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Visualising the conditions and experiences of seizures

This gallery exhibits a series of images that illustrate seizure-related illnesses such as epilepsy and catalepsy. The images, in different media, cover the period from the early nineteenth century to the present day. The exhibition shows how different forms and practices of image-making contribute to our understanding of medicine and especially the complex relationship between the medical profession, illness, the patient and their support networks. Beginning with images that depict seizure patients as objects of scientific scrutiny the exhibition proceeds to show the emergence of resistance to medical authority. By the later twentieth century, artworks produced by people with epilepsy offer new experiential understandings of seizures as well as therapeutic benefit. Such images, as the exhibition concludes, also take their place in the medical marketplace in the hope of offering an ethical form of medical consumption. These images – both trans-national and trans-historical – are brought together here for the first time to offer a new, original interpretation of the communication and reception of seizure conditions across time and place.

These images also illuminate perspectives on the medical humanities: a relatively recent disciplinary hybrid that has become increasingly influential over the last decade. Its emergence, especially in the UK, has coincided with the ten years of the AHRC and has been supported by a number of AHRC initiatives. In the main, medical humanities has been text-based and practice-focussed. Medical humanities scholars are now seeking to find alternative modes of expression that articulate different relationships between medicine and culture. The visual image is a powerful tool in this new research, offering both immediate and lasting insight into modern and historical medicine.

The focus here on seizure images is a result of an ongoing research project led by Professor Martin Willis at Cardiff University in collaboration with Professor Laurence Talairach-Vielmas at the University of Toulouse and given initial funding by the University of Westminster. This research has sought to understand seizure diseases in contexts beyond their biological effects; particularly in their different political and historical modalities. The images presented here were curated by Martin Willis and Rebecca Spear, the project’s research assistant who is completing a PhD at Cardiff University.

Particular thanks to ARTHOUSE Meath, Gus Cummins, Heidi Meireles at the Epilepsy Foundation, the International Bureau for Epilepsy, James Leahy, Richard Davis, Saber, and Susan Aldworth. Thanks also to the students from the Medical Fictions module in Cardiff’s School of English, whose contributions made a material difference to the gallery presented here.

  • Image of The Melancholy Cataleptic
    The Melancholy Cataleptic about The Melancholy Cataleptic
  • Image of Peculiarities of Safety
    Peculiarities of Safety about Peculiarities of Safety
  • Image of Ethics of Research
    Ethics of Research about Ethics of Research
  • Image of My Name is Angeline
    My Name is Angeline about My Name is Angeline
  • Image of Seizures in Performance
    Seizures in Performance about Seizures in Performance
  • Image of Picturing Seizures 1
    Picturing Seizures 1 about Picturing Seizures 1
  • Image of Picturing Seizures 2
    Picturing Seizures 2 about Picturing Seizures 2
  • Image of Digital Variations
    Digital Variations about Digital Variations
  • Image of Body and Mind
    Body and Mind about Body and Mind
  • Image of The Influence of Technology
    The Influence of Technology about The Influence of Technology
  • Image of Institutional Fear
    Institutional Fear about Institutional Fear
  • Image of National Healthcare deconstructed
    National Healthcare deconstructed about National Healthcare deconstructed
  • Image of Therapeutic Commercialism
    Therapeutic Commercialism about Therapeutic Commercialism