A male doll dressed as a doctor faces front against a white background. Behind him are a child's medical kit and microscope.
Illustrating the Medical Model of Disability within the Helping the Handicapped website

In 2003 I was commissioned to produce a piece of online art of my choosing for the Austrian city of Graz's Sinnlos Festival, Graz then being European Capital of Culture. I thought it would be helpful to create a website that explained some of the theories behind the Disability Arts movement in the UK, and so made Helping the Handicapped.

Helping the Handicapped illustrates the major 'Models of Disability' that have been developed by the Disability Rights movement in the United States and United Kingdom, theoretical models which are now so widely accepted that they inform local and national government policy. These are the Charity Model, the Medical Model, the Administrative Model and the Social Model.

(Another Model is the Care Model, where disabled people are viewed as being the objects of care and in need of protection from the rest of society. This has been the subject of much discussion by disability rights activists in central Europe, where the majority of disabled people still live in institutions, and I continue to develop work around this.)

Since 2003, though, I have been wondering if there is a further Model of Disability, the Scientific Model, which has been hidden within the Medical Model of Disability. Then, in 2005 I was invited to join a grouping of artists who work with science and scientific issues, organised by The Arts Catalyst, and this has brought me into much closer contact with the scientific community.

As a result, in 2006 I applied successfully to the Wellcome Trust's Sciart fund to develop a project at the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), which is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The Medical Research Council says of itself:

"Since it was established in 1913, the MRC has been responsible for many of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK and on a world-wide scale. Achievements include the production of artificial haemoglobin, the discovery of the gene for Huntington’s disease, the use of folic acid to reduce the risk of spina bifida, new treatment for malaria and the development of revolutionary DNA chip technology. The MRC continues to build on its past achievements, engaging in new research to address major health challenges of the 21st Century. Currently, research is underway on a wide spectrum of key issues including mental health, cardiology, autism, diabetes and cancer."

Clearly, there is a close and ongoing relationship between the Medical Research Council and the ways in which disability is viewed within society as a whole, and in particular within the worlds of science and medicine.

As artist-in-residence at NIMR, I then spent a day a week for a year, working both from my home studio and at the Institute, to explore issues around how science affects the ways in which we perceive ideas of disability and ab/normality. Crucially, I investigated how our perceptions of science and scientists affect society's attitude towards and treatment of disabled people.

I worked closely with two medical research scientists, Malcolm Logan and Evelien Gevers, meeting up with them more or less monthly and corresponding with them in between times by email. You can find out more about our conversations by clicking here. In autumn 2007 I also led an open discussion with medical research scientists and students at NIMR about what they thought a Scientific Model of Disability might look like, which was extremely interesting and useful.

This website documents that project, including the artwork that I produced along the way. The residency has also fed into a book that I am writing on the same themes, and I will post further news of this here in due course.

© Ju Gosling aka ju90 2008

Funded by the
wellcome trust


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