I presented this project at “Encountering Pain” Conference UCL, July 2016. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/encountering-pain
"Pulling focus: from pain to play". Clare Plumley MA.
Is it possible to encourage interference, disrupt a faulty pain system and extend sensory experience via visual language/immersive environments? How might we challenge the perception and experience of pain though play, shift the focus to sensation? I have a chronic pain condition and as a result of this have developed heightened sensory responses to my environs and to my internal physiological activity. Instead of trying to block pain as it arrives I have learned to go into it, explore it's fluctuations, challenge any sense that it might be fixed. I use sound, shape, texture to transform the experience of pain into sensation, it's an internal sensory system, like a sort of self-taught synesthesia.
I presented a paper entitled: “Brain in Pain: body mapping, pain visualisation and mapping the invisible’ at a research workshop at ‘Electronic Visualisation in the Arts’ Conference in London in July 2014.(1) During my presentation http://www.slideshare.net/clareplumley/brain-in-pain (2) I talked about the signalling system of a brain in pain, 'brain and pain maps', ideas of induced synesthesia and brain plasticity. I wondered whether we might explore the idea of sensory orchestration, neuroplasticity and the phantom or virtual body to patients through the use of technology and looked at the work of artists who are using technology to explore different models of embodiment.
My current focus is autoethnography, I have started to produce artwork based on my experience of re-processing pain signals, am investigating the qualitative and experiential nature of pulling focus from pain to sensation. “My Internal Shazam” is a piece referencing the Shazam app, which creates an acoustic fingerprint of a song which it then identifies. I have taken the moving graphic and substituted a series of patterns and textures developed from drawings of my own physiological response to a piece of music. This was my first investigation into how I might represent the body as a resonating chamber, as a space in itself for play. It's a personal study of physiological and emotional responses to external stimuli, of the relationship between sound, shape, sensation. These images are super-imposed onto an electro-therapeutics image from 1910, referencing the electrical signalling of our pain systems and experimental approaches to the treatment of pain. The geometric shapes represent the felt experience of pain, for me, when processed through the filter of music, the shapes break, up, dissolve, fade in and out as both pain and music amplifies or attenuates.
“Razor to Ribbon” is an illustration of visualisation techniques I use which morph one material and image into another to attenuate pain. “Pain Geometry” sees me simultaneously go into a sensation and drift back out into the world, this is where I momentarily disappear by transforming pain into a series of shapes which slowly dissolve into sound, music, vibration. The experience of pain is a constant push pull process, one in flux. Through this work I hope to illustrate the subjective experience of the 'plastic' self, explore pain perception and the potential for different body schemas or models to emerge, and ultimately to see how I might model that within technological environs.
I'm also exploring drawing and monoprint to describe the felt sense and hope to workshop this with others in pain to develop a visual language to build into potential learning resources. The sketches below reference a bed of nails, barbed wire and interference which I've layered up and made into repeat patterns in order to dilute their impact, this is pretty much how I process pain signals and imagery as it arises. There's also a sketch of my mate Gary, I asked him what his pain looked like, he drew a shape which I then worked up as a repeat pattern, presented as wallpaper. Pain often means entrapment within a domestic space, comfort morphs into discomfort and back again. My challenge is to look at how might we represent that experience.
I'm interested in how we can ensure patients voices and experiences are included in design for health, in co-design and where subjective patient reporting might reside within the ever expanding 'quantified self' movement. I'm hoping that the work I'm doing might in time develop so that it can be fed into broader discussions about technology, perception, embodiment, health and methods for self-report.