scripts about two to four characters in self-isolation, who connect via online video conferencing.

They can be related in any way the writer chooses—friends, lovers, colleagues, family or perhaps not at all—but they each find themselves self-isolating in this unique time in human history (or the near future). Full details HERE.

New NHS-funded intervention using mental health recovery storiesThe NEON intervention involves online access to recovery stories, and we are now starting trials for people with experience of psychosis, other kinds of mental health problems, and informal carers. People can find out more and sign up HERE.

OK - I've posted this twice before - but what the hell...

Mind over Matter
Discussing Mental Health Through Spoken Word, Hip-Hop & Song

A Recreational Space With Therapeutic Value

Mind Over Matter is an independent project which breaks down stigma and widens the conversation around mental health by discussing it through Spoken Word Poetry, Hip Hop, and Song. The heart and soul of Mind Over Matter is to provide people with a platform to express themselves in a safe environment. Our goal is to change the way Mental Health is understood and spoken about, while supporting the Poetry and live music scenes. Find out more HERE.

SICK Festival... 
...are offering some really very interesting new opportunities
Click HERE for details, but deadlines are tight.

Job Opportunity: Deputy Director (Maternity Cover)
Monday, February 24, 2020 - 16:45
Arts Catalyst is pleased to announce a new job opportunity of Deputy Director (Maternity Cover) which will be based in the city centre of Sheffield.
Application Deadline: 6pm, 6th April 2020
Full details HERE.  

Until the TATE closed its doors to the gallery going public, Vic McEwan's ongoing exploration of facial nerve paralysis was reaching huge numbers of people. It's frustrating that so many things have inevitably been cancelled including Sarah McEwan and Layla Bacayo's residency at the BlueRoom at Bluecoat. There were many more events planned, so it's with sadness that Vic are heading back to  Australia for a period of inevitable quarantine. A real treat for me was spending time with Vic and Sarah in the first weeks of the exhibition (luridly alluded too in previous footnotes) and spending slow time on the Biomedical Composing Machine. Much, much more on that very soon.
Bon Voyage Vic, Sarah and Holly.

. . .

And if you need eight and a half hours of sheer bliss to lull you into a state of deep relaxation, I can think of nothing better than Max Richter's Sleep. Just press play and let it wash over you. Be safe out there...Clive

. . .

(footnote #8)
On Ottergear Bridge 

Standing in splendid isolation the bladder offers up its steady arc of méthode traditionnelle to the gods, aimed squarely at the brook eighty feet below, catching early solar light already amplifying this new golden surreality. 

Last night, a call from London - C saying he’s been let go, his voice caught in his throat and I want to hold him. J is forced to leave a far-off country while another J fends off drowning in urban off-kilter anxiety. A planetary shift - my eyes sting.

All the while lapwings call and swoop, electrical and throaty in the air around my head. A buzzard glides effortlessly, unperturbed by the harrying and mad black flapping of the crows.

Only moments ago, fire tore through houses and blue gum trees and rain flooded hot asphalt streets, yet here, only foot and mouth and red-faced tweeds on the glorious twelfth have prohibited my footfall. 

Today crags of limestone shelter me from the breeze and in the cloughs, fat bellied sheep and cattle drink amiably under skeletal first-bud trees. Midges gather in small dense groups, gossiping as distant cathedrals of blue ice dissolve. 

Creeping ivy locks the throats of lichen-dense trees in a 
half nelson and the flying, buzzing, crawling things amass. Fledgling birds fall from the sky - seemingly lazy bees lay on their backs. Leaves turn black. Ants halt their march.

Before this doubt-blown-in-on-a-breeze swamps me, I walk further into the thicket to the brutally pollarded tree with its bare outstretched limbs. Triceratops. I stand in the mud at its base and embrace it, looking up along the warm bark that scratches my skin and into the pale blue sky. 

But the birds are singing and the bees don't sting.

Solid while the earth shifts again, grounded and alive for now, 

feeling our uncertain evolution. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Minister of Propaganda

You have to laugh at Priti Patel being outed as a bully, by the instantly forgettable senior civil servant who benignly presided over the Windrush inquiry without so much as a by your leave, but now demands our tears. She’s elected, so she’s accountable and should be dealt with accordingly. But bullying in the ranks of government? - never! At least she’s been elected and can be turfed out if found guilty - but what about the pernicious and sloppy ‘special adviser’ to the oaf? Unelected and by all reliable accounts modelling the accepted gold standard of bullish behaviour in Downing Street. Our very own Reich Minister of Propaganda of Brexit Britain. His diktat: Replicate the cabal’s rules and behaviour - just don’t get caught.

