Newsletter – Blood on Silk


Blood on Silk: August 2020 

This new work tells a short succinct story. It is a fairy tale, a diorama, that can be read from left to right as if the reader is transitioning between being awake and being asleep, It can be read in the rhythm of the time and space of the pandemic, in the temporal and liminal nature of the experience of the sequence of the three steps of testing, hospital/ICU and then death.
 
The sub-title of the work, three steps to death is a term that has been used to describe the three levels of care available in aged care facilities in Australia, self-care, hostel, and then nursing home. The infrequency with which the voice of the infected aged care resident has been heard during this pandemic, the reported confusion of their families and the infection rate of the health and care workers speaks to a  lack of agency and reinforces the liminality of the individual’s experience.  For many of these residents their death has been without skin to skin contact and in many cases they have died alone.
 

Fiona Davies, Blood on Silk: Three steps to death, 2020, 42 x 30 x 13 (h) cm,

balsa wood, paint, ink, and found objects.

Blood on Silk May 2020

Fiona Davies, Once upon a time, long ago and far away: Shutting down in isolation, 2020 video still.

This work in progress is a short succinct multi layered video. It is a fairy tale, that is being read as if the audience is in the transition between being awake and being asleep, being awake or being anesthetised, being alive or being dead. It is read to a rhythm that drives through that time.

Overlaid onto the remnants of the facilities used to treat Tuberculosis by isolation is the isolating impact in the contemporary pandemic. There the frenetic digital distribution of fact, fiction, superstition, opinion, narrative and obsession comes up against the temporal and liminal nature of the patient’s and their family’s experience of hospital and ICU.

This work references The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman. It is a remaking. This process when a work is remade not in its original materiality but in another form is a way to understand the work in an intimate, temporally extended manner. The process of making by hand or machine can reveal different forms of understanding or knowledge implicit in the materiality of the form chosen. The process can also work as a form of veneration. In this remaking the script of a fairy tale is set within a hospital in the liminal space of transition. We also experience this state of transition. We also experience the liminal internal and external spaces of waiting and fail to see or unsee the figure of Death.

Blood on Silk April 2020

Fiona Davies The Overseers, 2020, found objects, balsa wood and paint, 11 x 9 x 13(h) cm

One of ten small works intended to be viewed when sitting on a domestic mantlepiece as if they have wheedled their way into your life and taken control. This speculative work is of the overseers of a human farming organisation posing for a group commemorative photograph. They have put on their formal uniform with shiny black riding boots and bright red sashes. These decorations mark them apart from those whom they have domesticated to provide the products made by humans in their bodies and made into a range of biomedical and bioengineered products on the worldwide commercial market. The initial appearance of this work is relatively benign but after reflection the systemic inequity and inequality is revealed.

Systemic inequity and inequality are also evident in the rates of infection and access to medical treatment of certain groups in the 2020 Corona virus pandemic. In the speculation in the above series of small dioramas, the layers of power are evidenced by uniforms and other external decorations. What is hidden is the poorer health conditions and treatment history of lower socio-economic groups who end up monetising the products of their bodies to provide a living.  

Blood on Silk January 2020

Being deprived of sleep is not only experienced by the patient as discussed in the last post but also by those working within the hospital. This fourth of a series of short essays or reflections on aspects of what could be understood as forms of violence within the practice of medicine turns to the experience of working under those conditions.

Sleep deprivation, acknowledged by Amnesty International to be a means of torture,[1] could be expected to occur in the regimes of long working hours required of early-career doctors, There is both quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of the working conditions experienced by early-career doctors on clinical outcomes and on the health and safety of the workers. On the one hand, a study of the literature[2] by Isabella Zhao, Fiona Bogossian and Catherine Turner reported that the literature was unable to establish causal links between fatigue and work-related injuries. On the other, in a study where 36 emergency physicians were shadowed for a total of 120 hours, the authors, Australian medical academics Johanna Westbrook, Magdalena Raban and Scott Walker reported poor clinical outcomes evidenced by the failure to complete simple prescription tasks with what would seem to be the unbelievable statistics of a total of 208 prescribing errors in 239 medication orders.[3] They attributed these errors to multitasking, sleep deprivation, and difficulty concentrating. Finally, a UK study of 2170 trainees in anaesthesia reported 84 percent had felt too tired to drive home at the end of shift and 57 percent had experienced a near-miss or car accident driving home from work.[4]

