Food Mood

Food has always provoked strong feelings in me. I associate good times with food - past, present and future. I love the act of preparing food - the alchemy of flavour, and the excitement and contentment of mixing ingredients together - sometimes in quick movements, sometimes a slow bubble. Also I like to eat - to enjoy. Maybe it’s comfort food? - but now, and always I think, it's also control.

With type 1 Diabetes I can’t not think about food. The word think implies that this is always a rational thing - a strategy, a plan, but it doesn’t work that simply. It’s more a presence - a voice nagging away, but quietly - so I can’t hear the words clearly, a thought half grasped...

That day I didn’t want to eat. I felt I had to. Why didn’t I just choose fuel – a sandwich or something? 1 unit would have made me feel better – especially after breakfast!

I like food though, and I hate to eat because I have to. I thought a small pizza could be half way between a sandwich and a roast. But it was too big - more carbs than I wanted - than I’d planed for. So I have to leave a third of it. Why didn’t I know – why didn’t I guess? Of course the one I saw wasn’t the real size – it didn’t fit the sodding plate – why didn’t I see it!

And now the whole meal is about my mistake – my stupidity; and I’m embarrassed – I’m very publically wrong, and I hate it! My stomach contracts and this is what consumes me. So now I notice every flaw – the eating becomes a chore, a task – as now I’ve injected I can’t go back. I have to eat it, and each mouthful finds another issue – texture, taste, value – it all starts to swirl, and snarl.

I know I’m horrible to be around now, so I try to change tack. But it’s still there, and I can feel my eyes screwing up as I look around. I hate this! I hate me – why can’t I let it go!!

Fuck’s sake!


“Food Mood: roughs” 

Old Haunts

A crisp cold cuts through the air - it’s touch slices a cross-hatch of time. Opaque light drifts over the day’s colours - layering a whiteness that signals the move from autumn to winter. Contrast softens as the fingers of dusk caress the afternoon, and introspection takes hold.

I walk on familiar ground. Memories crystallising around me, though the mold no longer fits as tight as it did. There are buildings cut from the silhouette; signs and banners have changed - moved on, and I find my footsteps altered in their purpose. 

A meeting in Newcastle at the Medical school - delving into their research into Type 1 Diabetes, a quick look around old haunts, a catch-up with an old friend. Looking out from within the whirlwind I realise I am, at once, more certain about what I want - and more terrified that I won’t achieve it! A deep breathe, a whiskey, a shrug and I make my way over to Durham.

Returning to the Durham Lumiere has become a ritual for myself and Caroline. A crossroads between the medieval city and the technology of lighting and projection  that holds thoughts in time and allows for reflection and hope. And, as I find my thoughts speeding up, I take moments to stop and look - to sketch and write, to see and think; and squint to see a face I recognise staring back through marks scribbled and symbols tapped... Do I really look like that?


Riverview: Durham

Back again 🙄

As thoughts begin to swirl more thickly around my head I find myself writing another re-start post to my blog. I’ve done this a few times - re-started I mean, and I guess I need to ask why? 

My blog began without manifesto. A series of posts that were plucked from thoughts, sights, sounds and whatever came my way as I made my way through the day. I vaguely thought it might start to explain my approach to art - and maybe give me some insight into what I was doing!

In some ways this has proven to be the case - revealing a quixotic approach to subject matter and form; along with a tendency to doodle with words. It is the benefit of seeing my thoughts written - spaced out in front of me, layers of spaghetti stretched flat so that I can recognise them and me for what they (I) are (am), that has made me restart though.

It’s strange that I feel more confident in myself when I express my doubt to an unknown audience? Maybe it’s my inner narcissist? Maybe the discipline of putting words in front of others? Whatever - it’s my reason to begin again.  

Why words? I’m not sure. Drawing also has a similar effect - sketches, doodles - actual drawings; these are ways of thinking - tracing lines across mistakes to find a path. And I think there will be times when those drawings will make their way on here - especially comics and cartoons (though they’ll be tonnes on other social media if not, I’m sure!), but I’ve come to realise I exist in words and image (as well as y’know, flesh), and though these often cross over - that’s not always the case. 

Over the last year my blog was really only about one specific course - which turned out to be great, but while I enjoyed that, I think that I lost my voice for a bit - bad luck it seems to be coming back. These vignettes - the length of a thought and a raised eyebrow, feel as though they are about right for my...  attention span. 

I guess my posts will be sporadic at first, but there’s a lot to talk about at the moment, so I hope that picks as life generates more material - it’s good like that. 

Sci(Psy)Art: The fault lines of Art-Science. (a SciArt blog)

As deadlines loom, and doing becomes the necessary outcome of thinking, I want to reflect more on the science of SciArt: the connection between the disciplines, and the science of diabetes. (A quick disclaimer - from the outset this is the consideration of a lay-person, albeit one who is bound up in the experience as a student and a patient.)

