Wednesday, 30 October 2013

An Interview with Clod Ensemble's Co-Artistic Director Suzy Willson - Part Two

Following on from the first half of her interview, Clod Ensemble’s Co-Artistic Director Suzy Willson, explores the relationship between Medicine and The Arts, the inspiration for the Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season featuring the performance, An Anatomie in Four Quarters.

Performing Medicine seems to be about what the arts can bring to medicine. What does a knowledge of medicine or, in this case, anatomy bring to the arts?

Many dancers and performers have a pretty good working knowledge of anatomy but have gathered that knowledge through an experience of their own bodies rather than in the ways that medical students learn anatomy, for example through dissection, looking at diagrams or through examining patients.

I would say the more understanding and awareness we have of our own bodies - how they function and change, how they relate to others and the environment - the better.  It’s great to share different ways of thinking and seeing human anatomy in a different context, beyond the usual professional environments in which these things are discussed – the rehearsal room, or the anatomy theatre.

For me, thinking about anatomy for this project has made me think again about the ways of looking at things and how meanings change or are created depending on the point of view you take. In this way there is a lot of similarities between performance and anatomy.

What has drawn you to this work at the intersection between art and science?

I’m not a scientist myself. My interest in medicine, particularly medical education came from my own experience as a relative or a friend of people in hospital. I felt that in my own theatre training  (Applied Theatre at Manchester University and at the Jacques Lecoq School) there were a lot of exercises and ways of thinking that could be useful to healthcare professionals.

When I began this work I felt that the ways in which medical institutions looked at people’s bodies were sometimes brutally reductive and I was interested in offering medical students some other ways of thinking about human bodies and sharing some practical skills to help them use their own bodies more sensitively and skilfully when working with patients and colleagues.

There has been quite a bit recently in the press about the links between art and science. 

Something that Bjork said in the Guardian Online struck a chord with me:

“Well, seems like science and art were pretty much the same thing for thousands of years until the industrial revolution and the enlightenment separated them. I feel the 21st century is going to be the one where not only can they unite again but they have to…”

Do you have any thoughts on that?

That statement opens up so many different questions  - I don’t think I can be as bold as Bjork – certainly not in one sentence!

… I think dividing and labelling ways of seeing the world into arts or science can sometimes be very crude, reductive and risks alienating people on the other side of the divide.

There is also a complex web of power relations at play about different kinds of knowledge, built up over hundreds of years, which can be very dangerous. It is very stultifying when people get stuck in old ways of thinking, or abuse their power or privilege whoever they are.
I work with many medics who feel intimidated by arts and many artists who are intimidated by science. But this does seem to be changing.

Over the last 15 years many more artists and scientists seem to be interested in similar themes even though methods of enquiry are very different. I am sure that the Internet and new ways of communicating to each other, which involve technology and science as well as art and design, have a lot to do with that.

I hope that the Performing Medicine Anatomy Season will bring people together and audiences will enjoy the multiple perspectives on offer.

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