While everyone has been keen to bash Corbyn, at least he didn’t display the accepted behavioural norms of contemporary parliamentary debate, displaying instead, consideration, intelligence and principles. With the current incumbents, it seems if they dumb it down to ‘oven ready’ and ‘getting Brexit done’ they can feed their lowest common denominator scraps out to the masses, patronise them and display their total disregard for others to replicate. We’ve only just begun.

We’ve had a flurry of both arts and inequalities reports, and all sorts of public health activity over the last few weeks, not least the media bombardment of everything Covid-19. I don’t at all question the importance surrounding this little understood corona virus, but it would be good to keep the sensation down to news and fact - however scant. For three years I worked with the Asia Europe Foundation on pandemic planning and it seems both communication and public preparedness around unfolding international health scenarios, still has a long, long way to go. That all said, as someone who at this moment in time doesn’t have much of an immune system, I trundled along to Boots to buy a bottle of hand sanitiser for my back pocket (have you used public loo’s recently? - perhaps it’s just the gent’s - urgh) and was told it had all been sold out; not only there but in every chemist in the city. Good grief. Apparently, people have been bulk buying too, so I guess I’ll need to stick to hot water and soap; either that or get fitted for a hazmat suit!  

Anyway - back to basics - Arts Council England has published their much anticipated 2020 -2030 Strategy, Let’s Create which places a strong emphasis on diversity and health. In their strap-line, they boldly state their aspiration for England to be: A country Transformed by culture. Bringing Us Together, Happier, Healthier. To Excite, Inspire, Delight. To Enrich Our Lives.
If you’ve not read it yet, you can see the full report online HERE. 

For those of you who are slightly jaded with strategy and policy reports, it’s worth taking a look at ACE in a Hole? Which its authors describe as ‘an alternative to Shaping the Next Ten Years, or at least suggest a different starting point for a cultural strategy that might provide a more robust foundation at a time when our country is deeply divided and the arts, by any definition, are under pressure.’ You can find it HERE.

For my part, I like to read in the round, so if you are interested in the arts/health/social change agenda - particularly in an age of austerity - it’s worth reading the very recent report by Sir Michael Marmot published to mark progress in talking inequalities since his landmark report 10 years ago. In fact, while I don’t want to pre-empt either of these report’s and give you any spoilers, Marmot and his co-authors present us with very sobering reading. You can read a summary report HERE. I'll comment further later in the month.

For a grounded approach to the reality of unfolding arts and health (across Greater Manchester at least) I’m pleased that work undertaken with Dr Clare Devaney as part of the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change is due to be published very shortly. More of that very, very soon. In the meantime I’ll be giving a ‘provocation’ to kick start the second day of the CHWA Conference. It will have a focus on inequalities and maybe, just maybe touch on some wilder and broader strands of influence. Full details HERE.

TATE Liverpool
Until 22 March 2020 between 11.00–16.00 
TATE Exchange (1st Floor Gallery)
If They Spend the Time to Get to Know Me is an interactive installation from artist Vic McEwan focusing on facial nerve paralysis. These conditions can affect facial expression, speech and vision and they can significantly change a person’s appearance. This means that people experiencing facial nerve paralysis often face stigma and discrimination. McEwan explores these experiences through an audio-visual installation and an interactive 3D workshop using a 3D scanner and 3D printer. Visitors will be able to contribute by having their face 3D scanned, 3D printed and added to the project. Full details HERE including his new interactive Bio-Medical Composing Machine.

“Children and young people in GM tell us that the greatest issue they face around mental health is stigma. Three Minute Heroes is an inclusive and positive way to give those children and young people a powerful way to communicate their thoughts and to tackle that stigma. Children and young people are invited to participate in up to six sessions of creative writing, to express what is bothering them and their feelings. The resulting lyrics are given to established and breakthrough artists and bands from the area, and an album with a mental health theme is then professionally produced in the studio.” Want to find out more? Head over to the always exciting blog by Kat Taylor by clicking HERE.

Save the Date - May 21-23!
Bring Me Laughter Festival 2020
In Lancaster, The Dukes are delighted to announce the Bring Me Laughter Festival - a celebration of dementia arts! Open to all - people living with dementia, carers, arts practitioners, theatre-goers & families - there will be a range of workshops, talks and live performances for all ages. Interested in finding out more? Please contact Gil Graystone at 

Collective Encounters
Talking Participation: Ethics and Participatory Arts
6PM, 20th March 2020, Liverpool
What ethics & values shape and underpin our practice in the arts?

