Look200 Artist’s Day

Look200 Artist’s Day
22nd October
10am-3pm Manchester Museum/ Manchester Royal Eye Hospital

Artists/creative practitioners are invited to spend a day exploring the concept of delivering art practice as ‘Arts for Health’. Join artist Lucy Burscough as she nears the end of her Look200 arts for health/science engagement residency at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital to spend a day exploring the ideas and process involved in delivering arts for health projects in the NHS and art as scientific engagement.
The day will act as a networking event with opportunities to meet museum/gallery engagement professionals, hospital commissioners and scientists. There will be practical elements and lots of opportunities to learn more about innovative approaches to Arts for Health provision in Manchester. A free Arts Council England funded event with limited places. Please be aware that there will be some walking between venues involved. If you have mobility problems please let Lucy know beforehand. Contact Lucy@Look200.org to sign up.

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A Summer of Painting!

Painting in the Royal Manchester Eye Hospital has proved to be an absolute pleasure. With so many interesting patients to meet, supportive staff offering no end of encouragement and having learnt so much more about vision and the history of scientific research in Manchester in conversations sparked off  by the paintings, as far as I am concerned the project is a sure fire success before the paintings are even finished!

The breadth of conversations have covered the Manchester blitz, colour-blind electricians, the history of painting in Islamic cultures, the practical techniques of coping with low vision, the camouflage techniques of WW2, the funding of clinical research, techniques of water-colour painting,  and a hundred “You missed a bit”s! Every day tens of patients and staff have stopped to talk about the work, engage with the ideas behind it and add to my own understanding of the project. And all the while the brushes are getting shorter and the paint tubes squeezed!

Here are a few pictures of  the work as it has progressed.

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Painting Joana Vasconcelos at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital

February 13th: I woke up thinking about how I would need a subject to start working on the portraits at the eye hospital. The first portraits would explore colour-blindness that was decided, but I needed someone to be the first sitter. I had planned to find my subjects, primarily patients and staff at the hospital, by being there and painting in the hospital’s public spaces: the subjects would almost choose themselves once I got going! But I needed a starting point.

‘It would be good to start with an artist perhaps, someone who is all about vision, someone who deals in colour,’ I thought. Joana Vasconcelos! OF COURSE! I had followed her work for a number of years and her use of colour within her sculptures (and her use of crochet) had always appealed to me. And she was opening an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery the next day! I sent out a few pleading emails and three hours later was gatecrashing Joana’s press launch. It was such an honour to tour the exhibition with the artist herself and get an insight into the pieces on display. You can see more about the exhibition here. As you can see in this photo of Vasconcelos’s ‘Lilicoptère’ (the artist’s vision of what Marie Antoinette would be travelling in, if she were alive today), her use of colour could be used to great effect to describe how people with colour-blindness see the world.

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The photo has been altered (using the brilliant CV Simulator app) to describe “Normal Color Vision”(C), and the different types of colour vision deficiencies: “Protanope”(P) known loosely as red color blindness , “Deuteranope”(D) known as green colour blindness and “Tritanope”(T) the very rare condition also known as blue colour-blindness.

After a very long day of talking to journalists Joana was kind enough to pose for some photographs and agree to be part of Look200! I chose to photograph Joana with her sculpture, an enormous multi-coloured crocheted breast entitled ‘Big Boobie #2’. It is the perfect piece as it contains so many shades of yarn!

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Since then I have spent lots of time working in the atrium of Manchester Royal Eye Hospital painting an image of Joanna Vasconcelos with her Big Boobie. It has been a real pleasure chatting to staff, patients and visitors about colour-blindness, John dalton and the part Manchester plays in furthering scientific breakthroughs in worldwide understanding of vision.

Here are some images of the work in progress. The image is primarily painted in the full spectrum that people with standard vision can see, with an area that describes how someone with a red or green colour-blindness would perceive the same range of colours.

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John Dalton at The John Rylands Library

Well, Look200 is well and truly underway with lots of meetings happening and some exciting developments afoot regarding the exhibition phase (more about that in due course!). So far I’ve been getting some nuts and bolts in place and working on developing the ideas behind the paintings. One important element to this stage is delving into John Dalton’s research into optics.

The John Rylands Library
The John Rylands Library

I have spent today at The John Rylands Library, one of Manchester’s architectural and cultural treasures, where I was fortunate enough to be able to look at some of their collection of Dalton’s original manuscripts. My first stop however had to be the first floor exhibition space where, on loan from the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, are John Dalton’s eyes!

John Dalton's Eyes, left to science.
John Dalton’s Eyes, left to science.

Left to science so that subsequent generations might explore his colour-blindness, Dalton could have never foreseen that it would be in 1995 that, using DNA testing of the eye tissue, he would eventually be definitively diagnosed as suffering from deuteranopia, the form of colour-blindness that manifests as an insensitivity to green.

The rest of the morning was spent with A. L. Smyth’s incredible book, John Dalton 1766-1844 : A Bibliography of Works By Him. If at first it appeared to be a little dry, it turned out to be a revelation. It must have taken Smyth so long to research! It is a not only a bibliography of all Dalton’s writings, it is also a list of all the original manuscripts that exist and their locations, the lectures he delivered, his correspondence, together with publications and scientific papers about John Dalton, paintings and sculptures that were made of him, even TV programmes that featured him (no idea how I will get to see a 1975 edition of Tomorrow’s World though!).

The tragedy that became more and tangible as I went through Smyth’s book was the disastrous bombing, during the 1940 blitz, of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society building at 36 George Street. The Lit and Phil as it is known, has been a part of Manchester’s academic life since it’s opening in 1781. Dalton was a dedicated member of the society and it was in the building that had been the society’s home for 141 years, that, during ww2, a huge amount of his papers and effects were destroyed by the bombing and subsequent fire.               (I’ll be posting more about the Lit and Phil soon.)

Some manuscripts did survive to find a new home at The John Rylands and it was these, and particularly the lecture notes on optics, that I was most interested in seeing. They were brought out in a huge black port-folio and on opening it up I found some of the papers were slightly charred which was really quite poignant. Imagine how the Lit and Phil members, and indeed the whole of Manchester felt the day after the calamitous fire, and whoever spent time going through the debris picking out these few remaining treasures- the heartbreak! However, once I started reading  it was easy  to drift back in time past the adversities of the twentieth century and on to the thrill of scientific discovery that characterises Dalton’s Manchester at the turn of the 19th century.

An image taken from AL Smythe's book. One of the manuscripts I viewed, 'Structure of the Human Eye'
An image taken from AL Smythe’s book. One of the manuscripts I viewed,
‘Structure of the Human Eye’

His drawings were beautifully rendered and the passages that appeared in a copperplate style were so precise it was difficult to believe that they were hand written. The first text I read was thrilling:

“Amidst the multiplicity of objects which engage the attention of modern philosophers there is none more curious, more sublime and more interesting than that of optics, or the science relating to visions, light and colours”. 

My thoughts exactly!

It was great to turn the page and find that John Dalton, like most us, could only keep up the show of neat writing for so long and, as his thoughts obviously ran away with him, the text quickly descended into a virtually indecipherable scrawl. I returned the papers and booked another day with them. I’m really looking forward to discovering the hidden treasures that no doubt lay within the scribbles!