On 6th August 2013, on a bright, August evening, I took part in the launch of Frissure, a book collaboration between the writer Kathleen Jamie and the artist Brigid Collins. CMH had been involved from the very early stages in this project as Kathleen spent some weeks with us as a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study In Durham in early 2012 and talked of her joint work with Brigid. We invited Brigid to join her in presenting a seminar on this work and the idea of the book was born. With the support of a grant from the Wellcome Trust and from the IAS, the book has now been published by Birlinn .
Frissure is an exquisite collection of images and words connected and interconnected that reflect upon the scarring of the body through surgery. By means of the creative vision of the artist taking inspiration from nature the book refashions the scar into something beautiful and transformative. The book launch took place alongside Brigid’s exhibition, Thisness, part of the 2013 Pittenween Arts Festival, in a fantastic location right next to the seawall of the harbour. Don’t delay in getting hold of a copy of this wonderful book as it has been published in a limited edition. At £15 it is a considerable bargain!
Image of the Artists and Jane Macnaughton
This is a book about seeing and being seen; about looking at being looked at. It is an intimate book, where the private process of looking and seeing passes from one person looking at herself, to being seen or ‘examined’ by a surgeon, to being looked at by an artist. In each situation a transformation occurs. The gaze of the patient on her own body is objectified by that of the surgeon assessing the success of his work. But then the creative looking of the artist takes over and what has been regarded as a mark of disease and of violation takes on an extraordinary flowering, and becomes a thing of beauty. In that process what was hidden can now be seen, but it is transfigured. The surgical scar becomes a fissure bathed in light illuminating the way through to a new way of seeing.
We are extraordinarily fortunate to have been part of the process of opening out this very intimate process to public view. Kathleen Jamie’s work has strong connections with our work in the medical humanities not just because of her forays into medical subjects, but also because her writing, through the acuteness of its observation, enables the reader to be surprised about everyday things, and to see things anew. To be able to look with a fresh eye is a crucial skill for medical practitioners, but it can also be transformative for patients and for all those whom illness and medicine touch.
On her second stay with us at the Centre for Medical Humanities while on a Fellowship at Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study Kathleen spoke of her conversations and explorations with Brigid Collins. We were captivated by the idea that Kathleen’s process of recovery from mastectomy might be facilitated by having her scar explored by the pen of an artist, and by her reflections on how that ‘felt’ in comparison to having the scar examined by her surgeon. Her thoughts were presented alongside Brigid’s initial illustrations at an invited seminar as part of the Centre for Medical Humanities’ theme, ‘The Recovery of Beauty’, and the idea of a book was born. The project spoke to our own work on understanding embodied experience, exemplifying how new imaginative perspectives can transform attitudes to the body, illness, medicine and health, and chiming in a unique way with our consideration of the meanings and possibilities of beauty.
It is integral to experiencing this work that the exchange happens in the intimate space between page and reader, rather than in the more public space of an exhibition or talk. This book manifests the care with which Brigid looked and Kathleen was seen. We hope that readers will recognise that care, whatever their own experience of illness and recovery, and themselves be transformed by the beauty and hope that these images represent.
Two images from Frissure: