Making, Materials and Recovery: Perspectives "from the inside" 
Amanda Ravetz (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Emilia Ferraro (University of St. Andrews)
SOAS Senate House - S113
Saturday 2 June, 9:00-10:30, 11:00-12:30, 13:30-15:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Research about Art and Health straddles many fields and topics, but presents 2 gaps: artistic research; and first-hand perspectives on sickness and recovery. We invite experiential and/or practice-led perspectives on making, materials and recovery, exploring the "insider's" perspective.

Long Abstract

Research about Art and Health straddles many fields and topics. However, related literature presents two issues: an over-attention to evaluation, which is argueably detrimental to artistic research in arts and health; and a lack of first-hand experiential perspectives on sickness and recovery.

The panel explores recovery as a process of (mutual) learning, where art making and recovery translate into new forms of practice and knowledge. Having worked on wellbeing practice and theory, we now wish to gather personal experiences of art and recovery to question the importance of an "insider's" perspective.

We are interested in: the nature of the knowledge and practice generated by an experience of sickness and recovery; the role making/art play in new forms of knowledge and practice. How such knowledge changes the nature of academic knowledge? How it shifts our conception of knowing, teaching, and research? Can experiences of sickness, recovery and art be considered research methodologies in their own right? Can such experiences be incorporated into our practice as academics? What value can they have for our institutions?

We invite presentations including, but not limited to the following:

art and recovery as knowledge-generating processes

uses of different art forms in recovery - what is the role of materials?

usefulness of anthropological concepts in this field

new modes of analysing and communicating art and recovery from inside, including but not limited to writing

institutional responses to sickness

recovery and social justice within the academy

asset-based approaches to sickness

Accepted papers:


Sarah Kettley (Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh)
Richard Kettley (Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute )

Paper short abstract:

Hybrid e-textile materials offer opportunities for convivial crafting and support for wellbeing. We discuss participant experiences in e-textile workshops, conducted using a Person-Centred Approach, revealing concerns about the pervasive narrative of Recovery.

Paper long abstract:

e-Textile materials include conductive yarns and fabrics, hardware such as LEDs and batteries, as well as traditional textile products such as yarns, fabric and haberdashery. Research has already indicated that convivial crafting with e-textile materials opens up a space for more than one kind of knowledge (see for example, Giles and van der Linden 2015, Robertson 2017, Rode et al 2015). Giles and van der Linden point out that creative workshops and e-textile toolkits are a promising way to enable imaginaries of future technologies (2015), while Rode et al suggest that 'computational thinking' is extended by 'computational making', as the products of such embedded computational materials necessarily move beyond the desktop and into the 'real' world.

In this paper, the authors present a project which employed e-textiles as part of a novel ethical approach to Participatory Design with members of a local Mind network. Participants were invited to make e-textile objects, building an experiential platform towards the informed collaborative design of wellbeing services using embedded technologies. Experiences within the workshops tended to support these claims for e-textiles as a particularly engaging and convivial form of practice. We discuss the framing of the workshops as sites for creative skills development, at the same time as attending to the non-directive principles of the Person-Centred Approach (Schmid 2005). Finally, we report on findings that the concept of recovery can be challenging for individuals accessing mental health services, while design research agendas typically assume a normative narrative from ill-health to useful citizenship.


Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how handwork provides essential practical accompaniments to healing and cognition, assisting recovery for people with brain injury and trauma, enhancing communication for people living with dementia, and providing important learning contexts for mathematical and design thinking.

Paper long abstract:

For 10 years, the Woven Communities project, www.wovencommunities.org, has been exploring the relationship between basket-work, memory, embodied cognition and rehabilitation, examining this through practical basketry, rope-work, weaving and plaiting among Scottish basket-makers and their communities.

This paper explores how skilled practice and handwork such as basketry can provide essential practical accompaniments to healing, cognition and creative thought, improving communication through hand memory work for people living with dementia, assisting in recovery for people with brain injury and trauma, and providing important creative accompaniments to new understandings for children in education, mathematicians and design thinkers.

That these outcomes are united through specific hand-skilled activities, effected through the same acts of making, reveals the significance of the integration of the sensory and motor systems and coordination skills that forms of handwork such a basketry and rope-making provide: using bi-manual, bi-lateral work, and providing a rich social context for recovery, constructive, creative kinds of thinking, and memory work.

