Can you see Pain?
How can an exploration of facial pain inform our understanding of portraiture and vice versa?
MASK:MIRROR:MEMBRANE is the result of a collaboration with pain specialist Professor Joanna Zakrzewska and facial pain clinicians and patients at UCLH. The images exhibited evolved out of a two-year artist's residency investigating facial pain and the role photographs can play in its communication. It involved co-creating photographic images with patients that reflected their personal experience of pain.
Chronic pain is invisible, complex, and notoriously difficult to communicate via language. With facial pain, difficulties of communication are exacerbated, as the very 'canvas' normally used to express it, is itself in pain. The face becomes either a mask hiding the emotions behind it or a frozen mirror reflecting the projections of others. Difficulties in communicating their experience serve only to increase the isolation, fear and loneliness of sufferers. The work gives visual form to this invisible and subjective experience. With a focus on facial and oral medicine and portraiture, it explores whether images can help us negotiate between different perspectives ' how we perceive and what we project onto 'the other'.
Featuring photographs co-created by Deborah Padfield with patients, the exhibition also includes an original film installation, drawings and photograms resulting from joint workshops with patients and clinicians at the National Portrait Gallery, as well as self-portraits by facial pain sufferers. Context is provided through personal testimonies, medical texts, and artist and patient notes exploring facial pain and the portrait from multiple perspectives.
The project is also developing an image resource in the form of a pack of 'Pain Cards' as an innovative communication tool for use within the NHS. Visitors will have a chance to experiment with the cards and are invited to give their responses to them. The exhibition demonstrates that images can capture aspects of the pain experience difficult to describe in words alone, and elicit new information for both patient and clinician. It explores the means by which aesthetic spaces allow access to other ways of 'knowing' illness.
Two evening events accompanying the exhibition will promote discussion of the issues raised: an Artist's Forum on Thursday 7th July at 4.30pm before the opening, and an interdisciplinary discussion with invited panellists on Thursday 14th July at 6.30pm. Some of the participating patients will be present at both events.