Seeing is Believing is an experimental art and science collaborative project that conveys the illusion of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Through a one-on-one interaction between the artist and a participant, the interactive performance installation conveys a metaphorical experience of chronic pain by manipulating each participant’s multisensory experience using the latest technologies including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and custom designed gloves.
Seeing is Believing is an exercise to demonstrate, contrary to the common belief that pain reflects only the amount of tissue damage, that the brain can still produce perceptions of pain even in the absence of physical injury. It is also an artistic way of externalising an inherently internal experience, so that the audience can experience something of what it is like to have CRPS. It is important to note that this artwork is not designed to give pain to the participant, however it may or may not involve various types of discomfort depending on their individual response.
The work is a collaborative effort with scientists supported by Synapse Residency 2015 (Australian Network for Art and Technology), and by drawing on each participant’s personal subjective responses to the work, it aims to highlight the complexities of chronic pain.
The artwork was originally a part of a curated exhibition, The Patient, (Curator, Bec Dean) at the UNSW Gallery 2016 and is scheduled to tour regional galleries in NSW and Victoria in 2017-18. For the 2017 Australian Pain Society (APS) 37th Annual Scientific Meeting, the artwork will be an abridged version of the original project.
Eugenie Lee is an emerging interdisciplinary artist with a focus on medical science relating to her own chronic pain disease. She works with sculptures, installations, performance and paintings to communicate pains complexities and is particularly interested in the sufferers’ states of mind – their anxiety, fear and hyper vigilance – and how objective science deals with such subjective states.
Lee is a recipient of Synapse Residency 2015 funded by Australian Network for Art and Science (ANAT), and a 2014 recipient of a research residency, Amplify Your Art, from AccessibleArts. She has also been an ambassador for the not-for-profit organisation, Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia since 2014. As one of the most prominent activities of my residencies, Lee began working with pain researchers at Body in Mind (BIM) at UniSA, and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). Together they started on an experimental artwork, resulting in Seeing is Believing, which explores how artistic concepts and processes can compliment scientific research by involving illusions and their influence on chronic pain.
The key people involved were:
According to the latest research in pain science, pain is how the person perceives it to be – i.e., it is not the absolute truth of what’s happening to their body but is based on their perceptions, and what information their brains are receiving. In other words, the patient’s own interpretation of pain has a huge influence on the sensations and degree of their pain.
This project explores an artistic way to communicate the highly private nature of pain. To externalise such a subjective experience, I have designed the work in such a way that each participant experiences not only physical sensations, but also the emotional and psychological strains such as anxiety, anticipation and stress. Although it is possible that some participants’ perceptions won’t be ‘tricked’, we hope that the experience will still be worthwhile for them to empathise with pain sufferers afterwards. Ideally, we hope their experience will be more than just embodying empathy; we hope to provide a transformative experience that will change the way they think about their own actions and attitudes towards people with chronic pain.