Institute of Genetics and Cancer

BODYSCAPE - Living with disease through art and science

A patient engagement Sci-Art event: May 2019

Bodyscape event group photograph

On a sunny spring afternoon on Saturday 11 May, 5 artists and 5 researchers came together with members of the public who have experience of varied health conditions, within the Grassmarket Community Centre to collaborate in a four-hour long Sci-Art event.

This patient engagement event was created by Lana Woolford, an OPTIMA combined masters and PhD programme student at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre within the MRC IGMM. Lana is a medical physicist, graphic designer and award-winning animator, who is passionate about using the arts to help bring researchers and the public together. Lana secured funding for this event from the MRC 'Engagement in Science Activities' Seed Fund and the Festival of Creative Learning, University of Edinburgh.

The aim of this event was to provide an opportunity to start conversations about current research on health conditions with patients, survivors, friends, family, carers, and to make art in response.

Lana recruited five local artists - Hans Clausen and Renate Kriegler Edwards - two clay sculptors; a watercolour artist Yuanhong Chang; an acrylic artist Catherine Street and a comic book artist, Axe Marnie. They each delivered workshops sharing, their techniques so that everyone attending could get creative and explore artistic practice regardless of experience.

Hans Clausen is a sculptor who has a long-standing interest in the relationship between art, science and health. Hans encouraged everyone to create designs on clay tiles that formed moulds for plaster casting to create bas relief panels. Renate Kriegler Edwards is a jewellery designer and 3D CAD modeller. As a cancer survivor, artist and dialogue enthusiast, she shared clay and wax modelling techniques to help people to discover their own creativity.

Yuanhong Chang is a watercolourist and she demonstrated the medium by creating life drawings of a volunteer, Amy Weldon. Participants aimed to capture Amy’s face using simple brush strokes and experimented combining vibrant colours to make subtle portraits, where mistakes could be easily fixed and different artistic visions were created of that same person. Catherine Street is a painter who uses acrylic, watercolour and pen to create colourful and light-hearted abstract images, loosely based on plant-like forms, who also has a chronic health condition. Catherine encouraged participants to create their own work and a group piece using a layering process, creating networks of dots, spots and splashes, building pieces of work together.

Axe Marnie is a comic book artist, specialising in the use of comics as a journaling tool. She encouraged everyone to create short 3 or 6 panel comic strips as quickly as possible, including the use of stickers by anyone who wasn’t keen to draw, to demonstrate how accessible comics are to read and create.

Once everyone had tried all of the creative techniques, five discussion groups formed, where the five researchers described their work and everyone was encouraged to talk and share stories, reflections and ideas.

Dr Tracy Ballinger is a Bioinformaticist from the MRC IGMM who is looking into structural variants in different cancers. Thomas Parry is a PhD student in Precision Medicine from the MRC IGMM. Tom investigates how the tumour microenvironment and immune system change over the course of chemotherapy treatment. Anne Seeboth is a PhD student in Precision Medicine from the MRC IGMM. She is studying age-related changes in DNA, implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

Adrian Garcia-Burgos is a PhD student in Biophysics looking at pancreatic islets in diabetes. He is based at Heriot Watt University but his research project is multi-centre and he also works with Dr Shareen Forbes, QMRI in the University of Edinburgh. Dr Sarah Jaekel is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), University of Edinburgh and a Neuroscientist studying Multiple Sclerosis.

During the last hour of the workshop, each participant chose one of the creative mediums and supported by that artist, focused on creating one piece of work, while continuing to have stimulating conversations – sharing differing perspectives and insights.

Numerous pieces of artwork were created and a selection of these will be exhibited in healthcare and university spaces so that current patients, visitors and medical staff can see this work and hopefully carry on the conversations.

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Bodyscape event collage