CHRIS FREMANTLE

No Maintenance: Chris Dooks

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 10, 2017

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Can taking ‘no maintenance’ as a creative challenge inspire new approaches to art in healthcare settings? This is the challenge I posed in a blog for the London Arts in Health Forum based on a paper published in the new Design for Health Journal.

The intention is to provoke new approaches to making public art (or sited work) for hospitals and healthcare settings. Having considerable experience of managing the commissioning process, it seems to me that we need new ways to think about the challenge and the particularly difficult requirements of ‘no maintenance’ in a high ‘wear and tear’ context like a hospital. But the intention is to raise deeper philosophical and theoretical issues around ‘care’ and ‘maintenance’, and underlying questions of value.

One of the artists who has responded is interdisciplinary artist, composer and researcher Chris Dooks. In 2014 Dooks completed The Fragmented Filmmaker, Emancipating The Exhausted Artist, his Phd on his art practice in relation to his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS-ME). The Phd took the form of three vinyl records (yellow, blue and red) and an autoethnographic text. Despite this condition Dooks has undertaken residencies in Berlin as well as with Woodend Barn, Aberdeenshire; Timespan in Helmsdale; and made work in response to the Dark Skies Park in the South West of Scotland.

Dooks’ research proposes that making art could be a way of coping with his CFS-ME even though the very character of the condition limits the ability to do the things normally associated with making art.

Dooks proposes that ways of making art, in particular ‘bricolage’, defined as ‘construction achieved by using whatever comes to hand’, are compatible with ‘low energy’ generally and his condition specifically. Dooks says, “The Holy Grail is to make something with conceptual value without actually ‘making’ anything at all.”
Each of Dooks three works for his Phd addresses a different method and a different challenge. He describes each of the three projects as experiments within a personal arts laboratory. One is focused by cosmology, another by the limitations of a broken harmonium and the third by what you can record from your windowsill.
In each case they address specific challenges of CFS-ME, such as not being able to leave your house, or the need for aids to sleep. Dooks says of this last challenge, “…one aspect of that is to create ‘soporific sonics’ – where tones to aid sleep and rest are cherished prizes, when found.” But each is also much more. Each demonstrates the potential of making art from whatever comes to hand, including broken instruments, conversations with strangers and ambient sounds.

In the sleeve notes for Ciga{r}les (the yellow album) Dooks explores the relationship between his own “predicament”, the “unpleasant and inconvenient limitations” he lives with, in relation to the wider importance of limitation and context in the making of any artwork. He juxtaposes these limitations with the necessity of limiting oneself when making an artwork, selecting what to work with and what to leave aside, editing and in the end knowing when to stop.

The question that I’m raising is asking artists to shift ‘no maintenance’ from an external limitation into a self-imposed creative constraint. Dooks’ work also explores using his illness as a part of his creative process, both for his own wellbeing and as part of cultural projects.

Of course one of the sharpest aspects is that whilst Dooks constructs sound with care for his own wellbeing and for our pleasure, most healthcare environments, and in particular hospitals, are characterised by monitors and alarms, a constant barrage of random noise. Although most work made for hospitals and healthcare settings is visual and applied art, Dooks’ work makes a compelling case for needing to address the sonic environments.

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