Read, Watch and Listen

Picturing Seizures 1

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.

Picturing Seizures 2

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.

Digital Variations

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.angus@gmail.com

Body and Mind

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.

The Influence of Technology

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. 

Institutional Fear

James Leahy, “Fear of it All”, 2011. James Leahy’s self-portrait, a winner in a photographic competition titled “Epilepsy Without Words”, overlays a photographic image of himself with the CT scan of his brain and with various medical documents to give a palimpsest that represents his own pathologized experience of epilepsy and its treatment. Leahy’s is one striking example of the kind of vibrant and creative self-expression in images that is being encouraged within contemporary healthcare. © International Bureau for Epilepsy. Reproduced with kind permission of the IBE.

National Healthcare deconstructed

Saber, “Healthcare Reform Flag”, 2010. Certain responses to the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure conditions within institutional healthcare settings have been compellingly forthright. The Los Angeles graffiti artist Saber found himself the centre of media attention when he defaced an American flag to articulate his own frustration and disgust at the poor medical care and support for epileptics in America, of which he has personal experience. Saber’s flag has no direct representation of the epileptic experience; but the parallels with much more radical anti-American sentiment, usually expressed in flag burning, gives it extraordinary and controversial power. © Saber. Courtesy of the artist. 

Therapeutic Commercialism

Karen Brown, Jeanine Gourong, Helen Hankins, Jonathan Klinger & Louise Wadsworth, “British Wildlife (Deer)”, 2015. Medicine has always functioned as commerce as well as science (or art). ARTHOUSE Meath provides an unusual kind of commercial healthcare venture. Their residential artists, all patients with epilepsy, produce and sell the products of their artistic labour to fund future services: a new form of medicine that is both entrepreneurial and an ethics of care. © ARTHOUSE Meath group collaboration. Courtesy of ARTHOUSE Meath.