A two year public-facing residency (2020-22) at Manchester University’s fabulous Manchester Museum, 'Dab Hands' will explore hands, art practice & dexterity. Artist and project director, Lucy Burscough, is best known for her ‘portraiture for health’ projects. 'Dab Hands' will move on from the face, to another identity-rich area of the body, the hands. Lucy and her collaborators will explore our profound relationship with our hands via a range of creative and thought-provoking approaches.

Portraits will be made of people’s hands whose dexterity is affected by disease & trauma, by cancer treatment and arthritis. The production of these paintings will develop on from Lucy’s earlier work, in particular, the Facing Out project. There, it was found that involvement in sensitively designed 'arts & health' projects, which offer patients a chance to celebrate their identity by telling their stories on their own terms, can be beneficial to well-being and help participants re-frame their medical experience into a wider sense of self.

Day by day, the honing of dexterity achieved by the challenges we set our hands can change their very physicality and these unique traits can add up to tell a life story: the nimble speed of a musician, the precision of a surgeon, the strength and grace of a plasterer or even the scars and burns of a chef. This relationship alters when illness or trauma causes loss of functionality, & sensitive portraits that acknowledge this change are the ultimate goal of this element of the project.

The project will develop thinking around dexterity as a learned skill & question formal educational priorities that would fail to attribute sufficient worth to developing those skills as part of a rounded curriculum.

“It is important & an increasingly urgent issue. It is a concern of mine & my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things - cutting things out, making things - that is no longer the case.”
— Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education at Imperial College, London and Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts

Burscough is committed to making art projects which have vibrant outreach elements that open up the project to as many participants as possible. Together with creating the artworks in conversation with the public, she will work with health professionals, patients and with school and medical students to create art objects that echo and illustrate intricate surgical techniques and interactive objects that encourage the development of manual dexterity. Some of these will be low-cost take-away ‘dexterity challenges’ for use at home or in the classroom; others, ambitious sculptures.

She envisions ‘micro-embroideries’, created using tools and techniques more usually employed by plastic surgeons; sculptures that cross boundaries between clinical anatomical models & softer, comfortable domestic crafts. She will work with horticulturists & vulnerable adults to graft an illustration of the circulation of the hand with living saplings, mimicking microsurgery. Outreach activities will be numerous and will draw on collaborations with various groups and the inspirational collections of the Manchester Museum.

Where possible artworks will be created in public in museum and medical settings following her model of ‘portrait as performance where conversation is key’. An exhibition of the work will take place at Manchester Museum as part of its reopening after extensive redevelopment.

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  • August 13, 2022 12:56 pm local time

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