The multiplicity of SciArt covers a vast space – from Stelarc implanting an ear on his arm (Stelarc, (1/2/17)), to Helen Storey’s Catalytic Clothing (Helen Story and Tony Ryan, Catalytic (1/2/17)) - demonstrating how:

 “Artwork and art process has the power to encapsulate some of the most complex debates of our times and, through offering a visceral experience, can traverse intellectual distances at light speed.” (pg. xv, Miah, A ed, 2008: Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press)

Miah here highlights how the synthesis of the two disciplines has enabled a discourse of ideas to enter into a wider consciousness – fulfilling the social need for understanding, but also a deeper sense of engagement. Going further than simply seeing a practical use for a discovery, but interrogating the nature and the direction of that discovery. In a sense, we can see Art as a crucial part of the policing of Science. A view that Stephen Wilson elaborates – suggesting that artists are involved with “questioning the narratives of progress” (pg.11, Wilson, S. 2010: Art Science Now: How scientific research and technological innovation are becoming key to 21st century aesthetics. London. Thames & Hudson).  This idea of questioning emphasises the nature of challenge in the relationship between the subjects, and points to a necessary tension in the relationship – a “critical dimension” (pg. 11 Ibid). Wilson goes further in suggesting that Science is seen as part of a ‘narrative’ – as a ‘world-view’ in itself that we – as a social-economic entity are complicit in if left unchecked.  An approach Wilson cites in The Farm by Alexis Rockman (fig.1), 

fig.1. Rockwell, A. 2000. The Farm. Alexis (1/2/17)

fig.1. Rockwell, A. 2000. The Farm. Alexis (1/2/17)

where we see the potential for environmental and genetic manipulation critiqued in relation to social and economic demands. This Wilson calls part of “a critique of the idealised version of science” (pg.12, Wilson. cited above)

Of course, this cannot work one-way, nor is it enough to suggest that Art is wholly critical of Science, Miah goes on:

“Artists have synthesized (sic) worlds into which the possibility of representation is infinite. They have found new forms of expression and have animated new architectures.” (pg. xv, Miah. cited above)

Reflecting on how the very forms of ‘Art’ have been challenged – pushing concepts of representation further – distorting the line between craft and technology, an act in which artists are complicit: “Artists also invent ways to visualise research results and make investigative process public” (pg.11 Wilson. cited above). It is this invention – this focus on form that pushes the artist into science, and makes science into art, this (dis)play of ideas formulated on a desire to explore, explain and discover meaning(s) that are hidden, or that resist our grasp. Art and Science do not exist in a vacuum, as Miah notes: “We cannot separate art from the cultural conditions of its production and, more widely, its role within the public sphere” (pg.xvi, Miah. cited above) – the same can be noted of Science – both arenas intersect within wider cultures, and if anything, the priority of SciArt is to ensure that intersection is not lost?

The intersection in my case is personal – infusing the medical science with my lived experience, finding a way to represent that experience, and engage meaningfully with a body of scientific discovery.

Diabetes itself is tricky (see here for a useful overview of the differences between types of Diabetes, and the site generally for loads of information, (1/2/17)). I have type 1 diabetes - it’s an autoimmune disease, which means essentially my body is attacking itself.

 “Ultimately auto-aggressive T cells invade pancreatic islets focusing destructive force on the beta cells that produce insulin” (pg.83, Wagner, D. The Role of T Cells in Type 1 Diabetes  in Type 1 Diabetes - Pathogenesis, Genetics and Immunotherapy Downloaded from: (30/12/16))

 So - my T-cells (the body's police force if you like), are attacking my ß-cells, which reside in the Islets of Langerhans (which should be a Scottish Island - or at least a fantasy kingdom):

fig.2. Islets of Langerhans: Not a Scottish island (Bing images, (1/2/17))[Marieb, E: Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology. Pearson (1/2/17).]

fig.2. Islets of Langerhans: Not a Scottish island (Bing images, (1/2/17))[Marieb, E: Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology. Pearson (1/2/17).]

Or, for a better understanding compare these Immunofluorescence stained images of healthy islets (fig 3) against a diabetic islet (fig 4) 

fig 3. Healthy pancreatic islet - showing insulin production.

fig 3. Healthy pancreatic islet - showing insulin production.

fig 4. Pancreatic islet with type 1 diabetes - showing insulin production.  Provided by Dr Anneliese Flatt: clinical research centre Newcastle RVI.

fig 4. Pancreatic islet with type 1 diabetes - showing insulin production.  Provided by Dr Anneliese Flatt: clinical research centre Newcastle RVI.

·      Cells counted manually for all different types


·      Immunofluorescence staining carried out in pancreas tissues for endocrine cell marker chromogranin A and pancreatic hormones viz. insulin, glucagon, somatstatin and pancreatic polypeptide A

·      15 type 1 diabetes tissues and 8 age-matched controls

·      50 islets per tissue imaged on the confocal microscope

·      Islets defined as a cluster of more than 10 chromogranin-positive cells]

Looking at the damage – or the battleground it’s clear that the ß-cells are losing. This stops insulin production (or at least effective insulin production) - meaning I get a build-up of glucose in my blood if I don’t regulate it with external insulin… or exercise - maybe diet too? It also affects the ⍺-cells - the ones that produce glucagon when the bodies blood sugar drops too low. 

But it turns out I do have some insulin left - my ß-cells are producing some, but its slow, and needs help - and it’s going to run out.

This means eventually I will be fully dependant on insulin. But studies have shown that the longer I can maintain ß-cell production of pro-insulin, and the better my glycaemic control, the better the health benefits.