The systemic or organisational violence proposed earlier in Part I by Shapiro[5] could also be applied to the work practices specific to the training programs undertaken by young doctors. The Australian Medical Association in 2016 undertook an update of their Safe Work Hours Audit. [6] One of their strongly worded conclusions is that of their study respondents, of whom 80 percent were doctors in training, one in two was working unsafe hours.

Giving the last word to the voice of the doctor in training, a qualitative study by Australian and Scottish medical academics Victoria Tallentire, Samantha Smith, Adam Facey and Laila Rotstein, “Exploring newly qualified doctors’ workplace stressors: an interview study from Australia”, included several quotes from the study participants that allude to the stress of the workload and the systemic violence of the system:

You’re covering about 100 patients on your own and it’s just, your pager is full. Like, you’ve got 25 outstanding pagers, a few MET [medical emergency team] calls going, like, really sick patients. And it’s just that absolute sense of being totally overwhelmed and exhausted …[7]

and

I didn’t know what I was doing and I called the registrar to ask for help and he said, ‘I don’t want to deal with this, you sort it out’ and hung up on me. And it’s, like, absolutely terrifying. It was my first week. I had no idea what I was doing with this patient … It’s not professional the way we’re spoken to sometimes, and, you know, it wouldn’t be allowed in any other workplace so it shouldn’t be allowed here.[8]

The bureaucratic system of requiring long hours per shift, rotations of those shifts, and the possibility of stress experienced in the real-world training model for postgraduate medical training could all be framed as an additional form of violence in medicine.


[1]Amnesty International Defining torture https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/torture/

[3] J. L. Westbrook, M.Z Raban and S.R. Walter, “Task errors by emergency physicians are associated with interruptions, multitasking, fatigue and working memory capacity: a prospective, direct observation study.” BMJ Quality Safety (2018), 655-663.

[4] L. McClelland, J. Holland, N. Lomas, E. Redfern, and A. Plunkett “National survey of the effects of fatigue on trainees in anaesthesia in the UK,” Anaesthesia Vol 72. 9. (Jul 5, 2017) 1069-1077

[5] Shapiro, “Violence” in Medicine, 2-4.

[6] Australian Medical Association “Safe Hours Audit” 2016 https://ama.com.au/article/2016-ama-safe-hours-audit

[7] Victoria Tallentire Samantha Smith, Adam Facey, and Laila Rotstein,Exploring newly qualified doctors’ workplace stressors: an interview study from Australia.” BMJ Open (2017),

[8] Victoria Tallentire, Samantha Smith, Adam Facey, and Laila RotsteinExploring newly qualified doctors’ workplace stressors: an interview study from Australia.” BMJ Open (2017)

Blood on Silk November 2019

Fiona Davies, Blood on Silk: Blood Farming/The Producers (detail) 2019. Photo credit Alex Gooding

Please join me for the screening of three of my short video works followed by drinks in the Golden Age Bar, Surry Hills, Sydney on November 28th, 2019. Please register for a free ticket at

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/once-upon-a-time-long-ago-and-far-away-x-3-tickets-81856449845

The actual screening time is from 5.45 to 6 p.m. The bar is open both before and after the screening.

The art process of remaking a work not in its original materiality but in another form is a way to understand the work in an intimate, temporally extended manner. The process of making by hand or machine can reveal different forms of understanding or knowledge implicit in the materiality of the form chosen. The process can also work as a form of veneration. The narrative of The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman has here been reworked from the original film script into a series of three fairy-tales.

The fairy tales are located in the liminal space of transition as experienced by one patient as they are moved from one place or from one state to another.

Thanks to the Golden Age Cinema for the opportunity to show these videos in this amazing venue.