Drawing on field research in the Northern and Western Isles, our concern is that hand-work is so important for cognition that we would propose it is important to challenge the view that many hand-skills are no longer relevant, whether in occupational therapy, schooling or work in care-homes. In contrast, developments in the digitization and automation of education, health-work, and care-work require a renewed consideration of craft's value as a practical element in recovery, memory, as well as providing an important contribution to a multi-textured rich education.


Irene Orr (University of Dundee)

Paper short abstract:

Can the process and practice of making craft contribute to generating knowledge by connection through intimate exploration of embodied experience? Does the poêsis, praxis and technê of making craft bring awareness an to inner wisdom and what implications might it have on our well-being?

Paper long abstract:

Craft Practice: Making a Life.

This talk, alongside a small exhibition of work and practice based workshop examines art and recovery as knowledge-generating processes through the

reflective observation of making craft, the internal personal journey, potential encounter with training analogous with a contemplative meditation practice from its roots within Buddhism. What implications could this have for well- being? What does the meta praxis of making, the awareness, attention, focus, creativity, motivation and intentionality required as a maker, alongside embracing the materiality, tools and physicality all have for accessing and developing a kind of knowledge and mindful practice which allows us to connect, understand and nurture our innermost being? Can we use this potential as makers to be more aware of our mind; to help understand ourselves; connect to a conscious growth within ourselves, whilst acknowledging our fragility, resilience and intimate relationship to the teachings encountered from within.

What does the process of story, creativity, encounters with skill, playfulness, satisfaction all contribute to who we are, our community, our awareness, our gifts.

I will contribute a workshop of a practice, where participants are engaged in making. We can examine these ideas through process, resulting in a finished simple piece of work.

I will lead the workshop while discussing these ideas accompanied by my own exhibits and short film of practice. My own practice is that of a jeweller, I will bring journals, drawings, bowls and brooches to illuminate the narrative of the benefits of the interconnected processes encountered within making.


Krzysztof Bierski (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

In order to appreciate the healing dimension of movement, we could distinguish between therapeutic and improvisational approaches. While the former focus on form and measurable effects, the latter emphasise process, attention and care. In practice, however, any healing movement is artful or skilled.

Paper long abstract:

Prescriptive understanding of movement, which guides physical rehabilitation or dance therapy, relies on the Aristotelian hylomorphic assumption that, in creative processes, a form (morpē-) preconceived in advance is imparted upon the malleable matter (hulē) of the body. As such, the therapeutic approach is guided by the logic of choice whereby movements are selected according to their perceived observable effects.

The emphasis in improvisational movement, meanwhile, focuses on process, exploration and direct experience. To improvise is to allow the movement to carry on, ongoing like life itself, and to cultivate attention and care. Improvisation recalls a practice of growth or ontogenesis, that is, the 'dynamic self-organisation of developmental systems' (Ingold 2013: 9).

Drawing on movement research with practices such as Gaga movement vocabulary and contact improvisation, we shall explore how the healing/wholeness in improvisational movement, involves shedding judgment and expectation, as well as bringing together thought, breath, and sensation. In the lifeworld that emerges thereby, attention starts to flow unfettered and attitudes such as curiosity, patience, safety or acceptance are cultivated.

As therapeutic movement also entails similar attitudes, as well as attention and care, it could be suggested that healing emerges not as an effect of a particular technique but, rather, as/in skilled or artful practice.

Using simple tasks such as 'opening' and metaphors such as 'rooting', we shall practically consider how skilled movement, and attitudes that grow with it, issue forth not as properties of individual organisms but in their social, that is, ecological relations.


Christine Douglass

Paper short abstract:

My cross-disciplinary practice involves inviting those experiencing existential uncertainty to use video-cameras as tools of audiovisual inscription as a process for reciprocal learning. I will critically examine the role of the materials in generating both personal and anthropological knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

Critically examining the ethics of representation in healthcare research and visual anthropology, my cross-disciplinary practice involves inviting those living with illness and existential uncertainty to use video-cameras as tools of audiovisual inscription for reciprocal learning.

Nine women diagnosed with breast cancer were given broadcast quality video-cameras and invited to film whatever was important to them. Each had discrete physiological, physical and emotional experiences. Led by their aims, motivations, authorial priorities and perceptions of public private boundaries, collaborative filming and editing took place over a three-year period.