“Therefore, all type 1 (and possibly many type 2) diabetic patients may benefit from any success in maintaining ß-cell (and thereby -cell) activity after onset of disease (21). From the data present here, the best current and practical method subsumes the best possible control for each diabetic patient. [pg.835]” (Steffes, M; Sibley; Jackson, M; Thomas, W: ß-Cell Function and the Develop of Diabetes-Related Complications in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial. Diabetes Care, volume 26, number 3, March 2003) 

The focus of the trial I am enrolled on with T1DUK is involved with exploring the potential impact on diabetes from an immunology approach. Basically, there is a two-pronged attack - with one drug (Liraglutide)used to aid the insulin secretion process and make the insulin I have more effective; alongside this is an infusion of an immune dampening drug to hold off the bodies attack on those ß-cells (effectively this gets the body’s immune system drunk, giving my ß-cells a break) This is assuming that I’m not taking one - or both placebos…

As well as the research I’m involved in, there are varied approaches to diabetes, including:

  • Immunology
  • Carbohydrate research
  • The development & delivery of insulin
  • Diet & impact
  • Education (after-all each diabetic carries their own lab with them?)

So… where do I fit in? 

  • Patient - I am a diabetic type 1
  • Research subject - immunology drug trials, but also daily testing and evaluation of my bodily responses
  • Researcher & Diarist - daily blood tests and insulin dosages, personal blogs and journaling of experience, academic and visual research
  • Diet - understanding and trial of daily carbohydrate intake, alternatives and options - including self medication using insulin and sugar
  • Student - learning about the medical and practical impact of ‘new’ existence
  • Illustrator - collection and development of research, and visual interpretation of experience
  • Individual - personal experience
  • Artist - collection, synthesis, interpretation and expression of information and experience

On a daily basis this means injections and regulation of my food, and an increased awareness of physical activity. This doesn’t mean I can/can’t eat certain foods (though sugar is something I keep away from - unless I’m low, when I don't - see already we’re getting confused here), but that I need to know what I’m eating and the effects. Generally, it’s all about the carbs - Carbohydrate breaks down into glucose - and that’s where the issues begin. Too much sugar build up can result in long term effects - such as blindness and amputation; too little results in comas (not commas - as a Lit graduate, that I could live with). But glucose provides energy, and can be used through exercise too; also, different carbs burn at different rates, and other foods can affect the way in which the body uses the carbs. 

So now it’s about the planning, the maths, the chemistry, the biology, the medicine, the situation and the data. Regular tests let me know what’s going on inside me - and let me calculate what I need to inject - although I have to take into consideration what I’ve been doing, what I’m about to do, what time of day (‘cos the body isn’t necessarily consistent - ratios of insulin to carbohydrate change at the day, and the life, continue) on the basis of an analysis of the food I’m planning to eat. So, maths, apps, research, understanding and a bit of gut feeling all consolidate around each meal… and bedtime… and y’know, everything… 

Surely there’s some art in there somewhere? 

Poetic licence. (a SciArt blog)

In our poetry workshop Sam Illingworth covered a couple of poetic forms - the Nonet and the Haiku, and made some wider points about poetry and science, but also poetry and practice. The key points I took from the workshop were about the role of poetry in communication, and the importance of form in communicating the content of the poem. During the workshop Sam discussed his practice, and gave us the opportunity to both write and critique poetry – harking back to a previous session on the scientific method – and the importance of testing a hypothesis.

Sam discussed his project to turn the abstracts of science papers into poems – considering the importance of these in communicating the message of the research. This stems from an interest in the power of poetry as a communication device, but also from the idea that in creating poetry the scientific discovery can enter into society – and societal discourse more usefully (and arguably completely). That is to say that by engaging in an act of creation that forces reflection and ‘humanising’ of results, there is a more powerful connection between the distance of research, and the impact on ‘lived experience’.

In considering poetry as an aid to communication there is an interesting disconnect for me. As traditionally, in the literary canon poetry is often considered one of the more arcane or difficult branches of study; associated with layers of complexity and density of meaning – a fault perhaps of literary approaches to the forms as much as of the form in itself. Sam’s poetry – in its many forms, is performance poetry – he publishes written versions alongside recorded readings in his blog page, and the tradition of spoken word poetry is one that has for many years been outside the canon, but has come to the forefront over the last 50 years – moving from the beat poets of the 50s and 60s, through to influences on and from hip-hop, and the contemporary spoken word movement. (A good selection can be found in Poulin, A & Waters. 2001. M. Contemporary American Poetry. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.)

At its heart, though, poetry is about economy of expression – saying the most in the most appropriate way. That is not to say that all poetry needs to be short – but the formal constraints can be an excellent way to process thought and ideas. Sam suggested that he likes to link the form of a poem to it's topic - as seen in his poem Going North for the Winter, where the decreasing form of the Nonet (a nine line poem, where the syllables decrease from 9 to 1 as the poem progresses) reflects the intention of the poem, which is:

"... inspired by research done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which found that climate change is forcing the habitat of the snowshoe hare further north. With reduced snow cover meaning that it must shift its habitat in order to avoid lynx, coyotes and other predators." (Dr Sam Illingworth, @samillingworth,

This correlates to my own experience - especially in the thinking of Marxist literary and cultural theory, where the relation of form and content has been considered in terms of the relationship between base and superstructure in the work of Terry Eagleton (see Eagleton, T, 1982: Literary Theory an Introduction, Oxford, Blackwell for a useful beginning); and considered in a wider sense in relation to the cultural manifestation of Late Capitialism by Fredric Jameson, who considers that to understand postmodern culture we must read it as "allegory" - an allegory that is primarily spatial (pg51. Jameson, F. 1991. Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London, Verso.)  