What ethical challenges confront practitioners? Participatory artists often work with vulnerable people or with sensitive topics, whether they be political or personal. This can be fraught with challenges. In our day to day practice we rarely have time to reflect on the ethics of our work, yet it's fundamental to who we are and how we work.

In this Talking Participation, Abi Horsfield & Chrissie Tiller will offer provocations to start a round table debate about the ethical issues and challenges of participatory theatre practice. The run time of this event is 2 ½ hours, including dinner and networking. It is focused on engaging professionals working in participatory arts.

The evening will include a cooked vegetarian and vegan dinner.
Please let us know if you have any dietary requirements when booking.

Suggested donation £4. Full Details HERE.
. . . 

(footnote #7)
This is less than a footnote, given my rant towards the top of the page (albeit a self-censored one given that I’d rather dangerously begun to compare an illicit malingerer of Downing St, to Goebbels). Way, way back in footnote #4, I introduced my hitcher, who when moving in with me, became something of a sitting tenant, like a Cummings kind-of presence in my life - and while I have it skulking in a room in my house, I still have to feed it. So as best I can, I slip it things that will subdue it and its appalling designs on dominating my life.  

In last weeks footnote I described a trip down an MRI scanner and the failing headphones and intermittent moments of terror and bliss. I’m not sure I wrote it so well, because the food I give the lodger, inevitable affects me and writing can be very bad, or worse, and everything in between. So I shan’t go back to editing it, other than adding here that both this symbiosis with the sitting tenant, alongside the slow exposure of ‘undiscovered countries being disclosed’ 1 is giving me insights previously unimaginable. Difficult to describe, but emerging from that soporific magnetic reverie, to my surprise I left something quite mystical only to return to a place where ‘human voices wake us, and we drown.’2

1. Woolf - On Being Ill
2. Eliot - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The Deepest Shade of Green

This weeks blog offers a bumper harvest of excellent things and personal piffle. Enjoy.

Performing Medicine have announced an Open Programme of courses, open to all healthcare professionals and students. The five courses, running from April-July, will draw on techniques from the arts to offer practical, positive techniques to manage the physical and emotional demands of working in healthcare. Each is delivered by an expert artist-facilitator and co-designed with those working in healthcare to ensure that the content is relevant and useful to their working lives. 
Book now: HERE  
Read more about the Open Programme in this blog piece from Performing Medicine Director Suzy Willson: HERE 

Outside In And Fabrica Announce Call Out For Summer Exhibition -
Look Closer, Think Bigger

Outside In and Fabrica gallery, Brighton, are excited to announce an opportunity for two Outside In artists to exhibit at Fabrica in July 2020. The theme of this exhibition ‘Look Closer, Think Bigger’ is large and miniature artworks and we are inviting artists to submit artworks that fit into either of these two categories.
The exhibition will explore extremes of scale by creating small intimate spaces to display miniature work, contrasted with large artworks that resonate with Fabrica’s unique setting, a former Regency church in the heart of Brighton. As well as challenging perceptions of what types and sizes of artwork should be displayed together, this exhibition will also highlight why and how artists choose to work with scale, including how the space that artists have access to  create work may influence the size of the work they are able to produce.The two selected artists will each receive £1000 for exhibiting their work in the exhibition. There will also be a travel budget to support artists to visit Fabrica.
Applications can be made and further info is available by clicking HERE or on the image below. 

For further information please contact Cornelia Marland on  01273 381311   or email

Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture in partnership with Galway University Hospitals and Saolta University Health Care Group presents…
The Deepest
Shade of Green
Inspired by a 2006 publication by patients of Merlin Park University Hospital, in which older people shared their knowledge of the Irish landscape and its customs, The Deepest Shade of Green explores the importance of connecting our hospitals with the natural world outside and of listening to and learning from those who use them. Nature and familiar landscapes of the West are brought into the wards, corridors, and waiting rooms of Saolta’s hospitals and used to imaginatively escape the clinical environment.

Newly commissioned works include a song cycle by Ceara Conway, shared as a series of intimate performances for patients and as an album incorporating recordings of hospital equipment, plants, and the tools of sound healers. Deirdre O’Mahony creates an online audio-based artwork using a scripted voiceover and ambient recordings made in Saolta’s catchment areas to evoke the particular character of the West of Ireland. Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari collaborate to lead young patients and their families through an enchanting garden of stories, combining puppetry, storytelling, and shadow theatre in a tour of Saolta’s paediatric settings.

