Sick-gaze is a series of photographic images by Artistic Associate Bella Milroy which take the simple premise of the self-portrait as a catalyst, transforming the familiarity of the everyday through the perspective of the sick-gaze.

Sick-gaze by Bella Milroy

2 February – 22 April 2022

The sick-gaze is an exploration of image making; a manifestation of the views, observations and contemplations both of and from the perspective of the sick body amongst domesticity. Reflections in the surfaces around the artist’s home become whole spaces within themselves. These are moments which transcended instances of pain, discomfort and stillness. Here, stillness replaces smallness, allowing for the scale of the artist’s body and its surroundings to expand, creating a sense of vastness to occur in the midst of what are often cramped and restricted moments.

These moments act as telescopes, drawing a line of sight to create new points of reference, and reframing the observations of a painfully familiar domestic setting, allowing for discovery of the disabled body in new shapes, forms, textures and silhouettes.

The selected images have been beautifully printed onto brushed diabond, adding a unique layer of interest and enhancing the viewers experience.

Booking

You don’t have to book to see Sick-gaze, but as the team is sometimes out delivering projects, please call: 01629 734848 before you set off to make sure that the building is open.

Artist:

Bella Milroy: Artistic Associate, Artist and Writer 

Bella Milroy is an artist and writer who lives in her hometown of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. She works responsively through mediums of sculpture, drawings, photography, writing and text. She is also a portrait artist. Her work explores how we touch and make contact with the world around us, with the hand-held being of particular significance. She makes work about making work (and being disabled) and not being able to make work (and being disabled). She is interested in the duality of every-day existence, and how things can be both beautiful/painful, both interesting/dull. This process-based practice is fundamental to her as a disabled artist, utilising and working with the significant limits and demands of living with a chronic illness, all mixed in with the detritus of domesticity.

Q&A with artist Bella Milroy

Q.1 Tell us a bit more about the process of creating Sick-Gaze + The series of photographs captures aspects of life at home, while the context behind the work discusses discomfort and frustration. Are you considering the duality of domesticity?

I was really excited to explore the concepts for this exhibition, and the images found here had been living inside of my head for a couple of years now. As someone who doesn’t leave my home very often as I live with chronic illness, I am quite often wearing the same clothes and outfits, and looking at the same kind of surfaces that really end up providing a framing of my existence. I think the motivation behind the show is very much about trying to evidence myself within the smallness of this domestic space that I find myself in most of the time; I am not often seen by many different people, I don’t have many visual interactions throughout my day to day (multiple face-to-face interactions), but I would often catch glimpses of myself in reflections around my home, in the kind of dustiness of my fridge or the dark murky reflections of my television screen. 

A favourite version of this is catching myself reflected in the bottom of a mug of tea. I really enjoy seeing the warped, watery reflection of myself, and it seems to capture what a private image it is. This privacy is very evident in the photographs featured in the show. It’s something that occurs in the private space of my home, but there is also an intimate privacy of the image itself. There are a lot of other images like this that aren’t even in this series because they can’t be captured, they exist only in the space between my face and the surface that it reflects on. For example, the space inside the mug of tea cannot be photographed because my body blocks the camera from the reflection. Here scale is a really fascinating place to explore in the private smallness of those moments. I am really interested in ways in which you can zoom into those moments and make them large and expansive. That was a really lovely thing to explore in that way. 

I am also really interested in that space in between; not just evidencing myself but also trying to creep in between the brevity of those spaces between myself and those surfaces. One of my favourites is the piece, “Me on the fridge with dust”, which was a piece that started out in its first iteration for a piece that I did for 30/30. It is a project that I take part in every year in which participants are challenged to make an artwork everyday for the month of April (run by 12o Collective). The piece that I created for 30/30 in 2020 is a slightly different image as it has me and my dog Doris in it, and I was very inspired by this photograph. It is a really fantastic example of this exploration of that space in between; capturing those fine fibres and filaments of dust which sit on that surface on top of the reflection of myself in this very delicate layering. The photograph takes on a really exciting atmosphere in the distortion of the reflection it creates, almost creating a grand, painterly effect. I am really interested in this kind of romance in evidencing myself, finding and layering my body beyond its initial physicality in that way. 

So often I think what I find compelling about those reflections is that they can be so startling in their nature. One of the pieces which is titled “Surprise View (Always)”, is an image of me standing in my bathroom, which is taken in the reflection of my bathroom mirror. That is a daily moment for me, waking up and coming downstairs where often I am draped in all of this “sick” costuming; various different supportive pieces of clothing, eye masks and ice pack hats or heat pads wrapped around me. Sometimes I can look really ridiculous! I can be wandering around or sitting in bed draped in these garments, and my favourite version of this is when I am wearing my bright blue eye mask with my glasses over top of that, and an ice pack hat on top of my head. It is this very wonky kind of precarious looking tower of evidenced illness that I don’t really pay much attention to because I’m not looking at myself. My appearance is not always an accessible component of my day-to-day life a lot of the time, because sometimes my days are just a case of getting through moments of great pain and fatigue. Sometimes what I look like is not even a thought until I walk into the bathroom and I see myself in the mirror, and it is startling sometimes! Sometimes it’s really surprising catching myself appearing the way that I do, both in a playful, humorous way, and in a shocking and unsettling way too. It’s not that I don’t recognise myself, but there is an abruptness to these moments, and I enjoy exploring this concept here; pairing experiences of dullness and sameness with these instances of surprise and the unexpected.