fig 1. A page of my daily diabetes diary (DDD, or D3?). On the left I test before meals and two hours after, and then before bedtime to see how the insulin has affected me. On the right I record the number of carbs in a meal, alongside the units of insulin - this helps me record/work-out the a carb/insulin ratio (which fluctuates throughout the day, and changes over time). At the far right I record key events, or meals that help me refer back, or adapt subsequent doses.

fig 1. A page of my daily diabetes diary (DDD, or D3?). On the left I test before meals and two hours after, and then before bedtime to see how the insulin has affected me. On the right I record the number of carbs in a meal, alongside the units of insulin - this helps me record/work-out the a carb/insulin ratio (which fluctuates throughout the day, and changes over time). At the far right I record key events, or meals that help me refer back, or adapt subsequent doses.

My own dalliance in poetry has helped form the direction of my practice for SciArt. Initially I chose the idea of journaling my experience of being diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes, and my experience on a subsequent drug trial and illustrating this. I have found ‘journaling’ to be an unhelpful expression – especially as I don’t have a typical daily diary (Although I do record my blood levels, and carb to insulin ratios regularly throughout the day (fig 1)- which has a visual potential, but apart from references in images I haven't yet been able to develop further).

Moreover, 'journal' suggests a more structured consideration of the situation – one that doesn’t correspond with the way in which I feel it impacts on me. For while a key aspect of diabetes is the need to manage your life, the sense of a calm, and rational approach associated with the word “manage” is not how the experience feels.

My solution has been to consider the journal in the form of the ‘free-verse’ of ‘beat poetry’. Whilst a definite form or structure to the work of the ‘beat poets’ is difficult to lay down, there are certain features that enable expression of ideas: the format is jazz inspired – looking for hooks and links, but being free-form, and encouraging improvisation; a syncopation of the rhythm – encouraged by line breaks; and a ‘playfulness’ with the form and spelling of words and use of rhyme. For me the syncopation of the form reflects the tension between the scientific rigor of ‘managing’ diabetes and the emotional exhaustion and frustration of the condition (there have been links made between diabetes and mental health issues Beyond Type 1,, 11:25, 30/1/17).

As covered in my last blog, the process of writing poetry has been developed by a process of drawing as interpretation – mind-mapping thoughts, and drawing responses in an overlapping process that both reveals images to inspire poetry, and in turn those poems produce images to develop. This dialectic of poetry and art works around my understanding of my diabetes both through lived experience, but also through my research into both the disease in general, but also immunology in more depth. In my last blog the poem "Life as a Test Tube" I focused in on the experience in relation to the process and the science of Type 1 Diabetes, whilst developing the images, and contemplating this blog I started to piece together snap-shots, building as sense of the narrative thrust, still using the free-verse/beat form/aesthetic, but adding as sense of dramatic rhetoric (and the title is very much working...):


Diabetic beginning.


I start with a



Present thirst,

                  and it        




So I drink - craving




                                                      And Pee

                  and pee

                                    and pee (and itch).


                                    Thunder over the mountains,

                  quick sketches – snapshot

                                                      and I snap,


                  Stop! Stop?


[GP] – poke, prick, piss, weigh

                                                      diastolic over systolic equals A&E.

Blood -    

                  Taken, shaken, spun and wrung

                                                      numbers float to the top.




                  Does this mean? Does this mean? Not sure…





                                                                        Testing further

                                    more blood, laying on my back – a sprawling cephalopod

                                                      reaching across limbs and heart

                                                                        waxing legs and chest…


                                                      (Oh shit)

A talk

                  A swirling of thoughts, flying debris of knowledge spinning from nowhere

Appointments –

                  Come back when? Then?



                  A breath – back in the room…

‘s okay,

                  ‘s okay – ‘cos now I know,

                                                      now I know            

                                                                        and knowledge is… is… nice?

Blood – again



type 1/type 2/type 2/type1… type 1



Manage it

                  (Manage – a word that has inside

 a way of life to


                                    and thrive, but

                                                      for me holds nothing but the thought,

                                                                        that this philosophy is


                                                                                                            anathema to me –

                  strategies with blue-sky thinking,



                                    as though all inspiration can

                                                                        be quantified – and imagination denied.),

manage it –

                  needles, strips, lancets, testing kit, basel, bolus, glargine, insulin, ketoid, ketosis (ketoacidosis)                                                                      hyperglycaemic,

                                                                                          hypoglycaemic –



manage it –

                  diet, carbs not sugar – unless too low, insulin adjustment, split doses,

                                                      counting, calculating,

                                    good carbs, low carbs, no carbs

                                                                                          sugar when,

alcohol when,

                                    and don’t forget to divide by…




                                                                                          and everyone is different…

                                    “Carbs and Cals”(without the cals) – book and app;

reading labels in the supermarket – phone checking,

narrowing down

                                    low, lower, lowest –

                                                      conjugating taste into numbers – experience to data.

                  Rebellion – I will eat!

                  Challenge accepted – spices, herbs, pulses –

weighing, weighing – times, then divide

                                    (One pot – one equation)

                                                      walking, thinking, testing.

Pin prick, finger prick – you’re a….