Offering to transform the experience of hospital, The Deepest Shade of Green brings Galway 2020’s cultural programme to the people, and to the people who stand to gain most from it. Find out more on there website and see some of the participating projects HERE. 

Image: Viriditas – Ceara Conway, 2019
Bridging the Gap
Bridging the gap between Arts and Play for Health and Wellbeing in Research, Policy and Practice. 

Over the last decade there has been a burgeoning interest in the benefit of arts and play for our health and wellbeing. However, despite evidence that shows the arts and play to have close connections in how they contribute to and achieve health outcomes for children and adults, there has been a dearth of action to encourage knowledge-exchange between these fields or to understand how the processes across these interventions may be similar. This conference aims to address this gap, encouraging shared learning and asking critical questions that will support us to move forward in arts and play with new-found insight. 

Call for abstracts
This is a free and creative conference and we are open to creative modes of sharing your ideas. We are offering 20-60 minute slots which can be filled with spoken or poster presentations, workshops, or group activities

When is it taking place?
Wednesday 9th September (9.15am - 6pm) and Thursday 10th September 2020 (9.30am - 5.30pm)

Where is it being hosted?
Chrystal Macmillan Building, The University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square

For all the details you need click HERE. 

Bill Drummond
Short Wave, Long Wave (or footnote #6)
As I recently slipped into the haze of technological explorations over my precarious health, one particular day really sticks in my mind, for somewhat obvious reasons. It was a day of full skeletal surveys and to round it off, an hour and a half in the MRI scanner. Now that’s quite something. Working with Vic McEwan at Alder Hey, I’d got within a reasonable distance of the outrageous honking and horn blasting of this particular machine, which he had so deftly transformed into a thrumming and worrying soundscape. The personal journey into one, however, with intravenous, silly kinky hospital gowns and all the paraphernalia of internalised fear, transforms that sound into a cacophony.

Prepared for this, I’d gone along in the understanding that a set of compliant headphones would be provided, and I could bring along CD’s to play. What - no vinyl? In truth, so much I have is now on a laptop, so taking a punt, I downloaded the Flaming Lips (to cover up any noise), Max Richter (to help me sleep - yeah right) and anything else that was on the USB. On arrival they told me it would be fine, so prepped and ready, I was slipped inside the white tube, loose fitting headphones ominously lolling from my head. I could hear tracks starting and stopping, skipping and then just before the first sonic blasts from the MRI began, and a voice announced - ‘don’t worry if you feel like your wetting yourself, it will pass’ - the tones of a long forgotten album by Prefab Sprout frontman, Paddy McAloon began to sparkle in my ears. An obscure little thing written when he was losing his sight (which I understand has been restored) and called I Trawl the Megahertz, spoken by Yvonne Connors and quite sublime. But then the waves of sound overwhelmed the song and I succumbed to the pounding noise, with odd words glimpsed in the pauses of technology: ‘all day her voice is balm’ - ‘carcinogenic threat’ - ‘so what if this is largely bravado?’ - ‘trains are late, doctors are breaking bad news, but I am living in a lullaby.’ You can hear this song by clicking on the photo of Paddy below.

But as I slip into this intermittent and almost violent soundscape, I am taken back to that time in the belly of a Scottish mountain, where Vic and I had indeed travelled with the precious cargo of another’s beating heart. Like pilgrims on some fantastic voyage, plunging into the inky depths of that great hidden chamber created to hide Britain’s oil resources for the Fleet between the wars. It was through that tunnel and into that black void I experienced more fear and euphoria than I can describe, as we shared the personal recordings of Elisha’s heart - a subterranean and ethereal thing that danced and flickered beyond what we understood of time and place. It will remain one of the most profound experiences of my life. Now, back in this white tube, I felt humbled and small in these shifting memories and let the foghorn mantra of the machine do its job. 

Watching the film Bait recently, I found some of the imagery utterly beautiful. A camera shot of a boy sorting out fishing nets on the beach, shot directly into the costal sunset; romantic and so hardwired into my own childhood - an unexpected rose-tinted mirror. It reminded me aesthetically of the high dive sequences from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936), beautiful but poisoned by history, and imagery which I'm considering in my 'provocation' around inequalities for the forthcoming CHWA conference in March. Then in a break between the storms this last week, I was at a local place I love so much, hunkered down in a green lichen covered cove as the wind howled off the Irish Sea - the tide was high, and the cool winter sun hurt my eyes.

Somehow, it all gets tangled up in transience; climbing through the belly of that mountain, precious cargo's and the flickering filaments of scientific exploration - an intoxicating and enormous blur - delicate sub-atomic particles caught on an eternal breeze. 

