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An artistic sharing

Updated on: 09 April,2022 12:10 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Tanishka D’Lyma | mailbag@mid-day.com

To mark Endometriosis and Adenomyosis Awareness Months held in March and April, respectively, we take a look at artist Eugenie Lee’s work to understand the pain associated with menstrual health illnesses

An artistic sharing

One of the cabinets with viewing windows on display at Psyche, at Science Gallery Bengaluru. Pic courtesy/Science Gallery Bengaluru


Endometriosis and adenomyosis are characterised by painful periods, just one of the symptoms of these illnesses. While the norms of sneaking a pad to the washroom, or wrapping menstrual products discreetly in newspapers are being challenged, and many menstruators have begun advocating for period leave, painful periods and menstrual illnesses remain largely invisible, not to forget misdiagnosed.

Because when we speak about pain, we talk about something subjective. Is it possible to fully understand someone’s pain? Korean-origin Australian interdisciplinary artist Eugenie Lee, who lives with endometriosis and adenomyosis, explains that chronic pain, for instance, is notoriously challenging to share because it is invisible and stubbornly evades communicability through words. So, what would a solution look like in terms of expression, visibility and validity of pain? Lee undertakes these issues in her installation McGill Pain Questionnaire.




The installation view of twin cabinets facing each other
The installation view of twin cabinets facing each other


The work’s namesake is a widely used clinical pain assessment tool developed in 1971. It includes 78 descriptive words like gruelling and pricking to provide patients with a vocabulary to describe their pain to physicians, in an attempt to transform subjective experience into an impartial scoring system for diagnosis and treatment. The artwork was created in 2012 and translated digitally for viewing at Science Gallery Bengaluru’s (SGB) ongoing exhibition, Psyche. It takes the form of large twin filing cabinets with monotonous drawers facing each other, where each drawer is labelled with adjectives from the questionnaire. It’s a clinical visual to begin with, a representation of medical systems that attempt to categorise and catalogue human experiences. However inviting this might be to the curious mind to discover for themselves the meaning contained behind these labels, one can’t. The drawers are locked; it’s a barrier that highlights the challenges of expressions and the invisibility of pain because it is subjective.

A close-up of the barbed wires behind one of the viewing windows
A close-up of the barbed wires behind one of the viewing windows

Lee says, “Being interested in exploring the subjective and objective contrast of pain, I was curious about what an artwork would look like if I combined this objective pain-measuring tool with my subjective lived experience as a self-portrait installation.” The installation thus comprises visual manifestations of the artist’s personal pain, sharing a sense of pulsing, shooting and stabbing pain and making it more communicable than the adjectives positioned alongside it. On the other cabinet is a viewing window behind which rotating barbed wire scrapes against the glass making a slow eerie sound. According to Lee, “These windows speak the truth of my lived experience in a way no words could ever replace. Like medical scans, they are the ‘evidence’ that my pain truly exists.”

Eugenie Lee. Pic courtesy/Anna Kucera
Eugenie Lee. Pic courtesy/Anna Kucera

Through this juxtaposition of pain, Lee advocates a non-hierarchical patient-physician partnership where both are equally present with curiosity and optimism for each case. She says, “My work reflects the possibility of this collaboration. We as individual, subjective emotional beings can indeed co-exist alongside objective medical science to provide better holistic perspectives.” If you would like to further understand the quantification of subjective humanness through the questionnaire, attend Lee’s online discussion at SGB. 

Till: (Installation viewing) May 15 
On: (Online event) May 7, 4 pm
Log on to: psyche.scigalleryblr.org


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