                                    check - test, record,

                                                      write it down,


                                                      sort – think it through, work

                                                                        it out – hypothesise,

apply – inject – suck it up,

                  make a note,

                                    save for later,

look back on,

                  compare with…

                                    see how trends develop

                                                      trial and error

                                                                        error and trial.


Find a routine, find a rhythm,

                                                      find a way to fit it in.


Life as a test tube (a SciArt blog)

I’ve got a few SciArt blogs to write. I know this because I sat down and made a list. It’s a good list – thorough - it has sub-sections and clauses and everything. And I will get around to them… probably.

 I’ve been at an impasse recently; Journaling – chronicling my diabetes started to feel muddled. How much of the project is testimony, how much is science, how much is about my emotions, and how much is simply charting the day? My confusion meant I didn’t feel like I was making much progress, so I began to feel a bit… well, helpless.

Pickering, A. 2017: Selfie with injection pen. Charcoal on A2 paper. 

Pickering, A. 2017: Selfie with injection pen. Charcoal on A2 paper. 

Pickering, A. 2017: Autoimmune selfie. Charcoal on A2 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Autoimmune selfie. Charcoal on A2 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Selfie with injection pen and pancreas. Charcoal on A2 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Selfie with injection pen and pancreas. Charcoal on A2 paper.

To get going I started to work up some smaller images on a larger scale – starting with variations on a self-portrait. I don’t like showing self-portraits – I never feel you can win – if it’s good – what does that say about you? And if it’s not – well that’s pretty apparent quickly. But in this case it was a useful point to start – after all the journal will consider my view-point, and question myself as character and narrator (I mean, how reliable am I?). Working in charcoal on a large scale I could work quickly, smudge, rearrange, and (especially useful) work in layers of darkness. The images bring out an intensity, and build to a sense of a struggle with myself. The final self-portrait attempts to make explicit the internal life in the context of the outer life, which I hope to explore further. 

These images lead to “Inside-out”, an attempt to articulate the scientific discovery, and the tension of living with type 1 diabetes.

Pickering, A. 2017: Inside Out. Charcoal on A2 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Inside Out. Charcoal on A2 paper.

For this I drew on the research into immunology which is the basis for the drugs trial I am on - including images of ß-cells and the Islets of Langerhans as well as the detritus and routine of everyday Diabetes. (Steffes, M; Sibley, S;Jackson, M; Thomas, W: ß-Cell Function and the Develop of Diabetes-Related Complications in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial. Diabetes Care, volume 26, number 3, March 2003. Diabetes Research Institute Foundation I found that as well as visual images the frustration of the experience manifested itself - through the scrawl of my writing - forced into aggressive stroke through the charcoal itself, and in the opposing figure - the obscured, yet present 'self' that occupies the same body that I inhabit.

Chromogranin Stain Type 1 Diabetes Islet: "What is most interesting is to look at stains highlighting chromogranin (red) and insulin (green) - significantly less hormone producing and insulin secreting (beta) cells in type 1 diabetes islet." (Dr Anneliese Flatt)

Chromogranin Stain Type 1 Diabetes Islet: "What is most interesting is to look at stains highlighting chromogranin (red) and insulin (green) - significantly less hormone producing and insulin secreting (beta) cells in type 1 diabetes islet." (Dr Anneliese Flatt)

I feel that I’m beginning to find visual language to communicate the fault-line between the discovery and the dealing.  Collating these images with my science reading – and incorporating information provided through my collaboration with the Medical staff through my drugs trial - who provided insight into the T1DUK consortium (, and images of stained islets, showing the impact and working of type 1 diabetes, I developed a mind map to begin to isolate themes, ideas and images. The map was then developed through drawing as interpretation – which in turn produced a response in the form of a poem.
"Diabetes map" (pages from my sketchbook)

"Diabetes map" (pages from my sketchbook)

The map quickly becomes un-structured in the sense that ideas begun on one strand are then carried on in connection with another, developing the sense that the medical science and the life lived are not, and cannot be, isolated from each other.

"Interpretive drawing: images of thought" (pages from my sketchbook)

"Interpretive drawing: images of thought" (pages from my sketchbook)

My drawing overlaps, indicating both my sense of preoccupation and frustration, alongside the way in which the space for diabetes is not separated from life – I experience my disease in the context of what I do – and shape what I do around the presence of my diabetes – something indicated by the central placing of the pancreas. The drawing reveals the potential for further images – from the puerile [me having a piss], to the graphic [pancreas and insulin as a technical drawing for a circuit] to the expressionist [my emotions trapped in a test-tube – exploring the way science can be used to syphon off the pain of emotional engagement] and the geometric [proinsulin molecules as pattern].

 A key idea that came through from the map and the drawing, was that of living as a constant process of experiment. Not being able to trust the body, or communicate effectively with it. Instead you need to regulate your biology – you must hypothesise based on knowledge/data (testing), review the results, apply the hypothesis, and test again later. To know if this process works you need to record the results for review at regular periods – and in my case submit the results for expert review. This came out through the poem.

The poem is free-verse – drawing on the jazz inspired form to indicate the frustration that comes from the regular improvisation around the rules that life forces on these little experiments. Some of the the images were developed through this process appear below. In contrast to the free form of the poem, they are clinical in style - even where movement and chaos is referred to, a reference to the opposition between intention, and the disorder of existence. Within the images lies the way in which the structure of this process can provide security - through a narrative of control and progress, whilst at the same time masking the insecurity of the vagaries of blood sugar, and it's medical impact.


