In January 2022 I took part in a 6 week online artist residency programme with In Transit.
During the we took part in a digital accessibility taught programme to help us create more accessible digital work. We also developed new work, uploaded our development process to a digital studio, took part in group critique sessions and attended artist talks and ended the residency with a digital group show.
Below are all my posts from the digital studio during the residency.
Residency project plan and background
January 11, 2022
As one of the resident artists for the In Transit Pilot, Charlie Fitz writes about her residency project plan, gives background information on her research and defines her method of the assisted-self portrait.
Defining the Assisted-Self Portrait
I believe collaborative work honours human vulnerability, interdependence and the need for communities of care. A method of working I term the assisted-self portrait aims to put this idea of collaboration as care into practice. The assisted self-portrait is the vision of the individual being represented, brought into being by the assistance of another. I view this collaboration as both active and passive, the active is the process of creating the piece together with another at the same time, the passive is through recontextualizing archival images or film either from the public domain or with the context of the other artist, but the works are always self-representations. This methodology grew organically between myself and my partner Oscar Vinter as an interdependent disabled partnership. This method not only honours mutual care, but resists silencing and narrative colonisation, as it allows the artist to think critically about how they want to be represented. On my website there are examples of the assisted-self portrait in development.
I recently delivered a work-in-progress video essay titled ‘Resisting the “sick role” through self-portraits’ which explores some of my influences.
For this residency I plan to continue in the digital realm and develop a passively assisted-self portrait experimental film. I will consider using snippets of my written memoir-in-progress, snippets of essays, autobiographical artworks, poetry, short stories, archived personal films and photographs, collages, stock footage and new works I will create during the residency.
Current plan for film:
Although I am open to change I have a current plan for the work I would like to focus on during the residency. Rather than it being a straightforward narrative, I want the film to resist narrative and explore aspects of my embodiment. I currently have four sequences in mind; nerve pain/general pain, anxiety/panic attacks/dissociation, time and the experience of living beyond my own death. The final section would invoke the writings of Maurice Blanchot to reflect on my own preparations for death and then living beyond that.
Below is an example of where I have previously used archive photos of myself by another artist, along with public domain images to create an assisted-self portrait through digital collage. The piece is called ‘It’s all in your head’ and was made alongside my essay ‘It’s All in Your Head – the Dangerous Legacy of the ‘Sick Role”.
January 15, 2022
This week I have begun my filmmaking process. I have started with the pain sequence. To begin with I wanted to focus on my ribs. I have Classical Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which is a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects my entire body. My connective tissue is more fragile, causing issues in my joints, organs, skin, bones, ligaments and so on. In the UK medical departments focus on areas of the body or certain types of connections, metaphorically dismantling the body.
Prior to my diagnosis and even in part now, when I have been a patient in biomedical spaces, these various departments have found looking at my condition holistically difficult. My condition is porous, affecting my entire body, but these departments find it hard to understand a condition which has no interest in how modern medicine has chosen to divide the human anatomy.
As such, it can be objectifying when in these spaces, I am cut up and inspected but rarely seen as a full human being with a condition that is knitted into the fabric of who I am, my very DNA. I am my condition, it’s why I have large eyes and soft skin and also why I have failing organs and a collapsing spine, I experience the world through my body and I am my body.
I want the film to explore this feeling of a dismantled body, so the section on pain will focus on particular parts of the body and how those parts experience pain.
I have started my filmmaking process by focusing on my ribs. My ribs are loose, they move and fold over one another, they slip and they become inflamed. When the cartilage between the ribs becomes inflamed I experience a condition called Costochondritis. It is not a serious condition, but it is extremely painful and is often compared to the feeling of having a heart attack. I have this condition chronically. It feels as though something is filling my chest and expanding and my rib cage is being pushed and ripped apart. It also burns and stings.
I have previously created a digital collage to convey this feeling, as seen below. So I am using this collage as a starting point for the film sequence.
I am using stock footage of swarms of bees and wasps and of chest scans, along with my collage, which I have animated to create the sequence in time with a piece of music composed by my husband in response to the theme of pain.