Thursday, 6 February 2020



Other Transmissions: Conversations with Outsider Art
Preview | Thursday 13 February 2020, 6-8pm
Exhibition dates | 14 February – 14 June 2020
Venue | The Whitworth

This exhibition brings together the work of six artists – Joe Beedles, James Desser, Amy Ellison, Frances Heap, Andrew Johnstone and John Powell-Jones, initially responding to The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection (MKOAC), housed at the Whitworth. The MKOAC is the largest collection of ‘Outsider Art’ in a public gallery in the UK and features work by artists who are self-taught and have been historically marginalised from the art world. This year-long residency project was led by Venture Arts in collaboration with the Whitworth and Castlefield Gallery. Elements of the work and new pieces by Blackpool artists, will go on display at Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool (7-21 March 2020).

During the residency, a group of learning disabled and non-learning disabled artists came together, on equal terms, to explore the themes of ‘Outsider Art’: labelling, categorisation and art world power dynamics. The artists spent time with the MKOAC, researching collection pieces and having conversations on how artists are labelled, and how this can sometimes define their work and themselves as ‘different’. They spent three months in a shared studio space at Venture Arts producing diverse pieces of work spanning sound, film, live art, digital artwork, drawings and sculpture, as well as costume.

The artists selected artworks from the MKOAC, which they co-curated into a display alongside their own work. Collection artists featured include Madge Gill, Albert Louden and Michel Nedjar. The exhibition has originated from a 2018-19 project, Conversation Series II, which was a project led by Venture Arts in partnership with the Whitworth and Castlefield Gallery. Conversation Series II was the second part of a four-part programme, conceived by Venture Arts, and a wider network of national organisations including Castlefield Gallery. Castlefield Gallery’s role throughout the Conversations Series has been to act as a critical friend, and they provided the artists with mentoring to encourage reflection at key stages. The programme extends across multiple years, curated as a discursive and art making journey designed to enable and empower learning disabled artists.

As Extinction Rebellion and others become criminalised and under increased police surveillance, quick-thinking artists and activists are foiling the tools of the state! Here's an extract from an article in the Observer recently. Click on the photograph by Cocoa Laney below to read the whole thing.

"Wearing makeup has long been seen as an act of defiance, from teenagers to New Romantics. Now that defiance has taken on a harder edge, as growing numbers of people use it to try to trick facial recognition systems.

Interest in so-called dazzle camouflage appears to have grown substantially since the Metropolitan police announced last week that officers will be using live facial recognition cameras on London’s streets – a move described by privacy campaigners and political activists as “dangerous”, “oppressive” and “a huge threat to human rights”.

Unlike fingerprinting and DNA testing, there are few restrictions on how police can use the new technology. And some of those who are concerned have decided to assert their right not to be put under surveillance with the perhaps unlikely weapon of makeup. Members of the Dazzle Club have been conducting silent walks through London while wearing asymmetric makeup in patterns intended to prevent their faces from being matched on any database."

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance 2020 Awards

We are excited to announce our first ever annual awards for the CHWA 2020 Conference taking place in Derby on 19-20th March 2020. Working with our award partners, we aim to showcase good practice and people who are leading the way in creating a culture of care for each other, their communities and the world. The award categories are linked to the core themes of the conference: climate change, partnerships (caring economies) and practitioner wellbeing. The three awards are:

. Collective Power Award 
. The Practising Well Award
. Climate Award

Submission deadline is 5pm, Friday 21st February 2020 and all details can be found by clicking HERE.

Picture books on prescription
A nice little article in the Guardian this week highlighted the place of fiction in the lives of younger people - emphasising the role that stories in all their forms - can play in understanding and maybe addressing a broad range of mental health issues. There's a sad and lovely quote from Michael Rosen whose own book depicts his grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 18.

“These books will start conversations with children about how they’re feeling and show them that others have felt the same way,” he says. “Public libraries have long been places where people have sought answers and comfort; this scheme combines the safe space of the library with inspiring children and families to read for pleasure and wellbeing.”

Read the whole article by clicking HERE.

3–22 March

If They Spend the Time to Get to Know Me is an interactive installation from artist Vic McEwan focusing on facial nerve paralysis. These conditions can affect facial expression, speech and vision and they can significantly change a person’s appearance. This means that people experiencing facial nerve paralysis often face stigma and discrimination. McEwan explores these experiences through an audio-visual installation. 3D scanning and printing will allow visitors to interact and contribute to the project by adding their own face. The project has been developed by McEwan in creative partnership with healthcare professionals and patients from the Sydney Facial Nerve Clinic, Australia. It is a first stage outcome as part of McEwan's Practice Led PHD at the University of Sydney. Click on the image below for more details. 

