‘The Butterfly Effect: Art, Creativity and Eating Disorders’
The above image is a brainstorm of colourful words in and around the central motif of the butterfly. The butterfly is an image or metaphor that has guided my own recovery from an eating disorder. I used the butterfly to help me, during my transition from a cumbersome caterpillar, to a cramped, dark, uncomfortable cocoon, to a beautiful being with colour, who can fly — with hope — through life.
The arts and creativity made a huge impact on my recovery. Following discussions with other patients, in varying stages of treatment and recovery, I propose to undertake a research project that considers, analyses and applies the impact that art and creativity have on eating disorder treatment programmes and patient recovery rates.
The aim is to experiment with different kinds of artistic engagement, and record the effects that they have on patients. Then, I analyse the results of these experiments, considering the extent to which art and creativity impact on treatment and recovery rates – asking where, how and why this takes place.
This is also a larger, more broadly philosophical analysis, delving into theories of ‘making sense’ (leading from my monograph Making Sense: Art Practice and Transformative Therapeutics), to try to understand just how and why the arts can transform, can procreate life. Here I also delve into the idea that creativity is part of the structure of humanity; a transcendental function, which conditions healthy living. This approach involves considering genetics, plus a critical, Kantian analysis of who and how we are, as human beings.
The aim of the project is to scientifically experiment with particular case studies in specific treatment programmes (inpatient, day patient, outpatient, in the community); develop a philosophical understanding about the results of these experiments; then, crucially, to activate these results in an expanded artistic practice in eating disorder treatment programmes, and in the public domain.
I am engaging with my history and background, as an artist, philosopher and expert by experience of eating disorders. In particular, I am utilising my experiences of being a ‘Revolving Door Patient’, until painting changed my life. I embody art’s capacity to regenerate, to heal.
Now, I want to examine how, where, and why this can happen, for other (all) eating disorder patients. The most important methodology is Peer Support. I approach patient/participants, not as an art therapist, but as a peer. I am hoping that patients can relate to me, as I use creative exercises, with mutuality and reciprocity, to build connections, empathy and healing.
I am working with Helen Chatterjee, MBE (UCL Professor of Arts and Science), Agnes Ayton (Eating Disorder Consultant Psychiatrist, Oxford Health) and David Viljoen (Consultant Psychologist, Oxford Health) to deliver this project. The hope is to develop a creative practice inside and outside the clinic, apply this in other clinics, then publish and disseminate an academic (scientific and philosophical) theory about how and why this happens, why it makes sense.
I had two books (a monograph and a volume I edited) published by Bloomsbury in 2014 (with more in line for 2015). These publications examine and pilot issues concerning contemporary art, critical theory and the ‘transformative therapeutics’ of art practice. One of the books, Deleuze and The Schizoanalysis of Visual Art, has become a course standard and textbook for 3rd year undergraduates and graduates in the field of art/critical theory and contemporary aesthetics.
My previous research developed in two strands. One is social and political, concerning the effects of globalisation, capitalism and the Western economy, on the indigenous communities, in India. The other strand to my research involves the regenerative and restorative powers that art practice has, to facilitate healing and growth, in situations of trauma (be it individual, local, social or political).
My research continues to develop through collaboration in several international, inter-disciplinary projects. One is in India. In New Delhi, at the KHOJ International Artists Association, New Delhi, I gave keynote at conference on collective trauma and schizoanalysis. I also screened one of my films at this event, and chaired panel discussions around my two most recent books. This trip began with the purpose of making art and theory that provides a fundamentally new and vigorous viewpoint about the social situation and visual cultures in India.
I have just returned from a second research trip to India, where I travelled from Bombay through the backbone of the country, across the state of Chhatisgarh. I visited local indigenous communities of ‘Adivasis’, whose homes, land and jobs have been destroyed by mines and dams. I travelled to Korba (one of the ‘Power Capitals’ of India) and Raigarh. My continued work in India is a collaboration with the celebrated Indian artist and political activist Navjot Altaf. She runs an interactive artist’s agency in Bastar, called ‘Dialogue’, which helps rebuild local communities and spread art in remote regions.
I saw the detrimental impact of corporate globalization and neo-colonialism on the rural and native landscape in India. I’m currently making a film, which documents the millions of homes and lives that are being destroyed in India’s pseudo ‘democratic’ namely autocratic state. India is going through an Industrial Revolution, caused by and to feed the West, at the stake of India’s greatest resource, which is her own (waning) self-sufficiency. India is becoming globalised, causing a crisis that is both social and psychological. This concerns psychosocial trauma, the effects of genocide, the disappearance of lives from history, and the false rewriting or superimposition of a history that is fundamentally hegemonic, selective, exclusive and hierarchical.
In theoretical terms, my consequent research enterprise aims to respond to the neo-colonialism evident at large across India today. Much of British Imperialism is still evident, in a new way, with the rush of consumerism and capitalism shaping the landscape and psycho-scape of people and communities in India. I am documenting the traumatic landscape (and soundscape) I encountered in a film.
My film is an expanded media that addresses the tyranny, punity, penury, and the death sentence of the capitalist logos that thwarts and colonizes the situation in Eastern Asia. I show the lives, homes and country that are being destroyed, and the exquisite ancient culture that survives in remote regions.
This project is shaping into several screenings of my film. These will commence at Cambridge University, where a special event is being put on to discuss these issues and to show my film. This will take place with the CRASSH Screen Media Group. I’m also going to show it in London, at the experimental film studio in Bethnal Green, No-W-here. It is particularly important to show my film in this location because it will target expatriate, diaspora communities in Bethnal Green. My aim is to give the indigenous Adivasis a voice, denied from them in India.
I’m currently writing a book about this project, which is partly literary (poetry) and partly theoretical. This work would be suitable for submission to the REF 2020, because of its global impact, ecological concerns, and international context.
By continuing my creative work as an practitioner, my research perspective and its methodology is interactive, stimulating and sensuous. I make things that make sense of the ideas and culture that inspires the world. My research output contains artworks, theory and theory about artworks. This provides a multilateral perspective that sits itself between media. This leads onto my second area of research:
2. Making Sense: Art Practice and Transformative Therapeutics
This avenue proceeds from the following monograph:
Making Sense utilises art practice as a pro-active way of thinking that helps us to make sense of the world. It does this by developing an applied understanding of how we can use art as a method of healing and as a critical method of research. Drawing from poststructuralist philosophy, psychoanalysis, arts therapies, and the creative processes of a range of contemporary artists, the book appeals to the fields of art theory, the arts therapies, aesthetics and art practice, whilst it opens the regenerative affects of art-making to everyone. It does this by proposing the agency of ‘transformative therapeutics’, which defines how art helps us to make sense of the world, by activating, nourishing and understanding a particular world view or situation therein. The purpose of the book is to question and understand how and why art has this facility and power, and make the creative and healing properties of certain modes of expression widely accessible, practical and useful.
My intent now is to build from the theoretical understanding of the transformative power of art and take it into local communities. I want to create art, make new ways of thinking through this practical process, and show people how they can create for themselves a form of understanding and regeneration by also making, talking, learning and thinking together.