During 2012 to celebrate over 50 years of the charity, I spent time as the first artist in residence at the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead completing a project exploring emerging research in wound repair and tissue regeneration. Famous for their 'Guinea Pig Club' of surgically reconstructed burns casualties who fought in WWII, the charity founded by pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe remains today at the forefront of wound healing research.
The unique position as artist in residence and clinician allowed unparalleled access to gain lab based research skills, clinical skills working amongst the plastic surgeons, uncovering historical accounts and opening dialogue between personnel affected by the work of the charity. Such transdisciplinary exploration utilising the roles of both an artist and health professional were realised in a series of events and the ongoing production of artwork for exhibition. The aims of the residency were to raise awareness of burns care and the possibilities of reconstructive and regenerative medicine alongside using art as a means to facilitate engagement in research and open debate.
Bill, Sheet 9. Anonymous
Installation: Video mapping of skin cells grown in the lab with mixed media, 2012
Prof. Matteo Santin discussing tissue and organ regeneration
The first event of the programme brought artists and health professionals together to collaborate in learning anatomical wax sculpture of the face with expert tuition from sculptor Eleanor Crook and a plastic surgeon to show skin flaps and real surgical techniques reflecting back to the world wars.
For the project I brought together diverse speakers across disciplines at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in a full day Symposium. The event explored and shared with the public a series of historical accounts, emerging cutting edge scientific research and work by artists challenging our perceptions of the human body.
"It's your personality that will come through, whatever. I've never let it worry me too much"
Bill Foxley was widely regarded as he most badly burned airman to survive the Second World War; his example and support became an inspiration to later generations who suffered similar severe disabilities.
Initially the 'Guinea Pig Club' was a drinking club whose aim was to help rehabilitate its members during their long reconstructive treatments. It was formed in June 1941 with 39 patients alongside members of staff.
Aircrew members had to be serving airmen who had gone through at least ten surgical procedures. By the end of the war the club had 649 members.
The most enduring aspect of the organisation are the stories of the individuals treated at the centre who were rehabilitated back into society.
In collaboration with Digital Media Services in London, we brought together archive film material for the production of a short film shown as part of a fundraiser uniting patrons and a number of the remaining Guinea Pig Club.