At the interface of art and research

anna odell and some people sitting around a table talking.

At a film shoot with psychiatric staff, two nurses, two doctors and two orderlies formed a fictitious team talking over a patient case.

“I have always believed in interdisciplinary approaches and come close to research in the way I work,” says artist Anna Odell. She has been employed at Uppsala University for several months now, engaged in an artistic project together with researchers, teachers and students.

Last spring the Centre for Medical Humanities advertised for an Artist in Residence. More than a hundred people applied, among them Anna Odell, an artist known for her video art and films on psychiatric care and other subjects.

“I had been working for some time on projects to do with psychiatry with the idea of ending up with a full-length film or TV series. So when I saw this, it felt just right,” Odell says.

She is in the midst of developing a video work that will be presented at Uppsala Art Museum on 2 March, in close cooperation with colleagues Erika Sigvardsdotter, coordinator, and Ylva Söderfeldt, director, at the Centre for Medical Humanities.

“The important thing from our point of view was to avoid recruiting an artist to act as an illustrator or just work alongside our activities. We were looking for something that, firstly of course, was relevant to medical humanities, but also for an artist who would use our setting as an integral part of their work. That was the key factor,” says Söderfeldt.

Film shoot with care staff

When we meet they have just completed a major film shoot with psychiatric staff. Two nurses, two doctors and two orderlies formed a fictitious team talking over a patient case. The entire film was shot in stylish old rooms at Ulleråker, a former psychiatric hospital in Uppsala.

“In this work I want to investigate how staff in psychiatric care behave when things happen that perhaps should not happen. I want to observe and get close to the conversation that takes place behind closed doors between the people working in psychiatric care. The things you never get to see if you don’t work there yourself,” Odell says.

Erika, Anna and Ylva in front of a window,

From left: Erika Sigvardsdotter, coordinator, Anna Odell, artist, and Ylva Söderfeldt, director, at the Centre for Medical Humanities.

Just a few days after the film shoot, Odell, Söderfeldt and two doctoral students went to meet medical students. The students did a similar exercise as the psychiatric care staff.

“We want to involve this project in part of the educational development we are conducting. Part of the plan is to make this a recurrent feature of the programme,” says Sigvardsdotter.

New perspectives from students

Odell says she learned a good deal from meeting the medical students and getting their perspectives on the patient case that was presented.

“For me, this is fun, exciting and instructive. They come up with suggestions, ideas or new questions that are valuable both for the project and perhaps later on for a film... So I hope it will be possible to continue with this and that the work turns into something that can be used in the programme.”

Söderfeldt also thinks the exercise turned out well. She teaches medical humanities as an elective course in the final year of the Medicine Programme and it was the 15 students on that course who took part in the role play session.

“I felt it was a very productive way to work. They do a lot of case-based work in the Medicine Programme, so being presented with a patient case is a familiar situation for them. However, the starting point this time differed from the usual situation and that opened the door to completely different questions.”

Hoping for a sequel

Uppsala University is not the first to have an artist in residence. It is an established role at Linnaeus University and has been tried out at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The Centre for Medical Humanities hopes to continue with this initiative but more funding is required to do so. Odell’s video art is at any rate set to be exhibited at Uppsala Art Museum in March.

“What we’re filming and doing here is going to be a work of art. It’s too early to say whether multiple monitors will be involved or whether just one film will be screened. This is how I work, I go to reality to gather information. Reality often turns out better than the script,” Odell says.

Annica Hulth

Artist in residence

  • The Centre for Medical Humanities is a collaboration between the Faculty of Arts, the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Department of History of Science and Ideas.
  • The Artist in Residence initiative is intended to promote artistic perspectives on medicine, pharmacy and healthcare, and related social and cultural issues. The aim of the project is to investigate and develop new modes of experience and knowledge exchange between artists, researchers and students.

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