Graphic medicine provides insight into the complex issues around health, society and relationships. The ‘Haunting Our Bodies’ workshop as part of the Being Human Festival, led by Chase Ledin and Garry MacLaughlin, allowed participants to explore this and have a go at creating their own artwork.

 

Behind the workshop

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Chase Ledin and Garry MacLaughlin are both PhD Researchers working with varying aspects of queer theory. Chase works within the Edinburgh College of Art and the Centre for Biomedicine, Self, and Society and his research project employs the rich history of HIV/AIDS cultural studies to understand: Why post-AIDS? He utilises historical and cultural materials to understand “negotiated risk”, and the anticipatory visions that emerge from this. Garry works within the University of Dundee and his research project explores queer temporality and chronotopia in comics, exploring how queer creators use non-normative chronologies and eccentric temporalities to repair trauma and offer new narrative frameworks within the medium. He uses ludic queer theory and the concept of queer collective futurity to ‘re-queer’ temporality in the medium, with a view to constructing a new system of chronotopia in comics.

Chase formulated the ‘Haunting Our Bodies’ workshop in conjunction with Stephanie Sinclair, Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator for the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh, to take place during the Being Human festival and to be held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Chase approached Garry to co-facilitate due to his experience of working in community arts and specifically delivering workshops on comics. Chase describes the inception of the workshop:

A significant component of queer affect theory has considered the relationship between bodies and feelings, in order to understand how and why we attribute particular intellectual, economic, emotional, cultural, and/or psychological values to objects and the objectification of ideas. In The Promise of Happiness (2010), cultural theorist Sara Ahmed writes, ‘The history of happiness can be thought of as a history of associations. In wishing for happiness we wish to be associated with happiness, which means to be associated with its associations. The very promise that happiness is what you get for having the right associations might be how we are directed toward certain things’ (p. 2). At the intersection of historiography, epistemology and phenomenology, Ahmed describes the ways in which we ascribe particular emotions to objects and “things” in our societies and, especially, the orientation of those objects, towards and away from conceptions of “good” and “bad” feelings. Such work inspired me to question how affective objects are oriented within illness narratives. I wanted to understand how “trauma” or “illness” might be oriented as (medical/ised) negative objects and, conversely, how “health” and “wellness” might be oriented as (social/ly) positive objects in contemporary society.

 

About the workshop

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

The Haunting our Bodies workshop was held on 18 November 2019 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Chase began with talking about Charles Burns’ Black Hole (2005), which was also the focus of his previous blog post for The Polyphony, asking the participants to reflect on how trauma and illness were represented and de/normalised, contextualising this through narrative approaches to health and illness that included restitution, quest and chaos narratives. Garry focused on the formal aspects of the comic medium, discussing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2007), and deconstructing the techniques Bechdel uses to perform ‘psychic surgery’ on her past and her traumatic relationship with her father and the aftermath of his death. He guided the participants to look at Bechdel’s use of allegory, motion, direction of gaze, and the spatiotopical relationship of the object on the page. Participants were asked to offer their own critical responses to these works and to reflect on other tangentially related comics and graphic novels, before undertaking visual work of their own, by crafting a page or panel in which they tested the techniques discussed using their own narratives.

The handouts used at the workshop, which have been made available, offer a comprehensive guide to illness narratives and ‘reading illness’ in graphic novels, comics and beyond. While time was a significant restraint in the workshop, which particularly meant that we weren’t able to dig deep enough into the critical nuances exchanged in the re/dis-orientation process of health and illness narration, it laid the groundwork for a larger discussion about how health and illness are represented through contemporary art, illustration and graphic design.

Considering the interest generated by the workshop, exploring how changes in health and illness are both represented and negotiated through artistic, literary and sociological forms and metaphors, Stephanie, Chase and Garry are planning a similar collaborative event with community members as part of LGBTQ History Month. Keep an eye on the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society website for more information.

 

Works cited

Ahmed, S. (2010). The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bechdel, Alison. (2007) Fun Home: A family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Burns, C. (2005). Black Hole. London: Jonathan Cape.

 

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