Jean Rouch described the presence of filmmaker and camera as a stimulant to expression; "an accelerator". For many in this research being given a video-camera initially inhibited expression. Over time, a variety of processes were invoked by the participants to create a stable, safe space for assimilating the camera into their lives. How each process was negotiated, shaped and individualised was a reaction to a variety of issues that fluctuated over time.

In this presentation, I will examine: the role of the materials in evoking and conveying experience; the new, often previously unspoken personal insights and anthropological/healthcare knowledge generated; and the possibilities of collaborative filmmaking as a therapeutic intervention.

I will argue further that the methodology and subsequent non-linear exhibition opened up new spaces for personal reflection and for wider audiences to rethink the coherent timelessness produced by the regimes currently dominating the representational landscape of illness experiences.


Angélica Cabezas Pino (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how men living with HIV in Chile recover from biographical disruption after diagnosis. Combining art and anthropology, they created photographic mises en scène, providing access to inner spaces, and rearticulated their subversive potential by crafting their own representations.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines how men living with HIV in Chile recover from biographical disruption and rearticulate their life projects after diagnosis, in a context in which HIV is still stigmatized and silenced.

Combining art, media practice and anthropology within a Participatory Action Research framework, collaborators created intimate photographic mises-en-scene, providing access to inner spaces and rearticulating their subversive potential while being creators of their own representations.

This collaborative and visual approach provided an access to personal and sensitive narratives revealing the impact of the virus in their lives, and how —within time— they re-signified their identity as well as their relationships with others. Conceiving HIV notification as a biographical disruption, the collaborators not only created images but also reflected upon them, understanding this part of the process as a tool for sense making. By being authors of their own representations, they challenged ideas about HIV and re-imagined possible futures.


Frances Williams (Glyndwr University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically examines the concept of an 'asset-based' approaches to healthcare through the example of project which invites participants to draw and map their own lives using an arts-based intervention in response to a diagnosis of dementia.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the gap between the policy concept of taking 'an asset-based approach' to health care, setting it alongside the subjective experiences of people facing a life-changing diagnosis of dementia. How is this concept applied to real life settings and what does it bring to the process of the creation of meaning through lived experience?

I will explore this question through critically examining current academic literatures relating to 'asset-based' health, (Friedli, 2012) alongside older theories of 'salutogenesis', which situate health and disease, not as a binary, but in a continuum across the life cycle (Antonovsky, 1996).

I will use these theories to explore a current arts in health intervention, Drawing on Strengths, a pilot partnership between Merseycare and London Health Arts Forum, which aims to create a prototype for an "arts-based asset audit tool". It has engaged an artist to "help people to map and to record, using visual means, the positive aspects of their lives."

I will examine, through this example, if and how it is possible to "translate" the concept and 'assets' into a meaningful creative intervention that can empower participants, exploring tensions inherent in this act. What does a project, framed in this way, tell us about current conceptions of "living well" in this particular context, one in which the impact of the illness is compounded by that of the diagnosis and the fear and social stigma that also surround this disease?


Nicole Brown (UCL Institute of Education)

Paper short abstract:

I explore the boundaries of research, therapy and arts and the role of the material and metaphorical in making sense of experiences with fibromyalgia. I reflect on the therapeutic quality of the approach as it fosters recovery and on how data may be impacted by the new knowledge that is created.

Paper long abstract:

In my presentation, I explore the boundaries of research, therapy and arts and the role of a material, metaphorical approach in supporting participants to make sense of their experiences of identity under the influence of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a complex condition characterised by wide-spread pain, cognitive dysfunctions, sleep problems and psychological disorders (White and Harth, 2001). In my research, participants complete an identity box, which requires them to find objects representing their responses to questions such as "Who are you?", "What affects you?" or "How do others see you?". Thus, participants reduce their experiences to an essence, represent that essence as a metaphor and finally elaborate upon that in subsequent conversations.

Participants describe how they remain active and creative, and how the identity boxes have led to them reflect more deeply on their experiences than they would usually in diary entries. Participants also highlight that it is not necessarily the creative process that helps them make sense of their experiences, but the reflective and reflexive approach. They state that the reflective journey helps them gain a more positive view of their identities, which helps them reconcile their pre-illness selves with their post-diagnosis selves or accept their condition. As such participants acknowledge the therapeutic quality of my approach as it fosters a coming to terms and recovery. I conclude with a reflection on how the data may be impacted by the fact that new knowledge in this process of recovery and self-finding is created.