Life as a test tube


Test, analyse, apply, revise

                  Structure – struc-ture


                  5.1, 5.3, 4.6, 3.2 – uh-oh

                                    - sugar, test

Pickering, A. 2017: Test, Analyse, Apply, Revise. Drawing pencils on A2 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Test, Analyse, Apply, Revise. Drawing pencils on A2 paper.

                                    - carbs, test

           Tick-tock – step, step,

                  walk and talk, coffee

                                            read, talk

                  And walk, walk,


                  double-back, read,

                                    Test, calculate,

                                                      Insert, record;


                                    thinking, drinking, coffee - review

4.6, 4.2 – biscuit, walking,



                                                      3.8 – shit, Hold everything! Pause

Test, analyse, apply, revise.


Pickering, A. 2017: Life as a Test Tube. Drawing pencils on A3 paper.

Pickering, A. 2017: Life as a Test Tube. Drawing pencils on A3 paper.

Life as a test tube,

      human experiment – the science ring-fences


                                in graphs of

joy[?] – success – 


                                            is above the curve.

                                    The everyday.

                  Every moment – the feeding, the judging and the fixing                  

                                                                        (How low can you go? ) – (Can you feel it?) 

                                                                                                                     Why can’t I feel it?

Everyday frustration [thrust-ration: seconds of impetus].

                                    Food, food, glorious… fuel – a foodie on a deadline,

I love the taste of gasoline in the morning – tastes of…  

                                    Equations, ratios, probability –

                  take this – change that, remember the other:


Where X=the random probability of the food matching the whim of the body in a chance scenario. 




                  ß, ⍺, T – why can’t they all just get along?

Me, myself – and I – I who stab myself in the back,

                  I who call out

                                    I who watch – and when I need me most, blink.

                                                      Single minded – slow throbbing – I can’t, won’t… stop, stop-it!


                                    Eat, Eat? Eat! – not that! FFS –

good control, under control, regulated, regimented,



-        We missed that turn on the left

-        Have you brought the sandwiches?"

-        Shit – what time is it?

-        Where do you want to?

-        Just a quick meeting to…






                                                                        And hope.


Kidnapped (A SciArt Blog)

Rise of the machines.

It’s true! It’s really happened - Sam Illingworth (Our Tutor for non-SciArt peoples) has been taken by the machines! Well a machine. Well, a small, red - probably toy, robot.. called Rob. But the point is - it has him, and he’s done for, unless we give into it’s demands. What? We don’t negotiate with… Look I think that’s missing the point - we have to communicate an emotion to the Robot! In groups.

And here’s the rub. Because whilst communicating emotions in general can open up a whole can of worms, normally we get across what we mean by a whole series of connections and links that build on prior knowledge: “It’s a bit like…”, or “you know when…” or more straight-forwardly “sort-of...”. We live on the edge of a metaphorical cliff, and can often fall off when we mix our drinks. Emotional states are often abstracted or symbolic - often using colour and perspective to indicate feelings or moods that may be familiar to us. But to a robot? Especially as this task requires us to communicate just one emotion - not a range of emotions - reducing down the options for associative, or empirical demonstration (Anger’s a bit like frustration only… etc).

Reluctant Heroes.

As a group we spiralled down the rabbit hole - whether we took the blue or the red pill is fuzzy (though surely that suggests we took the blue one - right?), we considered the use of colours - so how do those pills create an emotional context for the choice? After all if we choose the red and grasp hold of reality - are we associating red with an abrupt experience, with a passion for the truth, with lust and love - or even for a romantic view of life? And as for the blue - with coldness, with reason and dispassion, or with a numbed - hallucinatory state?

We discussed trying to generating a response from the Robot - considering the option of asking a question, or questions, to provoke an emotional response, our own Voight-Kampff test if you like?…

fig 1: Neo eye view. Lana & Lilly Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers), 1999: The Matrix. Warner Bros

fig 1: Neo eye view. Lana & Lilly Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers), 1999: The Matrix. Warner Bros

Scott, Ridley (dir). 1982: Blade Runner. Warner Bros.

Then we tried to get technical - researching the use of Bayesian code in the creation of learning programmes. This a form of code based on Bayesian probablilty, used in developing artificial intelligence - specifically in the development of a learning capability. That is to say:

fig 2: Bayes rule - simplified:  Bayesian Adventures,, (1/2/17)

fig 2: Bayes rule - simplified:  Bayesian Adventures,, (1/2/17)

The theory is used to explain the probability of events in the future in relation to the events that have taken place. Or to put it another way:

fig 3:Bayesian probablity even more simplified: Cartoon  (Bayes and sex) from Spiked Math Comics // (1/2/17)

fig 3:Bayesian probablity even more simplified: Cartoon  (Bayes and sex) from
Spiked Math Comics // (1/2/17)

Our thinking was to adapt this 'learning capability' in order to pre-programme the robot with the capability to develop an emotional understanding:

We found difficulty with the first options - based around the vagaries of association embedded in the relations of colours to meaning, and on the experiential disconnect that the generation of a feeling might have with the understanding of the experience. The time we had left us little time to synthesise the coding information, at least in a way that would let us demonstrate a solution to the task (I found these images later on). In general the task managed to generate different emotions in us - primarily through time and achievement pressure we found ourselves becoming more frustrated. 