I was really interested in trying to capture the finer details of the domestic space here too; the way in which materials like dust on a television or the grubbiness of your phone screen can buffer the edges of what we look at in our surroundings. I also wanted to capture a kind of majesty to those moments as well. I think there is a kind of romance to the photographs featured in the show that I really enjoy pairing with the context in which they were both created and lived in. Process is a fundamental component of my practice as a disabled artist, and these images demonstrate aspects of this in how I have lived through those images; they are my day-to-day in how I appear and interact with my surroundings. I think positioning them in this way was a really wonderful way of being able to celebrate this evidence of ordinariness, whilst also recognising the context in which they/I exist.

Your studio assistance is also your partner, did this affect the creative process?

Yes this was a really wonderful moment in my career where I got to work with my long-time creative assistant Jonathan, who is also my long term partner. We have worked together since we were teenagers in this way, and he is my go to critical assistance whenever I am producing work, and we have built all of my big projects together over the years. This is the first year that we are working together as my formal studio assistance as my career has reached a point where I am able to properly compensate him for his time in that way, which is a really special moment. It has always been a career ambition of mine to be able to work together like that, and now it is happening, which is amazing! I always underestimate the physical demands of photography and how physically demanding it is, especially with these images, they were really particular and challenging shots to try and capture. Sometimes I was in very cramped spaces or the two of us together with a big tripod in a very tiny bathroom for example! Having his assistance with this was invaluable just in the sense of him being able to act as my body where I could set up the shot with him in the position, rather than me having to jump up and down behind and in front of the camera all of the time. He was able to facilitate that role for me in that way, which was amazing. Also, because we have such a long standing history of working together and that kind of critical language of understanding between one another, we have that fluency where we can capture the images that I want to get in a way that feels very creative and exciting. I love that my access point for this is just another layer of creativity in how these works are produced. A lot of my disability is cognitive dysfunction and brain fog and so sometimes it is really hard to get my words out and to articulate what I want a thing to do, especially when there is multiple different things to consider, so again having that fluency of understanding between one another was a really wonderful way of navigating this really complex brief that we were working with. It was just a really wonderful process and I am really excited to be able to create more accessible work in this way.

Q3. Do you consider time when exploring concepts?

Yes I am always interested in the way in which illness impacts and affects my experience of time. I think crip time is always something that I am having to remind myself of whenever I am overburdened with internalised ableism, feeling like I am behind or running late on things. I am not; I am just working on my own time zone, which is both very slow and lightning speed quick. I think that is pretty much the only way to sum up what time feels like to live with chronic illness. The things that you do take a long time, but because so much of your time is spent being ill, it speeds days, weeks and months up, to the point that planning a meeting in 6 weeks can easily feel like next week because time moves so fast. In the context of this work I think it refers more to the nature of how these pieces have emerged. I think what was really exciting about making Sick Gaze was a way in which I wanted to kind of capture a sense of brevity within this experience of time; the shortness of those moments and the way in which I can see tiny glimmers of myself in the window on a certain bit of day, if I am in a certain position and when the sunlight is in a certain direction – and then it is gone, but I remain in that space. I am interested in that duality of this kind of solidity of my own existence in my own body, and then these kind of very brief encounters of myself in a visual sense. I think this work was trying to kind of pull down on the tethers of those moments and make them last longer; exposing them, holding them and posing them in a way that means that they live that little bit longer.

Q4. The photographs have been printed onto brushed dibond, what impact did you intend with your choice of material?

I was firstly really excited to be able to have the photographs displayed in-person after most of my work existed virtually for the past couple of years. That is a valid space in its own right, but I was also excited to take up some physical space and explore how the images could work in a physical medium. For me, all of the work that I make in all of the strands of my practice is sculpture. It is thinking about the space that the material/object/art piece exists in, and then my own body in relation to that. Photography is no different from that. When I was considering what I was going to print it on I was considering the piece in particular, “Me on the fridge with dust” and thinking about what potential that could have to perhaps be printed on something that is a similar quality, which is this silvery and metallic surface. I had not actually used brushed dibond before, and when I got the test prints back I was immediately convinced by it as the perfect medium for what these images were trying to do. I think they seem to really epitomise this idea of the snapshot in that way. They have these beautiful, clean and sharp edges of the metal sheets that the images are printed on, and the grain of the metal is really beautiful too. It gives the images so much depth, which I really love. Because of the way that it is printed, anything that is bright white comes up as transparent and reveals the metal surface beneath. So when you move around the image you get almost a different perspective of the photograph in a three-dimensional way. The light shifts around it and you can see a different density to the image on that surface. It is an absolutely stunning medium to use, and I was really excited to be able to explore that with these images in particular. I think they really enhance what I wanted to explore in playing with that depth and scale of the space in between. I think that they do that in a really exciting way, and I was over the moon when I saw the final pieces! Working with Kerry Andrews (who commissioned this exhibition for LEVEL) to have the finished pieces printed onto the dibond was a really great experience too. She really trusted me to work with this new medium and I was really thankful to get to push my work in this direction like this. Also, special mention to Metro Prints who were exceptional with their support in getting these printed. They were a really wonderful team and I felt really looked after throughout that process.