Alternative text (Alt text) versus image descriptions in art practice
January 20, 2022
Using a screenreader
Alt text is a textual description of a visual image online. It is predominately used by individuals using screen readers to navigate a webpage. As an artist I have always tried to make my alt text as descriptive as possible. In our digital accessibility sessions with Andy for this residency we have learnt more about the user experience (UX) for individuals using screen readers.
With this new knowledge in mind I have learnt that having very long, very detailed alt text may make navigating a web page for someone using a screen reader jarring. However, I still want someone using a screen reader to be able to experience my artwork. So one of the solutions we discussed was having brief alt text and then elsewhere a more detailed visual description accompanying the image.
Practicing Alt text and image descriptions
I have begun practising making succinct alt text and detailed image descriptions using my nerve pain/damage collage as an example.
Alt text – A digital collage representing nerve pain and damage. There is a person at the centre of the image lying in a ball and it appears as though large wires are growing from their spine.
Image descriptions – A digital collage that represents nerve pain and damage. In the foreground is a photo of a person with short blonde hair wearing black trousers and no top. They are learning forwards over their crossed legs, with their arms forwards. The shape of their spine is visible under their skin. Behind them a group of large black wires hangs and is positioned as if the wires are coming out of their spine, the wires go up to the ceiling in a triangular shape, the wall behind is grey. More black wires lie around them on a light grey floor. Parts of the foreground image have been removed and underneath is an enlarged image of tangled colourful wires.
Personal website accessibility audit
January 21, 2022
website accessibility audit
As a sick, disabled and neurodivergent artist who works in new media digital accessibility is extremely important to me. As a low income, sick person with very little energy and no administrative support maintaining digital access best practice is challenging and can feel overwhelming. The access sessions on the residency however have broken down digital accessibility into manageable chunks and helped me to see the areas where I am doing well and the areas where I need to improve.
During the residency and beyond I am beginning a personal website accessibility audit of my artist website. Where I plan to go through at a manageable place and improve my website’s accessibility.
We learnt in a recent session with Andy the importance of correctly coding text on a site to improve the user experience (UX) for individuals using screen readers. With this in mind, I have begun by checking and editing how my headings and text are coded.
As demonstrated in the screenshot image below, previously the whole section of text in the green box was coded as a paragraph, even though it is laid out on the page as two subheadings and two paragraphs. I have now coded all of these headings. The main website title is coded as H1, the title of the specific page is coded as H2 and the two subheadings are coded as H3, whilst the paragraphs are coded as P. Now someone using a screen reader should be able to navigate this page more efficiently.
My own personal audit will take time and is a learning curve, but I will pace, run on Crip Time (see definition below) and be kind to myself throughout this process of improvement.
‘Crip time: A concept arising from disabled experience that addresses the ways that disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent people experience time (and space) differently than able-bodyminded folk. In her essay on Crip Time, Ellen Samuels quotes her friends Alison Kafer, who says that crip times means: “rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”’
Nerve pain mood board & sketches
January 22, 2022
Nerve pain mood board
Below is a rough mood board for the first sequence of my film based around the experience of nerve pain and pain in general.
Image description – The mood board above consists of five images, slightly over lapping one another from top to bottom and left to right there the first image is a scan of a brain from above, next there is a photography of a patients hand with a cannula inserted into it, following that is a vintage illustration of medical devices, following that is a vintage medical illustration of the interior of the side of a neck and finally there is an illustration of bees in a hive.
Nerve Pain sketches
Here are some work-in-progress collages or sketches I have been working on for this sequence in the film.
Image description – Two digital collages side by side on a white background. They both include a medical illustration of a cross section of a head and neck side on, with no skin, so the illustration is a representation of the muscle under the skin. There are small black numbers on each area of muscle. There is a space cut out in the centre of the head in both images. Drawn inside the space on a white background are various winding lines which give the appearance of tangled wires. The image on the right has 8 sewing needles of various sizes stuck into the head, two on the forehead, head on the top of the head, one in the back and two on the bottom close to the back of the neck. The image on the left has multiple needles and safety pins overlapping the image as if stuck in the head. This image also has a semi transparent layer of material with stitches in it over layering the head.