Emilia Ferraro (University of St. Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores recovery as a process of learning, and the role of craft-making in it; the type and nature of "knowledge from recovery"; and the importance of "knowing from the inside" for the Art, Health, and Wellbeing scholarship and research

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based upon my experience of losing one leg in 2016. I suddenly had to deal with a permanent disability and a new identity. My body, my world, and I were radically and forever changed, thus becoming completely unfamiliar to me. I had no references to either navigate this new life or understand this new body. Recovery is for me an ongoing process of learning to make new references on the go; draw new maps to navigate a new world; become acquainted with a new body and a new self.

Here I tell my own story from my triple interrelated "identity" as someone who is undergoing a major life-changing experience of illness and disability; as an amateur craft-maker, and as an academic, i.e. someone who is "in the business of knowledge" and whom in the recent years before illness struck, was researching the relation between craft and well-being widely defined. The interrelationship of these three identities means that in my account, disability and illness are not so much topics of academic discussion about the role that craft-making can play in the recovery process, but rather they are the existential condition from where I tell my story. A story that is less about my specific disability and recovery process, and more a story told through a "wounded body.


Sarah Smith (Sheffield Hallam University)

Paper short abstract:

The author reflects on their knowledges gained from their artistic-practice, re-training as a healthcare professional after being a patient, and becoming researcher to highlight the need to see experience as a valid research method. Highlighting the potential for criticality and justice it can offer

Paper long abstract:

This paper is written from a position of fractures.

As an artist/(cancer)patient/radiotherapist/researcher - I wanted to use all of these knowledges to critically look at the illness experience.

After falling sick, I realized that the healthcare system creates stories about you, but not with or by you, or even for you. Miranda Fricker calls this phenomena as "epistemic-injustice", in which someone is wronged specifically in their capacity as a knower.

This paper will critically examine the use of my "double-agent-status", and artistic practice, to highlight the need for incorporating personal-experiences into academic and healthcare practice.

Briefly using Elizabeth Grosz's idea of "Inside-out" and "Outside-in", I will show how the collision of external and internal interpretative perspectives can have the potential to tackle gaps and epistemic-injustices that lie within healthcare pathways and experiences.

Reflect upon my retraining as a healthcare-professional, I originally believed that having 'expert knowledge' would bridge the gap between my experience of illness itself, and the representation of the experience. What I found instead is a lack of meaningful tools to enable agency and autonomy for both my patients and staff.

Fundamentally, autonomy is relational. It's not solely intellectual. It's predicated on interaction and exchange. By borrowing from socially-engaged art-practice history and methods, this paper will show the how using artistic-practice can critically examine these power-paradigms and structures of illness, remission, and recovery. And how using experience as a method is key in ensuring new knowledge to reduce injustice in the future for all healthcare experiences.


Julie Walters (Sheffield Hallam University)

Paper short abstract:

Experiences of illness and disability are often strange and difficult to communicate. This paper explores how facilitated media making workshops using digital storytelling and stop-motion animation enable the creation of personal narratives. Research as part of my doctoral thesis will be presented.

Paper long abstract:

In the beginning, I created a personal digital story in a facilitated workshop. It was about my sister and I and our tangled encounters with mental suffering and recovery. The workshop was a cathartic and life changing experience which I wrote about in Walters (2018). Since then I have made many stories and been on a multifaceted journey of discovery about how to enable others to experience this catharsis. I have taken courses in digital storytelling facilitation and stop-motion animation, and now I am in the final leg of my doctorate, the title of which is also the title of this paper.

I am a woman with Three heads:

One: Psychiatric system survivor.

Two: Art and Design practitioner and

Three: Health care educator - Occupational Therapist.

Fascinated by the impact meaningful creative activity has on a person's wellbeing, I was lead to the gap in knowledge which my doctoral study seeks to fill: What it IS - an activity analysis - a consideration of a process of making. Materiality within the constraints of time and space, plus an exploration of the meaning of it for a small group of participants. I present findings from my primary study and examine the following questions

-what is the nature and pattern of activity which comprise a media making workshop

-what meaning do participants gain from undergoing this process?

Ref: Walters, Julie (2018) Chapter 12 in Cultivating Compassion: How digital storytelling is transforming healthcare. eds. Hardy, Pip and Sumner, Tony. Palgrave Macmillan London.