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR (or, footnote #5)
In the face of unbridled hysteria at my local Boots - as large numbers of masked university students run around purchasing every hand sanitising product - I cart my carry-out of toxic medicines back home to dutifully down the things that while keeping the hitcher in order, may just in fact hamper my own immunity. I wonder to myself, how effective really, are those face masks? They look pretty flimsy - but along with the sanitiser, I supposed it provides a sense of control. 

My stomach gurgles.

So in the calm before the burgeoning corona storm, I take time out and visit Tate Liverpool. Wrapped up, medicated and aroused by the promise of spring, it's a real treat to be outside the world of clinics and patient-hood.

Tate is always a pleasure and before I dive into the Theaster Gates show, I pop into the free exhibition of work from its collection. I like this space and there are always surprises in store. It's a quiet weekday morning and with the exception of one or two people are taking selfies, it's a lovely calming place to be. As I walk in, directly in front of me is a large mirrored box/slab of some kind, with a few apertures cut into it. A shiny thing. On the other side of it and invisible to me, there are a small group of people studying the work (sorry I don't know the artist), and from my side I stoop down to have a peek through one of the holes in the glass. It's quite a pretty, instagram-able thing and as my eyes search through its refractions and shadows, I see that another face is looking back at me from the other side. Well - I see two smiling eyes peering at me from behind a face mask. Then it happened, as I peered at this happy little face, my body involuntarily succumbed to one of the less sinister side effects of 21st century medicine - the longest and most gloriously rude - but thankfully non-fragrant - fart!

To say that I am rather retentive and hung up, would be a gross understatement, but rather oddly - I felt a mischievous liberation - and for some extended moments, stood paralysed and smiling at the horrified masked young thing, for an unbearable amount of time. 'Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.'

When I returned from this fleeting reverie (or was it a rapture?) I straightened myself up, stretched and turned around to face the near hush of the gallery and the wide eyed horror of its assistants and now multiple static masked visitors, who all seemingly had their eyes and ears trained on my delicate rump and its harmonic distortion. Giggling like some solvent addled schoolboy, I teetered off to the next gallery space to compose myself.

Clinging on to the first vitrine that I saw in an attempt to control myself anally and acoustically, I tempered my giddiness until, with a slow and marvellous dawning, I saw the art work sitting squatly in this little plexiglass display! Piero Manzoni! Piero Manzoni's very own 1961 tinned Merde d'Artiste! Künstlerscheisse! Dear old Manzoni and Arte Povera - well not so old - poor Manzoni died 57 years ago today at the tragically young age of 29.

I was done for. Like a bleary eyed tittering loon, I fled the gallery in a fit of pique, a final uncontrollable bat squeak of pleasure and social pain signalling my departure and the unexpected joy in such a memento mori.

To useless face masks, hand sanitiser, art and to unexpected pleasures...

Saturday, 25 January 2020

The Medical Gaze...


A Culture of Care: Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance national conference

The 2020 Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) conference will be held on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March 2020 at Derby Museum. Our theme will be Care: care for one another (participants, practitioners, commissioners); care for the environment; and caring economies. Click HERE for details or on the lovely image of the Crummock Valley by Peter Brook (above).

This year the alliance are also hosting its first CHWA awards.
The awards will focus on Climate, Collective Power and Practising Well. Working with our award partners, we aim to showcase good practice and people who are leading the way in creating a culture of care for each other, their communities and the world. Winners will be announced at an evening event on day one of the conference (Thursday 19 March) and further promoted on the CHWA websites and networks. To find out more about the CHWA 2020 Awards and apply, please click HERE.  Conference early-bird tickets end on 31 January! I'm honoured to be asked to provide a provocation around inequalities on Friday 20 - and fragile health aside - will be there in person!

On to the wider theme of inequalities, some very interesting research for the Arts and Humanities Research Council is underway and it is very well worth completing this short survey.

