The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.(Hedva, 2015, 6)
Breaking the Fall is a collaboration with my mother, Cherrie Beaney. It is an exploration of our practices of care, attending to how illness (in this case, epilepsy) impacts my mother, and how I, in turn am affected. Specifically, the concept of ‘control’ within care arose as a subject with affective resonances for each of us.
In our examination of the subject of control, I was keen to explore how our collaboration could develop to reflect our subjective and inter-subjective perspectives. I considered how cultures of touch could move beyond the distant objectivity of vision (Classen, 2005), offering a method of representing the ‘radical kinship’ present in our mother-daughter relationship.
Cultures of touch presented themselves within our practices of making as my mother set out to create an embodiment of her affective feelings towards my illness. She landed upon the desire to ‘wrap me up in cotton wool’. A metaphor in itself, the tactility of this phrase seemed to lend itself to the production of a wearable artwork. I chose to document on film her creation process. As she worked with the materials, I examined how the various surfaces and textures interacted with the body. Merleau-Ponty (2004) argued: “Our relationship with things is not a distant one: each speaks to our body and to the way we live. They are clothed in human characteristics (whether docile, soft, hostile or resistant) and conversely they dwell within us as emblems of forms of life we either love or hate” (p.63). These ‘forms of life’ dwelling within us informed the creation of the ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ wearable, as my mother repeatedly wove metres of tulle to create a mass of undulating layers that surrounded the central form of the body. The expanse of fabric seemed to reveal the extensiveness of her care as it overwhelmed the body.
Reflecting upon how I could respond to this embodiment of my mother’s politics of care, I chose to integrate my own response into the costume, which related to feelings of being both greatly cared about, but also restricted and controlled because of this. A visual metaphor was created using metal rods to represent feelings of restriction by welding together a cage to be placed over the tulle. I also produced a magnetic cap which attracted small metal discs on wires, suggestive of the EEG test in which electrodes are placed on the head to analyse brain waves in epilepsy. This wearable piece was intended as a gesture towards the intrusion of medical culture within our relationship and my own feelings of being perceived as a medical subject.
Moving from internal processes, to external, wearable works of art, our creations extended embodied, subjective and inter-subjective experiences of illness onto the physical body, manifesting entangled relations of care and control. Designed to reflect hidden narratives of illness, these wearables revealed more than a diagnosis. Contextualised within the familial setting, this collaboration explored how acts of creation could enable the non-verbal body to become articulate in illness and convey personal and social realities of managing long-term illnesses at home, focusing upon aspects of these experiences that may be hidden, or difficult to articulate.
This practice-based research project was documented using experimental film and can be viewed here
Classen, C. (2005) The Book of Touch. Oxford: Berg.
Hedva, J. (2016) ‘Sick Woman Theory’ Available at: http://www.maskmagazine.com/not-again/struggle/sick-woman-theory (Accessed: 5 June 2020).Merleau-Ponty, M. (2004) The World of Perception. London: Routledge.
Emily Beaney is a practice-based PhD researcher at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. She holds an MScR in Interdisciplinary Creative Practices (Distinction) from the University of Edinburgh and a BA (Hons) in Performance Costume Design, also from ECA. She has presented her practice-based research at festivals, conferences and as part of Q & A panels. Previously, the British Council and Creative Scotland have funded collaborative residencies in Brazil exploring feminist practices of embodiment and rhythm. Stellar Quines and Birds of Paradise theatre companies have also commissioned projects exploring the representation of disabled narratives and creatively embedded access.