Pain (working title)

A moving image work scrutinising historical depictions and contemporary understandings of women’s pain. To do so, I engage with the displacement and erasure of women's bodies in medicine, examining archival material, medical spaces and practices, depictions of medicine in the media and popular culture, and through conversations with other women.

Continuing on from Body of Water (2018), a film that turns the lens upon myself to examine the violation of bodily integrity and self-determination inflicted by medical procedures and social norms, the objective of this new work is to rewrite histories of women’s (ill)health by harnessing women’s own testimony. My research is situated in the following themes: representation of women as unreliable narrators and inacurrate witnesses; embodiment of historical, political and cultural narratives in spaces and on bodies; objectification of women's’ bodies in medical institutions.

I propose to intervene into the dominance of objectivity in medical discourse with ‘less reliable’ subjective experience. I wish to interrogate the construction of knowledge in medicine and how medical practice is informed by (and informs) cultural norms, behaviours and assumptions. Exploring the nuances and complexities of women’s experiences as both physicians and patients (and the intersection between the two), I want to create space for women’s voices: bringing to the fore a multitude of unseen narratives and bodies, supporting their agency and integrity.

Research for the work is happening in parallel: ongoing informal conversations with women to gather testimony, stories, and shared shorthands; delving through archival material held at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons; and rewatching my favourite medical TV dramas. All this material will come together to form the body of the work, both visually and the voiceover script. Utilising the techniques and tropes of documentary to look back at past failures and problematise contemporary practices and depictions, the work will engage with a multitude of representations, manipulations and incarnations of women as ‘hysterical’ and unreliable witnesses of their own bodies and experiences. The outcome will be a work that draws into dialogue women’s voices with a variety of imagery, material and spaces that embody the prevailing presumption of the neutral ‘healthy’ body as white, straight and male.

The work will offer up ethical and political (and undoubtedly contradictory) interpretations of women’s bodies as ‘out of place’ in medicine and the biosciences, and in doing so question whose voice gets to speak, and whose words are heard, as part of the unpicking of this web of stories and histories, ethics and practices. This layered approach will be throughout the film, both visually and audibly. The edit will be playful with when sound, voice and visual material align, allowing for both sequential and non-linear timelines to form as the themes and questions build and recur. The intention is to produce a moving image work that does not provide straightforward conclusions, avoiding the reinforcement of a binary that places medicine as a homogeneous entity as ‘bad’ and patients as collective ‘victims’, but an attempt to depict the more complex and nuanced nature of the network of medicine, policy and politics in which people and bodies exist and function.

The following events will support the research and development of this new work:

August 2019: Experimental Film and Artists Moving Image Residency, Cove Park

November 2019: Tell me, how do I feel? Screening of works from the LUX and Cinenova collections, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow

Image: diagram of a pelvic examination from Our Bodies, Ourselves, 1979


Image: Christina Yang in TV medical drama Grey's Anatomy

Using Format