A Theory of Everything?

fig 4:Doxiadis, A & Papadimitriou, C; Art: Papadatos, A & Di Donna, A. 2009: Logicomix. London, Bloomsbury. Cover

fig 4:Doxiadis, A & Papadimitriou, C; Art: Papadatos, A & Di Donna, A. 2009: Logicomix. London, Bloomsbury. Cover

My response was to connect back to the graphic novel Logicomix - wherein we are told the “tragic” story of Bertram Russell’s attempt (and failure) to prove the logical foundations of Maths. Oh - and there’s no sarcasm around those quotation marks - the search for truth, and the subsequent failure and despondency are seen in the context of Greek Tragedy. The idea being that Mathematics is built on key guiding principles that allow equations, formula, algorithms and so on - to describe and explain the universe around us; principles that can’t be logically demonstrated - what we call “axioms”. Very nice - but where is this going?

To me this sense of tragedy, this disconnect in logical process was something that a Robot could relate to. The now cliched, “does not compute”, from Lost In Space is a cry of anguish, a shriek of frustration from the ordered mind in a moment of cognitive dissonance with an imperfect universe.  We then wove this into our suggestion.

The Rescue.

Collaboratively then we opted for a three part strategy:

  • Upload an AI code
  • Use red paper to reinforce the meaning
  • Show the following equation (fig. 5) 
fig 5:Illogical axiom = symbol = emoji/sign (group design/solution: Damyon Garrity, Rebecca Bennett, Karen Lawrenson & Tony Pickering)

fig 5:Illogical axiom = symbol = emoji/sign (group design/solution: Damyon Garrity, Rebecca Bennett, Karen Lawrenson & Tony Pickering)

The idea behind this was to convey a formula that is an illogical axiom (according to Wikipedia), and suggest that the intellectual itch that it sets up in reasoned thought is akin to the emotional feeling of frustration. 

Other rescue attempts

Other groups explored the issues of communicating a single emotion: through autonomous drawing; through identifying the disconnect between the appearance and feeling of emotions, in making the robot have to make a random choice to experience feeling; and through exploring voice recognition and computer understanding in an online dating profile. These projects echoed our own issues with identifying clarity in communicating a single emotion, and the issue of a development context to place emotions in (what we think of as teenage I guess). 


So we come back to the problem of experiential learning and learning by association - though our solution did hope to convey the 'sensation' using language that does not depend on prior emotional understanding. Additionally the results raise many assumptions about the response to such a logical quest - assumptions that may only be answered by consideration and investigation of, and into, human physiology and the fluctuations in the chemistry of the brain. In this way one question that pops up must be the potential for a new system or classification of robotic ‘emotional’ states. After all why do we make the assumption that 'emotion' is a constant term - why should it be the same in different forms of consciousness? And if this is the case - do we consider the canons of art, music story, myth literature and gossip as a taxonomy of emotions, that we as humans, can access? Kind of hormonal and emotional training manuals (or stabilisers) if you like? Will new intelligences need a similar body of work to investigate a new sense of being - or of mind? 

fig 6: Russell's Paradox p.164: Logicomix. 

fig 6: Russell's Paradox p.164: Logicomix

fig 7: Russell's Paradox p.165: Logicomix. 

fig 7: Russell's Paradox p.165: Logicomix

Meanwhile my mind drifts to consider the aesthetics of 'the equation'. The design and construction of formula and equations consider notions of balance and symbols. A normal pattern in equations is to substitute one sign (that is a signifier and a signified) for another that signifies multiple or varied sets of which the value used in a particular answer is but one: thus 'where X = ?'; in this sense the equation is constantly in need of reassertion, of clarification.

We drift here into dangerous territory, and the mathematical notion of sets - again harking back to Logicomix and Russell's paradox that brought down the house of logic where he dwelt (see fig 6 & 7). So on the one hand we have the semiotic gymnastics of the meaning (an overlap with critical literary and cultural theory that I may explore in a future blog), and on the other we have patterns and layout - the hieroglyphs and handwriting of the mathematical and theoretical proof. The workings of the mind in two dimensions- straining to burst into three - or three thousand and three. Interchanging symbols for symbols - using "?" and 😊 was our way to try and 'flesh' out an understanding of emotion, and perhaps indicates our need as individuals for continual contextual reference and reinforcements. More than this, however, there is scope to use this understanding of semiology to explore meaning - whether as pastiche or parody - a Banskyisation of Einstein (E=MC🔨 perhaps?), or maybe using the transience of the white or chalk-board to explore the writing and rewriting of the world in art-performance?

Aftermath: Synthetic emotions

After the final presentation Rob - the Robot - informed us that we had all failed. We were then told to consider how this made us feel, and to post it on the group Facebook page (which I can't link to). Though, as a group, we were disappointed - we started to consider to what extent this feeling was genuine. That is to say the sentiment was professional - an 'ego' reaction in relation to 'the super-ego', but that the knowledge that Sam was in reality was safe meant that our responses were in many ways 'synthetic emotions'. Other responses voiced anger, apathy, and even the desire to see the rescue through to the end and to find the missing Sam. This was juxtaposed with feelings of ambivalence predicated on the 'non-reality' of the situation.

