“Live the questions now: control, connectedness and making conceptual art”

In their fourth year, students at Exeter Medical School undertake a Medical Humanities Longitudinal Special Studies Unit. In 2018/19 I am one of a number of SSU Providers, running contact sessions to a group of students during three weeks in October, December and March, providing additional guidance where required, and supporting the SSU conference in June. Put like that, it sounds dry. In reality it has been a great joy.

About the Medical Humanities unit: from the Handbook

“The Medical Humanities Longitudinal (MHL) SSU gives students an opportunity to investigate the humane, creative and/or contested aspects of medicine. Students choose to work with one of a range of SSU Providers offering projects in the arts and humanities. They will thus have the opportunity to widen their horizons and experience a diversity of interpretive frameworks that will complement the biomedical model of human illness and bring wider relevant learning to the study of medicine.

“Medical Humanities Longitudinal SSUs can also offer an opportunity for students to develop wider professional skills and resilience that will be of benefit in the clinical environment. The concept of Medical Humanities is interpreted broadly, to include fine and performing arts, literature, music and drama, as well as philosophy (ethics, philosophy of science/medicine), history of medicine, sociology of health, medical anthropology, medicine studies etc. In this way the study of humanities will provide the background from which health carers will integrate an understanding of the artistic and humane aspects of medicine within their clinical practice.”

“Live the questions now: control, connectedness and making conceptual art”

Description of my unit

Art is involved in addressing the big questions of meaning, value, and purpose: “what is the good life? a healthy life?”

Human beings are not separate and surrounded by ‘the environment’, but are intimately connected with the rest of nature. Both our physical and mental health are affected by nature (eg excess winter mortality, access to green space), and our activities affect nature in turn (eg climate change). So who is in control? We have to accept uncertainty, and rethink what we thought we knew about ourselves and our place in the world.

This SSU will give an introduction to conceptual and environmental art, using my recent data-driven environmental art and others’ work as examples. We will look at meaning-making, how we turn ideas into art, and then we will make art.

Participants will be expected to be prepared to question everything, and produce work that will provoke thought!

What the students produced

I was really impressed with the students’ engagement throughout the unit and the art work that they produced. During the third week in March, the group session took the form of an exhibition/exam, in which we critiqued and discussed each work and the process in turn. We finished with breaking out the non-alcoholic sparkly and nibbles, and a short private viewing with guests. Kaleider very kindly hosted us in their big Studio 1 space.

The work appeared alongside all the other groups at the end-of-year conference on 10 June. The response of the other students and tutors was really positive. From June to October 2019, it is on display in the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health on Exeter University’s Streatham Campus.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger image. Photo credits: Aurimas Kudzinskas. Please get in touch if you are interested in a mini-exhibition of the work.