Collaborations in Science / Art

We are driven by curiosity but also by a desire to communicate. In scientific papers one hopes to interest colleagues, and by writing a wider if still small and select group. Collaborations with artists allows a different milieu entirely, and promises human portrayals of conditions otherwise largely described in word.

Ian Waterman and I were fortunate that during the development of L’Homme Qui/The Man Who, based on Sacks’ book, Peter Brook was made aware of Ian’s case. We went to Paris at Peter’s invitation to help develop one of the neurological vignettes in the theatre piece, directly taken from Ian and Pride and a Daily Marathon, and that then Peter returned to this for a second time more recently in ‘The Valley of Astonishment.’

I have also collaborated in several different projects with the performance artist, actor, director and writer, Andrew Dawson, focussing on how to portray neurological conditions in within live arenas.  

At their best, such pieces fuse humane arts with descriptive science so each is essential and become indistinguishable.

with Peter Brook

L’Homme Qui/The Man Who’ 1993.

Based on Oliver Sacks book, ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’ the only case taken from a real participant was that of Ian Waterman. We went to Paris to discuss the portrayal with Brook and his company.

“The Man Who” is one of the most magically effective explorations of the mind (also possibly the soul) ever be attempted on the stage… theatre that is simultaneously poetic and utterly realistic.

Pater Canby, New York Times

‘”The Man Who” is no less an epic…. It’s as vast and mysterious as the human imagination,

Consider this fable (sic) about a young man who sits immobile in a hospital room, having lost all feeling in his body from the neck down. He comes to realize that if he concentrates on his right arm, he can raise it. With more concentration he is able to stand, and as long as he sees his feet, he is able to move around the room, lurching in the stiff-legged manner of Frankenstein’s monster.

Each day the young man must again learn to do what he did the day before. “There are no habits,” he says with resignation, “only tricks and stratagems.” It’s as if his body were a land devastated by war, a place without civil order where life’s most basic activities have become endeavours worthy of an Odysseus.

“The Man Who” is one of the most magically effective explorations of the mind (also possibly the soul) ever be attempted on the stage… theater that is simultaneously poetic and utterly realistic.’

Review; Pater Canby, New York Times, March 15, 1995.

Brook returned to Ian Waterman for his more recent, ‘The Valley of Astonishment.’ In this he wanted to show how some neurological conditions show enhanced function rather than the reverse, with the main subject being a synaesthete and mnemonist. But he also want to feature Ian once more directly on stage acted.

‘Everything comes wrapped in silence in “The Valley of Astonishment,” Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s wonder-struck contemplation of the enigma of the human mind. A shimmer of stillness seems to surround every word spoken, every gesture made, every note sounded in this essayistic work about extraordinary sensory perceptiveness…An implicit request fills this silence: Think about how you think. Try to feel out, if you can, the way you feel.

Magni provides an exquisitely poised, physically thorough interpretation of a man with no conventional sense of equilibrium (or proprioception).’

Ben Brantley, New York Times, September. 18, 2014

with Andrew Dawson, performance artist, actor and director.

The Process of Portrayal’ with Andrew Dawson, Lucia Walker and Chris Rawlence, 2010. A video record of people with neurological impairments.

The Articulate Hand,’ with Andrew Dawson, 2010. London and New York.

‘The Articulate Hand’ is a piece of performance theatre, melding live performance with video recordings of hand function and disfunction and its effects of people.

Performed at Reading, October 2010, Oxford, November 2010, Wellcome Trust, London, November 2010 (5 performances).

Galapagos Arts Space, New York City as part of the World Science Festival. 2011, followed by a discussion. WSF video:

Hyderabad, India as part of a Wellcome Trust Conference, September 2011.

Bristol Old Vic, May 2012.

Private performance for Wellcome Trust, London, June 2012.

Goldsmith’s University, London, October 2013.

The Russian Doctor.’ 2014. With Andrew Dawson, on Anton Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin in 1890.

This was a major piece, commissioned through Wellcome Trust who awarded us a development award and then a full arts award to create a piece of theatre about Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin Island, beyond Siberia, to expose the conditions in the penal colony there, in 1890.

We went to Sakhalin to research the visit twice and then Andrew developed a solo theatre piece in 2014. During the course of this I researched a parallel draft MS on Chekhov’s visit to Sakhalin, its importance to him and indeed the importance of science, medicine and humanitarian work throughout his life.

The above images were taken in Aleksandrovsk during this research trip.

The Russian Doctor‘ was premiered and then performed at several venues.

We also wrote about this in the following paper, cited with a short article on Chekhov I also wrote.

Cole J, Dawson A and Turda M. Medicine in the Cards: Convicts & Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s Medical Travels. Wellcome History, 52, 2013

Cole J. On the Harmfulness of Tobacco; Chekhov’s journey from vaudeville to empathy. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2017, 1–4. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw201

I continue to work on a more substantial work on the relations between Chekhov’s art and his medicine and other work.

with Siobhan Davies

Some years ago I met the choreographer Siobhan Davies and we developed a friendship. Since then discussions between us have informed some of her work, e.g. Station to Station; Siobhan Davies Dance, Barbican, London, July 4th– 10th 2015.

We continue to search for means to overlap.