Representing Embodied Experience
January 25, 2022
Point Of View
As part of the residency I have been thinking about how I can create sequences that represent embodied experiences. Today I have been creating point of view audio-visual sequences using an eye blinking effect along with stock and archived footage.
In a recent tutorial one of the curators suggested the importance of sound, so I have also been exploring sound archives and creating soundscapes. Here is a very short sequence using both these methods.
Content warning: this video includes hospital sounds and imagery and is intended to make the watcher feel as though they are a patient
MRI audio-visual sketch
February 1, 2022
As part of my the residency I have been experimenting with archival film and audio, exploring how I can create sequences that represent my experiences of patienthood.
Today I have been exploring the use of incongruous sounds and images. Sound and images that do not naturally go together, as whenever I have had a period of hospitalisation it is usually the sound that is more evocative that the visual imagery.
In this small sketch I am focusing on the sounds of an MRI machine. When you have an MRI there are various sounds for different portions of imaging. I have cut the under water sections of film to attempt to recreate these distinct sections of imaging and sound.
Content warning: this video includes load machinery and medical sounds that could be triggering to someone with sensitivity to sound or a history of medical trauma.
Audio Visual Sensitivity Sketch
February 6, 2022
Content warning: viewer discretion is advised, this video includes flashing images that could trigger photosensitive epilepsy and sounds that may be uncomfortable for those with oral sensitivity.
As part of the nerve pain section of my In Transit artist residency research I wanted to explore my sensory sensitivities. Due to my chronic illnesses, neurodivergence and nerve damage I have become more sensitive to certain sounds, smells and light. When I am experiencing a flare of my conditions certain sounds elicit a unique sort of pain. The sound of people eating is one of these sounds, it has become almost unbearable and I wear ear plugs to help find relief. I would have never understood how severe this really of pain and discomfort could be to an ordinary sound unless I had experienced it, with this clip I am exploring different methods to represent this sensation.
Historically I have always burnt captions into my videos, this is called open captions and they can not be removed. In one of our accessibility sessions with Andy I learnt that closed captions are actually generally more widely accessible than open captions. Closed captions are not burnt into the video, they are a separate file and can be removed, but they can also be adjusted, such as the size, contrast and colour. I have used closed captions for the first time in this video.
As someone with a history of seizures, who suffers from various sensitivities, such as light induced migraines and also complex PTSD I generally try to use thorough content and trigger warnings. In our accessibility sessions we were advised to completely avoid flashing images, as this impedes many people’s access to the content. I think in a commercial setting, when flashing images are not necessary this is best practice but I have been struggling with following this in my artwork.
My artwork aims to represent my experiences of illness and disability to improve the understanding of my lived experience. When using audio-visual representation to communicate certain neurological and sensory pain I do think flashing images are sometimes necessary. I will try to avoid using this technique without a very specific purpose and I will try to challenge myself to find other techniques to represent this experience.
Thoughts on the ‘The Instant Of My Death’
February 7, 2022
Content warning: medical trauma, surgery, suicide
The final sequence I wanted to explore is possibly the hardest to talk about and to represent.
In 2019 I was suffering from a life threatening rare complication of my illness. As there are not many surgeons in the world who can operate on a patient with my complications successfully, I had to fundraise and travel abroad for surgery.
I was advised by my consultant of the risks and to prepare for the worst, so I did. I wrote a statement of wishes in the event of my death. I researched the legalities and logistics of dying abroad. I prepared a folder with all the information my family would need. It included everything they would need to do, all the numbers they would need to call, a step by step guide.
I have never been particularly interested in marriage because of its historical roots in the ownership of people identified as women and also because disabled people and the LGBTQ+ community do not yet have marriage equality in many places. However, I knew from the experience of a close friend, that my long term partner would struggle to get mental health or financial support in the UK if I died and we were not married. I also knew that if I did die, witnessing me get married would be one last good memory for my parents. I knew that writing my step dad’s name on my marriage license would be a good way to honor him as my father.
In many different ways I prepared to die. People often assume that before this surgery I would have been nervous or scared, but the day before, the night before, the minutes before and even the seconds before being put under I was calm. I focused on the people around me. I enjoyed my partner’s company. I watched the doctors with their colour scrub caps floating around from bed to bed as I waited in the pre-op room. I knew I had done everything within my power to prepare and the rest was out of my hands and I felt calm. I was not worried about the future, I was not thinking about all the things I needed to do, I did not feel responsible for anything, I actually can not remember ever feeling that calm before or since.