Inequalities in the UK: Future Research Priorities
We are conducting research on behalf of the Arts and Humanities Research Council regarding future research priorities about inequalities across the UK to understand more about regional disparities*. We would like to collect your views by inviting you to take part in a short survey which should take no longer than c.15 minutes to complete. If at any point you would like to modify your responses, then you can scroll up or down. For further information please contact: Click HERE for the survey.
[*to include: Arts, culture, health, outdoors and other community-based research, Social Prescribing and other areas of public health research]

The Medical Gaze or (footnote #4)
Dear old Dennis Potter - god I admired him. I know he wasn't everyone's cup of tea, politically or in his sexual imagery. But what the hell - he had superb social comment to make and was one of the last great political playwrights of a certain generation. Alas, licensing doesn't allow me to embed the scene from the Singing Detective on the blog, but by clicking on the image above, you should be able to view it in its wonderful glory. SUPERB 

Potter featured prominently in an essay I wrote for the exhibition, Mortality: Death & the Imagination back in 2013, curated by Dr Steven Gartside. For the publication of the same name, I wrote Present Tense, which if you're interested in, you can find in the full publication HERE. In it I describe the prescience and bewitching presence of Potter when close to the end of his life and fuelled by morphine, he undertook the most extraordinary interview with Melvyn Bragg. It was and still is the most profound interview, which you can see in full HERE. I can't recommend it enough. 

It was in activities surrounding the exhibition, that Mike White very kindly came and gave one his two very powerful presentations at my university - a power house and visionary even while confronting his own cancer diagnosis. I've written about this briefly on this blog and you can find it HERE. While a completely different character to Potter, Mike nevertheless did something quite profound and not dissimilar - he shared his personal experiences without being cloying and I'd argue, was propelled by his condition- to shoot from the hip. You can still read his extensive 'Chalkie's Demon Diary' which he kept up online till shortly before his death in 2015. This rare old magnum opus is available HERE. 

A real sublime dignity was something I experienced in the presence of Elisha Carter and her mum Emma, who featured in my extended essay Critical Care in 2017 following an arts-led exploration with Vic McEwan at Alder Hey Hospital. Elisha pursued her artistic endeavours regardless of her cancer diagnosis, and alongside Vic has contributed to my deeper understanding of what we sometimes glibly refer to as 'lived experience.' 

I have to admit that I am rather apprehensive in discussing my own health online. On one hand I feel an urgency and compulsion to do so, but at the same time, the last thing I want to do is bang out another cancer diary, with one inevitable outcome. But that's the thing - life is finite for us all and the likelihood of cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia and stroke are (amongst others) unwelcome, but nevertheless our partners through this giddying transience.

Without the dignity of White or the poetic power of Potter, I am simply one of the infinite numbers who have navigated and will navigate, this strange but very normal terrain - with anxiety and natural fear - but also with something akin to curiosity and perhaps a naive optimism. So that's that. I have a cancer called myeloma and I'm having 'treatment' for it - and we'll see where we go from there. Always a starling thing for the individual in question, I'm sure - but in the context of our unfolding climate catastrophe - it's an anxiety that needs weighing against forces bigger than the individual. So I'll try not to drone on about it too much, but just so you know, my blog postings may have a different edge or flavour to them - albeit obliquely so. 

While taking time out of the day-to-day work and soaking up chemicals of monumental proportions, I'll take on the role of impatient and not patient, person and not victim and accept that I have to live with an uninvited guest*. I'm not interested in battles and winning wars - but rather understanding and making the most of the situation (but maybe there's that naivety again). So - occasional footnotes that will inevitably peter out at some point. But that's the nature of living.

*In future postings there is a high likelihood that I will refer to this uninvited guest as variously - the hitcher or sitting tenant. Bear with me.

Friday, 17 January 2020

a little ray of sunshine. . .

The Festival of Brexit.
As culture continues to be offered up as the answer to all life’s problems, it’s heart-warming to read that the great ape of little England politics has set out his plans for the £122m Festival 2022 - now widely described as the Festival of Brexit. Its director (or is it PR man?) Martin Green comments: “On a very basic level, we are probably due a bit of joy and hope and happiness, and art is really good at that.” OK - we get the gist - art’s really good on a basic level, feeding the masses their quick hit doses of happiness and subduing any potential social disarray.  Yes - “let’s celebrate our insular nationalism as institutions fall apart around us, because the wealthy love art and need more of it to spend their undeserved wealth on*.” Let’s remind ourselves too that the 2012 Olympics cost over £11billion and to which the tax payer contributed over £3billion! As funding cuts to our schools continue and hospitals and social care continue to be in disarray, (despite all those sound bite electioneering promises) we just carry on masking systemic inequalities. You can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be a significant ‘wellbeing’ quota in this festival - and there’ll be a bun fight over funding, but isn’t it more important than ever to really get to grips with those austerity induced factors that undermine people’s health - and whatever ‘wellbeing' might be?

