I recently completed my first public work. It was a live art drawing which sounds quite dramatic but actually it was quiet and unassuming.
A few months ago I had one of those ideas that just keep going around and around in your head.
I had seen an article about the numbers of people who had been diagnosed with a type of cancer the year before and it made me think that somewhere there were statistics that contained me. You tend to forget that when you read about mass numbers that each one is an individual.
So I sent off a few emails and the kind people at Cancer Research uk supplied my with the data.
In 2004 45704 people were diagnosed with breast cancer, that included 9 men.
Think of it, 45704 families affected
I was already interested in the tattoos that you get when you have radiotherapy, I had been researching the work of American book artist Martha A Hall who created a book called tattoo. I had also been looking on forums and people really seemed to hate those tiny tattoos, I know it might seem such a tiny thing to worry about when you are fighting cancer but it does feel like you are being permanently branded.
A member of a club you never wanted to join.
Also the process of radiotherapy is pretty dehumanising, before you start you have a session where you are measured, you are left alone in a darkened room, wedged in by heavy cushions to immobilise you whilst laser lines are beamed across your body. The staff were great but you do feel alone and frightened.
Anway I decided I wanted to use the tiny blue/black dot you are tattooed with to symbolise each person.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to create my work in the Cantor building of Sheffield Hallam University, if anyone is interested its on the second floor.
I marked a cm grid using the traditional art of goldpoint, you actually drag a fine gold wire across the surface to deposit a tiny amount of gold. The line looks very ordinary, a bit like graphite pencil.
Like life its preciousness is easy to overlook.
The grid measured a little under 3 metres by 2 metres and took 30 hours. Next I placed a tiny dot of blue/black ink at each intersection until I had done 45704, one for each person diagnosed.
Initially it was difficult to see the lines but as the number of dots increased it gained form, it’s still delicate and lace like and perhaps easy to overlook but its also, I think, quite powerful. The number of dots is quite overwhelming, they seem much bigger than a number.
Having never worked in public before I was pretty scared but actually that was the best bit. The students and staff (none of whom were artists) that walked by were interested and took time to chat. They understood that the endeavour and labour was integral to the work, that its delicacy was given weight by the investment of time. Their reactions were better than I could have hoped for.
Lots of my fellow students came over to support me which was lovely.
The work took me about 46 hours to complete and is awaiting a permanent label, it wasn’t easy as because of my treatment I find it painful to hold my arm up for any length of time, but it was definitely worth it.
I am now working on an artists book based on the same subject and would love to take the work to other locations.