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Stayin' Alive

An exhibition by Gus Clutterbuck

In a society that is reliant on drugs and the professionals who prescribe them Stayin' Alive is a collection of ceramic sculptures and installations that comment on our relationships with the medical profession. Questions of reciprocal faith between doctor and patient go to the heart of medical ethics 1 and are the subject of the ceramic works in Stayin' Alive.

Speaking through the various modes of prescription and consultation the art works in this project participate in a dialogue about doctor-patient relationships. The vital significance of this communication is elaborated through models and objects made in the ceramic workshop at the JamFactory in South Australia.

Various researchers in the 'medical ethics' area have been working on disentangling the role of trust and communication within doctor-patient relationships, and its impact on consultations. 2 Trust can be defined as, "...a complex mixture of beliefs and expectations consisting of emotional as well as cognitive elements." 3

These works comprise of reconstructed shapes, forms and vessels associated with the medical world and the prescribing of medicines. This paraphernalia - of richly loaded forms, signifying certain health messages and codes - acts as an ideal vehicle through which a discussion can occur on the topic of 'medical ethics'.

The ceramic objects are constructed from multiples associated with medical dosage and measurement, such as medicine glasses, asthma puffers, capsules and packaging. In manufacturing these forms I have gathered source material by directly sampling medical items, slip casting from them and adding decals with printing techniques. The colours and text are influenced by design elements of pharmaceutical marketing from advertising, health warnings and packaging.

The art making process has led me to experiment with newfound mediums of bone china and porcelain, adding to the variety of material qualities within the exhibition. These pieces are highly polished yet fragile, often precariously balanced, creating a tension that reflects the issues being discussed. The mixed media elements which are reminiscent of the surgery or dispensary aim to extend the material quality of the work. The intention is to create a situation where the models are set in an appropriate framework relevant to my topic.

The starting points of these sculptural studies evolve from personal experiences, observations and questions from a lifetime of consultations for asthma. Mutual Trust (2005) and Can't stand up for falling down (2005) are autobiographical pieces exploring a personal journey in overcoming addiction to cigarettes and asthma inhalers. But, the work is also informed by recent debates that have tested confidence in the current medical system.

Patient confidence is based on rational scientific process, testimony, leading to diagnosis and successful treatment (Review of Systems). But what influences prescribing behaviour, the best interests of the patient or the interests of the drug companies (who give a GP's generous gifts of free dinners and merchandise)? An increasing number of critics are voicing concern over the influence of powerful marketing machines on medical outcomes. 4

The ethical bottom line is that this relationship can and does lead to harm to patients at an individual level through inappropriate prescribing.5

Stayin' Alive is aimed at creating a scenario conducive to discussion about ethical issues of communication and trust. The forms symbolise personal encounters with the medical profession. These concerns take on a particular resonance in an environment of increasing medical consumption, aggressive marketing of pharmaceutical products, and the challenge to the role of the 'professional' doctor from alternative medicine.

Gus Clutterbuck
2007

References

  1. Rogers, W.A. and Braunack-Mayer,A,(2004), Practical Ethics for General Practice, Oxford University Press, New York.
  2. Rogers W.A. (2002), Is there a moral duty for doctors to trust patients? Journal Of Medical Ethics,
  3. Rogers W.A. (2002), Is there a moral duty for doctors to trust patients? Journal Of Medical Ethics, 28,pp 77-80.
  4. Rogers, W.A.,Mansfield,P.R.,Branauck-Mayer,A.J. and Jureidini,J.N.,(2004)The Ethics of Pharmaceutical Industry Relationships with Medical Students, Medical Journal of Australia, Vol 180
  5. Rogers, W.A.,Mansfield,P.R.,Branauck-Mayer,A.J. and Jureidini,J.N.,(2004)The Ethics of Pharmaceutical Industry Relationships with Medical Students, Medical Journal of Australia, Vol 180, page 411-413.

Stayin' Alive was exhibited at the Flinders Medical Centre in Bedford Park, South Australia in May 2007. Ceramic models and objects highlighted the significance of communication between doctor and patient that aimed to stir the medical ethics debate.

Gus's work was selected for the 2008 Sidney Myer Fund International Ceramics Award. View list of artists

Banner image
Gus Clutterbuck, Mutual Trust 2, 2006 (detail)
slipcast and handbuilt MFQ, glaze, body stain, painted MDF
Dimensions: 1500 x 720 x 50mm
Photo: Mick Bradley

Image in text
Gus Clutterbuck, Balance of Power 1, 2006
Medium: slipcast bone china, body stain, glass shelf, brackets
Dimensions: 800 x 250 x180mm
Photo: Michal Kluvanek

Gus Clutterbuck, Personal Reflection, 2006
Medium: Bone China, body stain, glass, medicine glasses
Dimensions: 700 x 700 x 120mm
Photo: Michal Kluvanek

Gus Clutterbuck, Ritual Objects, 2006
Medium: porcelain, bone china, body stain, glaze
Dimensions: 200 x 280 x 25mm
Photo: Grant Hancock


Gus Clutterbuck, Balance of Power 3, 2006
Medium: slipcast bone china, body stain, glass shelf, brackets
Dimensions: 800 x 250 x180mm
Photo: Michal Kluvanek

Gus Clutterbuck, Reciprocal Trust, 2006
Medium: bone china, body stain, gelatine capsules, perspex stands
Dimensions: 200 x 200 x 80mm
Photo: Michal Kluvanek