A photo taken from above of Charlie, a white woman in a hospital bed wearing a blue surgical gown. Her arms are crossed over her torso, her eyes are looking towards the viewer and she is smiling, she looks tired but content.
My surgery was very successful. It was actually the first time this particular surgery had been done on anyone, it was the first time two specific procedures had been done during the same surgery, procedures which are normally separate surgeries.
My surgery went so well that they repeated these 2 procedures in one on a similar patient a few weeks later. This person died either during or shortly after surgery and to my knowledge they now only perform the procedures separately.
In the months following my surgery I was still very ill but I had less pain and more capacity than I had had for years, whilst still only focusing on recovery, I still felt calm, but worries about the future, planning and responsibilities started to creep in. Three months later when I was back in the UK I started to suffer from severe depression and thoughts of suicide. I had worked so hard to find out what was wrong with me, so hard to fundraise, so hard to recover, I had worked so hard to live it made no sense to me why I was frequently feeling like I wanted to stop living. The weight of my responsibilities, the pressure of planning for and worrying about the future had never felt quite so heavy. I was also suffering from complex PTSD, my experiences in western biomedicine a contributing factor to this.
There were many contributing factors to my depression, some situational, some hormonal as I had been put on a medication that induced menopause for three months, which was then stopped because of the severe side effects. But aside from all these factors, that feeling of calmness before surgery kept coming back to me, that feeling of being content. I also felt guilt for the person who did have the worst case scenario, possibly because of my success and a feeling of responsibility to all the people suffering from the same complication, being refused treatment, struggling to fundraise, whether they asked directly for my help or not, I felt like I was being crushed under the weight of responsibility towards others, the anger of the injustice at the heart of this condition and the guilt of surviving when others in my position don’t and won’t.
It is a hard sensation to express. To try and understand this sensation I recently read Maurice Blanchot’s short autobiographical récit, ‘The instant of my death’ in which he recounts in third person, as if talking about someone else how he felt and what he experienced in the moments before he was almost killed by a Nazi firing squad, who let him go at the last minute. The essay ponders that although we can never experience our own death, it is an event that forever evades experience, getting this close to death is the closest we can get to experiencing death, preparing to die is perhaps the closest we can get to experiencing death.
Here are a few quotes from the piece that resonate with me:
‘I know – do I know it – that the one at whom the Germans were already aiming, awaiting but the final order, experienced then a feeling of extraordinary lightness, a sort of beatide (nothing happy, however) – sovereign elation? The encounter of death with death?’ p 5
‘He was perhaps suddenly invincible. Dead – immortal. Perhaps ecstasy. Rather the feeling of compassion for suffering humanity, the happiness of not being immortal or eternal. Henceforth, he was bound to death by a surreptitious friendship.’ p 5
‘At that instant, an abrupt return to the world’ p5
‘No doubt what then began for the young man was the torment of injustice’ p7
I want to try and represent this experience or something of it in an audio visual sequence, but I am currently at a loss of how to do this. I want to try to represent this in my artwork so I can better understand it, as it is an experience that both evades me and affects me.
Stanley the Artist’s Assistant
February 9, 2022
As my artwork often deals with quite heavy and emotionally charged topics, most of my studio updates tend to have a similar tone.
Today, instead of sharing something about my artwork, I wanted to share something about how I work.
I work from home either in my bed or at my desk depending on my pain levels and day to day energy and capacity. I work and live mostly from a bed with the support and care of my partner and with the companionship and emotional support of our little dog Stanley.
My therapist and I have been talking about getting Stanley qualified as an assistant dog.
Introducing Stanley, the artist’s assistant.
February 10, 2022
In our first group crit this week we discussed several aspects to my work-in-progress audiovisual pieces. One of these discussions was about how to represent the final sequence of my audiovisual piece which focuses on the “almost” experience of death. I had been thinking of recording some audio of my thoughts on the topic and some of my previous writing. And one of the tutors suggested choosing to focus either solely on the visual or solely on the audio in this final sequence.
