Suzanne Holtom and Sarah Vause

Suzanne Holtom spent 5 weeks working closely with Sarah Vause, obstetrician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. Suzanne shadowed Sarah in her day-to-day routine. She observed and filmed, with a hand held camera, assisted vaginal and caesarean deliveries, foetal screening and counselling sessions for women who were facing the traumatic challenge of making decisions about abnormal pregnancies. Suzanne built close relationships with some of the women she met and this became an integral part of her developing work. Close to the end of the residency period, she was conscious of a shift in her work.  Previously, she had been concerned by the position of painting in contemporary art. In the past her paintings had been drawn from footage from documentaries authored by others. Now, having directly experienced the situation and using her own films she says she feels more embedded in the work. The paintings form a more emotional, personal response to the situation.  Equally, the experience of the women whom Suzanne worked with was a very cathartic one.

It is in her studio, which she describes as ‘a laboratory’, that she disrupts the temporal structure of her ordered video footage. She traces the screen using tracing paper and pencil, and then looks to undermine this image by re-tracing it freehand and finally progressing to paint.  Using her memory of these situations as a trigger and introducing elements from other research, she develops a more complex pictorial response.

Suzanne has come to focus on the site where technology and the body meet. A site which, in the process of birth, can be seen as a place of dependency and conflict, raising issues of care, control, displacement and surveillance. Framing this is her interest in connecting caesareans to mythology. For example, the title of one of her paintings, Adebar, is the name of the seemingly benevolent stork taken from Germanic folklore. Roughly translated as luck-bringer, Adebar’s darker side was associated with a wound (gebissen) and an attack on the mother, which explained to children their mother’s confinement in bed following the arrival of their siblings.

Meanwhile Sarah Vause was able to use this experience to question views and ideas she had about how women and couples think and feel, enabling her to examine the way she behaved and reacted within her doctor/patient (woman) relationships.  A fascinating example of this two way process was spoken of at Matrix. Sarah revealed that, looking at one particular image Suzanne had drawn of a woman being attended by midwives on a bed in the delivery ward, she suddenly had the insight into how the bed physically created a barrier; that it put the people attending the woman at a physical distance from her. The painting, Room 7 2+4, is the final working up of this idea.