Lime Arts Pop-Up Expo
Lime is excited to be presenting for public display artworks produced during our 2019 ground breaking Artist in Residency Programme at the Central Manchester Hospitals, which included printmaking workshops, ward based printmaking activities, music, film, animation and drawing to engage, support and increase the well-being of NHS staff and patients. NHS staff have enjoying using Lime Art’s new on-site hospital print making studio and also benefited from ward-based workshops with artist/ printmakers in Residence Jacqui Symons, Lisa Clare, Louise Wilde and Collette Whittington and collaborating guest artists and musicians. The programme has involved using the process of printmaking to explore; the nurses experience, reduction of associated stress in patients prior to elective Caesarean, and storytelling to access the imagination for young people accessing long term mental health services.

The exhibition + pop up gallery was officially opened by Manchester Universities NHS Foundation Trust Chairman Kathy Cowell on Monday 20th January 2020 in St Mary’s Hospital Atrium. If you need any more details, just email:

Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change
For those of you who may have missed the earlier posting about this, this is the new masters that I have established at Manchester School of Art (MMU) alongside my colleague Helen Felcey. You can find full details HERE. You can watch the very brief film above to give you a taste!

Dementia & Imagination Impact Questionnaire - we need your help (but no pressure)
We would like to find out what impact the Dementia & Imagination (D&I) project has had on people's understanding of arts for dementia and on their practices in this area. One of the outputs from the project was the 'Yellow Book' (aka "Dementia & Imagination: Research Informed Approaches to Visual Arts Programmes"). We are using this survey to help us find out more about what (if anything) people took away from reading it. If you have read it but not for a while and would like to refresh your memory, please click HERE to remind yourself before returning to this survey. Likewise, if you have not read it but are interested in doing so, please follow the same LINK and read the book before returning to our survey. (If this is the case, you might have to respond to some of our questions more speculatively.) This is the SURVEY LINK.

That little ray of sunshine
(or footnote #3)
Over the last month or so I have found myself unexpectedly inhabiting what Susan Sontag described as the kingdom of the sick. Here's her quote in full - it's still spot on by my thinking: 

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

So as your blogger becomes 'a patient' for some time - these pages may offer an outlet of sorts: please bear with me - as it could cause offence! My first observation from the GP's, clinics and hospitals of my dear little city, is the foul and lazy wallpaper covering of local 'artist' Chas Jacobs. Good god - it's everywhere this stuff. Sentimental idealised fictions of the places I know and which bear no relevance to anything, yet these childish pastiches are consumed hook line and sinker. Does it really offer salve in the waiting rooms of our most worrying moments? I wrote about it some years ago under the pithy title, In Praise of the Ugly Bastard. Subtle eh? You can find it HERE and by scrolling down the page!

More soon(ish).

*Correspondence with an unnamed rogue.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Just breathe...

(...or footnote #2)
What does the apocalypse look like? Watching the unfolding crisis sweeping through Australia and imagining individuals and communities losing all their possessions - losing life - and innumerable animals that share our world - destroyed. It’s a terrible reality - perhaps a consequence - of our industrial times. In Sydney, Mark Mordue describes perfectly, how "our dead future is here". I think about all the flora and fauna - those fragrant eucalyptus and the microscopic life systems of lichen - some will regrow remarkably quickly. But beyond the heat, flame and smoke, those invisible particles that contribute to that even larger global threat, hangs like a heavy pall in my mind.  

High in the damp hills of the north though, I’m embraced by the dank, enveloped by it, the cold sinking deep into my bones, yet even here, I remember not so very long ago, the hills of dry bracken, gorse and heather were ignited over similar moorland on Saddleworth Moor and by an arsonist on Winter Hill. Ninety-six fires in all across our island’s hills last year. They pail into insignificance as I think of Australia and today, fire seems impossible to imagine as the mist sinks lower and I rest-up on a limestone outcrop and soak it all in - the global and individual apocalypse.

For some time I’ve had a taste for soil - not for eating it - but digging around in its mossy, mulch at the base of trees, amongst the roots, skeletal leaves, plump fungi and their seemingly infinite rhizome. My nails get filthy, my hands cold and scratched - but I breathe in the fragrant earth and relish its gritty history - its stories in my hands. I roll an owl pellet between my fingers and undertake a spontaneous autopsy on the tiny fragments of jaw and fur that bind it all together. Tiny, mutual lives. I hold a heavy branch that has been long fallen and its core is darkly hollow, inhabited by multiple things that crawl and grow and all the while, the ruddy faced hunters I’d seen earlier, are firing off shots in the woods, regular cracks punctuating the almost still moment. 

Today, in his reflections on New Year, Stewart Lee writes pithily about stars, satellites, politicians and fox faeces. It’s almost perfect.