Albert Londe, Clinique des Maladies du Système Nerveux, 1889. This photograph is of a cataleptic patient in the midst of a seizure. Her rigid limbs have most likely been posed in this position by the photographer or an attendant. She looks like a dancer without a partner. The capturing of these images was common in European hospitals in the later nineteenth century and they signify a relationship between doctor and patient of domination and passivity, where the patient is reduced to their medical condition. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.
Alexander Morison, The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases, 1838. The epileptic patient above, staring out at the artist, suffered from mania with epilepsy and is pictured in a straightjacket and an oddly thick headband. This item of medical clothing was designed to mitigate head injuries in patients suffering from seizures. The image captures the ambiguities inherent in the relationship between medical technology and humanity. A poignant illustration like this one highlights the very slender but significant differences between intention and experience. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).
A. Cartaz, “Du somnambulisme et du magnétisme à propos du cours du Dr Charcot à la Salpêtrière”, 1879. Research with patients was shot through with problems of power, care and responsibility. Here, the leading French neurologist Charcot examines the relation between seizures and sound (perhaps with the same patient photographed in Image 1). The illustration speaks to the particular gender politics of male physician and female patient and to emerging cultures of bodily display, the latest incarnations of which can be found in the ‘body spectacle’ genre of medical television. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).
M. Lannois, “Dermographisme chez des épileptiques atteints d’helminthiase intestinale”, 1901. Look carefully: the woman pictured has her name scratched into her chest and back. The writing was probably done by her physician. Angeline Donadieu was an epileptic patient at the turn of the twentieth century. She is exemplifying a particular condition known as dermographism – skin that retains the imprint of marks traced onto it. Yet the image speaks most powerfully of the relation between medical and personal identity. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.
D. Younger, The Magnetic and Botanic Family Physician, 1887. Employing cataleptics or epileptics to perform particular medical roles shaded into wider performance in the later nineteenth century. Although this image shows a purportedly “scientific” experiment using mesmerism on a cataleptic subject it appears far more like the stage show of a magician. Regarding seizures as material for popular performance shifted them from the realm of medicine into the public sphere and made them subject to industries of entertainment. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.
Paul Richer, Études cliniques sur l'hystéro-épilepsie ou grande hystérie, 1881. This, and the illustration following, depict attempts by medical artists to provide an illustrative account of an epileptic seizure. The physical, high-speed movements of the body are difficult to capture in a static image. Nevertheless, the artist has managed to give a visually striking picture of the stresses under which the human body contorts. The stark line drawing makes clear how such images are an intertwining of medical and artistic representation. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.
Paul Richer, Études cliniques sur l'hystéro-épilepsie ou grande hystérie, 1881. Richer’s illustrations (in the previous image and here) also defamiliarize our assumptions. The figures are both athletic and balletic but also monstrously deformed and racked with pain. These images depict the wonder as well as the abjection of the material human condition. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.
Gus Cummins, “04”, 2009. Gus Cummins is one among a group of artists with first-hand experience of seizures who use their personal experience to inform their creative practice. Cummins’s artwork is a representation of his body’s movements during a seizure, as tracked by video telemetry. It is strikingly reminiscent of the drawings of Richer; capturing the similar experience of epilepsy across the centuries. © Gus Cummins. Courtesy of the artist. www.ictal.net. Cummins.email@example.com.
Susan Aldworth, “Elisabeth”, 2012, monotype. Drawing inspiration from new medical imaging technologies, some contemporary artists have deepened our understanding of the relation between neurology, the body, and the experience of illness by imagining how seizures function in all three arenas. The artist Susan Aldworth merges images of nerve action in the brain with the shapes of the human skeletal form and the female reproductive system to suggest the extensive anxieties that often accompany neurological disease. © Susan Aldworth. Image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery, London.
Richard Davis, “Tears, Pain and a Troubled Mind…The Definition of Epilepsy”, 2014. Richard Davis is another artist with epilepsy who uses his art both as a form of therapy and as an activity to promote a greater public understanding of seizures and their effects. In paintings like this one, which re-imagines the images produced by brain activity mapping technologies, Davis pictures the seizing brain as a science-fictional labyrinth that disorients and threatens the creativity of the epileptic adventurer. © Richard Davis. Theartistlife@tampabay.rr.com. Courtesy of the artist and Epilepsy Foundation.