Socially engaged art practice

The Body Recover Unit, A Whisk in Your Head?, a relaxation exercise created by and for working midwives, voice over by Toyin Adeyinka.

A key part of my practice is to develop new socially engaged formats where the artistic forms provides a space or collective process for critical reflection and action. Recently, my practice have focussed on developing work within or in response to healthcare governance, policy, and commissioning practices.Going beyond the idea of art as a decoration within hospitals, my practice examines the relations of power that is produced through concepts of health and body in healthcare institutions by taking both their administrative systems, practical contexts of care, and the healthcare system as the workers environment as sites of artistic practice.

I draw on the histories of self-organising, labour aesthetics, and feminist concerns within public art, and socially engaged practice. Often, the work I engage in making is produced through collaborative identities, such as The Body Recovery Unit created and run by Loes Bogers and myself, the art practitioner Cliff Hammett, and the tech activist collective Autonomous Tech Fetish which was located in the Common House London between 2013-2016. The questions of the practice is therefore often collectively defined, or if not directly, defined through the working processes that the collective allow.

In the same way that feminist and anti-racist practices defined community spaces, homes and reproductive bodies as sites of art-making, groups such as Artist Placement Agency, Art and Language, and YoHa’s (Matsuko Yokojoji & Graham Harwood) have developed a space for artists to work on the inside of public institutions and offices to probe and critique bureaucratic forms of power. YoHa frames their practice as a public enquiry, where they use their artistic practice to explore the technical infrastructures of public database as a site of social concern, and as such frame the role that new technologies play in contemporary forms of social discipline and control.

In my recent collaborative work, I examine specifically how feminist artistic practice can intervene into new forms of ‘data-driven’ healthcare governance that presents itself as technically neutral, by focusing on mapping the often invisible rules that come to define reproductive bodies and their worth through technical structures. Equally, I explore how to develop the artistic practice within or response to the context of healthcare and its governance, by producing context and body-specific artworks. Projects include:

The National Catalogue of Savings Opportunities (2017) is a spoof savings catalogue developed by the Body Recovery Unit. The project explores how the rise in ‘intelligent’ cost-optimisation tools in healthcare governance such as the “Where to Look Packs” produced by NHS RightCare, impacts on the view of pregnant women’s bodies and behaviours. The booklet is designed to connect people with their data and intended for the waiting room at the antenatal clinic, so expecting women can look up what part of their body is the most cost saving to the NHS (National Healthcare Service).

“Nappy Printing & Healthcare Cutting” (2017), is a workshop exploring the potential of tactile and ‘imprecise’ visualisation techniques, this workshop introduces artistic with tools that allow us to look ‘underneath’ the language of healthcare by enlarging the most used words used in current maternity policies using DIY printing. By giving space and material to the words that come to define care in a contemporary care ecology, the workshop encourage a critical considerations of such words and their implications for women receiving care, and a imagination of what words are missing.

A Whisk In Your Head” (2018) is a collaborative project by the Body Recovery Unit with Loes Bogers and voice over by healthcare activist and organiser Toyin Adeyinka.  The work addresses the healthcare system from the perspective of its workers through a audio work developed with and for working midwives in the form of a relaxation exercise. The relaxation exercise is based on midwives’ testimonies of their embodied experiences of midwifery work and those experiences’ location within the body. Showcased at Lewisham maternity ward midwife well-being days in 2018 and 2019 with the support of Maternity Voices Partnership.

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