Over the last 2 days I have gone through old notes I have written on my phone, in old documents and even in instagram captions. I have then recorded myself reading them, as well as ad libbing. Some of these notes were quite emotionally triggering to re-read, so yesterday I took a break to edit together a short film about my dog.
I wanted to share one of the notes I found, which I intend to include in some way in my sequence on time. I haven’t edited this note, as I think the long drawn out sentences appropriately represent the anxious state I originally wrote them in.
“I often feel like I am waiting for something to be over. Killing time. And then the day ends and I realise I have done nothing – all the things I need to do – and I have done nothing whilst waiting for this day to end and now I panic, the whole night stretches out before me in a sleepless panic, I am again waiting for something to be over, the sleeplessness, the panic or just the night. And when that ends I realise the whole night has gone by and I haven’t slept, I know if I sleep in the day I won’t sleep in the night again, so I stay awake and all the things I want to get done in the day are put off until tomorrow, because I am too tired to do them. So I once again am waiting for the day to end. And the cycle continues.
I think this is a habit developed from chronic illness. I have so often had such horrific pain or such distressing symptoms that all I can hope to do during that time is find ways to pass time faster and with greater levels of distraction. I am just about surviving in those periods of time and survival is a big enough achievement in the circumstances. But it has become a habitual mode even on days where I could have done something else and there is a feeling, a sense I am waiting, willing time onwards.”
Audiovisual collage and accessibility
February 19, 2022
This week I’ve been trying to bring more of my usual collage aesthetic into audio visual pieces and also thinking about what is the best way to make these as accessible as possible. Whether that’s through written visual descriptions of moving image pieces or through audio description or both.
Next week I would like to practice creating audio descriptions and research the best practice
Below is a still from one of the pieces I have been editing.
February 20, 2022
A screenshot of Adobe Premiere Pro consisting of a timeline with blue, pink and purple shapes and a green wave form at the bottom. Above in the top right is a playback box which shows a cut out of a painting of a woman placed in an image of a waiting room.
Today I have been continuing with one of my audiovisual pieces, by adding static cut out collage elements to moving film images. I love the look of unusual collage elements added to film but, find it quite a frustrating process as it is incredibly time consuming because the position of the element has to be edited frame by frame. And as well as being time consuming it’s quite hard on my shoulder/elbow/wrist and finger joints which have been very painful today due to my chronic illness, Classical Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (cEDS).
Since our first accessibility session with Andy for this residency I have been wondering if there is an assistive device that could make this process less painful, perhaps a different type of mouse?
February 22, 2022
As an artist who didn’t go to art school I often undervalue myself. There are some key areas when it comes to the professional side of the arts world that I have missed out on as a self-taught artist. Through the guidance from the tutors on this residency, through collaborating with other artists, through skill sharing in my art practice group TRIAD³ and through asking the advice of curators I am working with on future exhibitions I am beginning to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
These gaps in professional arts knowledge are things like; what to include in an artist cv, biography and statement, how to price my work, creating artwork sale contracts and what my rates as an arts practitioner should be.
In a recent group crit we discussed feeling like imposters in the art world. I often feel like an imposter because I didn’t go to art school, because I’m sick so don’t produce as much work or because sickness has put a strain on my career development. And this feeling of being an imposter contributes to the amount I undervalue myself in these spaces.
I have been re-writing my artist bio today following the advice of Celina and after reading my new artist bio I was surprised by the amount of things I have actually done and been involved with as an artist and arts practitioner.
Thinking about the medicalisation of the home space
February 23, 2022
This week I have been thinking about the medicalisation of the home space when you are chronically ill. The AI technology on google photo is incredibly accurate when recognising faces, places, objects, animals, typical spaces and so on. But when I search “hospital” photos of me in hospital and photos of me at home in bed come up. I have assistive devices such as bed tables, ipad stands and medical devices in this space and my phone’s AI technology recognises this as a medical space.
I have been thinking about this in relation to thinker Foucault’s concept of heterotopias which I will explore further in another studio post.
Content warning: the image below shows images of someone in hospital.
During the residency I completed 3 short audio-visual works in a project called The Assisted-Self which were exhibited in the group show.