ZHANG, S: Visual Expressivity Analysis and Synthesis for a Chinese Expressive Talking Avatar (PhD proposal). Beijing. Department of Computer Science & Technology Tsinghua University. (1/2/17)

ZHANG, S: Visual Expressivity Analysis and Synthesis for a Chinese Expressive Talking Avatar (PhD proposal). Beijing. Department of Computer Science & Technology Tsinghua University. (1/2/17)

Synthetic emotion was an idea that linked intriguingly back to the workshop - for here we were trying to generate emotional reactions that we could not directly connect with, something we had been trying to communicate to the Robot. I wanted a visual image of this concept and quickly found fig. 8. The challenges here are in authenticity and consciousness; for what I see here is an avatar - or computer generated representation of human emotion. Though the facial movements have been programmed to be recognised, they do not come across as 'real', but instead mimic the human - akin to the way my phone camera thinks paintings of portraits are real people, and zooms in on the face. Stanislavski's acting theory also comes to mind [Stanislavski, K. 1936/1988: An Actor Prepares, London, Methuen Drama] - his techniques of "emotional memory" and the "magic if" - are, after all, ways to recreate 'real' emotional responses in an 'unreal' situation. Can we therefore see a Robot, or computer as an 'actor' of the human? Or should we say that they are distinct? Use of the word 'real' is of course problematic - especially if we can develop the computer - or Robot (and immediately I'm aware that these terms are not synonymous) consciousness, in which case these 'synthetic emotions' become valid but other reactions... 

Oh... Sam's fine by the way... I mean he's alive anyway. *Coughs: Stockholm, cough*.

Diagnosis & other animals (A SciArt blog).

SciArt Psychosis.

(a poem inspired by the the experimental practice of Rocha Lin, Toni Taylor, Lucy Walton & Catherine Jack)

Word vomit

           from my SciArt sessions

                                     and confessions…

Aristotle chases Loki - 


         w[o/a]nder and fear

                                        order & chaos.

The serpent Ouroboros - 

a process,

       with experiment

                               & measurement

collection and reflection.


             Illuminated solar systems


by photo-sensitive ghosts, 

              (echoes) -

                           planetary shapes and shadow hosts.

Plastic fantastic evaporated colour

                       arranged and deranged,


               in Gallery and Laboratory.

Random generation - 

               the cosmic, the atomic (its all gone quantum), 

cellular dis-in-ter-gration, 

                 patient(s) and medicine - 

the drug and the psychology - a part of me?


Devise, measure,

                     observe & record



                        and destroy,


                          Now start again. 


My SciArt? Four paintings I call "Diagnosis".

Diagnosis #1 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #1, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #1 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #1, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #2 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #2, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #2 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #2, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #3 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #3, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #3 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #3, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #4 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #4, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

Diagnosis #4 (Pickering, A Diagnosis #4, watercolour, ink and tip-ex, 2016)

These paintings came from shock. Are they finished - and are they SciArt? I’m not sure, but here’s a little about where they came from. They are paintings I produced in response to the experience of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes - attempting to express the cognitive breath of the announcement, and the biological and bodily impact in terms of ritual and process. 

So, type 1 occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This means the carbs in food don’t get broken down, and rather just shoot straight through - which was one of the symptoms that the Doctor picked up on. The other was thirst. All the time - for sugary drinks especially, which would then go straight through again. It’s unusual to be diagnosed with type 1 at my age (41 *sigh). For me the paintings attempt to articulate the mental prodding, poking and gymnastics of the situation. There’s a fair amount of self-reproach, at least until you better understand what has happened. When diagnosed you get a fair amount of kit - injection pens, needle nibs, blood testers, test strips and lancets, plus diaries, diet books and generally a lot of information. But fundamentally your relationship with your body breaks down. My blood can be up or down - both of which are bad and need to be controlled - with either insulin or sugar - meaning I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland eating and drinking till she's exactly the right size. You begin to distrust your own sensations - and you wonder whether you feel what you think, or think what you feel… stuff which I think may be a part of where I go in this option.

I had some great feedback from my group about the potential to use the idea of the fourth piece (the glasses - when your body readjusts its blood sugar vision can alter temporarily - but significantly), and to immerse the viewer in the experience using some kind of 3D/ beer goggles/stereoscopy technique to observe the other paintings - or a wider exhibition/installation. Feedback that made me wonder about how far SciArt/ArtSci needs or is interested in interaction with the viewer/audience?

My notes show my doodles and research looking at the biology of diabetes - looking at the shape and patterning of the pancreas and the pro-insulin cell.

Assorted ramblings and a thumb. (page from my sketchbook)

Assorted ramblings and a thumb. (page from my sketchbook)

For some reason exploring this physicality (which I’ve never bothered with in the past) made me begin to think of ideas for installations and interactive pieces: blood dripping onto sugar (or vice-versa - using syrup); completing a circuit to light up a pancreas using a injection pen within a florescent light structure; and generally finding ways to whizz-up food - looking at breaking it down which used to be done in the body. Here, if not budget exploding logistical and ethical nightmare installations, are a least the germs of metaphors that could serve illustration well.

SciArt (A SciArt blog).

Science [fiction], exposition, how things work, moving pictures, illustrated moments from science history - these are all the thoughts that follow my decision to try SciArt, as I sit and wonder where Illustration fits in this brave new world (my appologies to Huxley, and Shakespeare) Satisfied I will find someway to interact I make my way over to ‘The Shed’.

The Shed is a bit scruffy from the outside. It’s doing it’s best to live up to it’s name. Moving through from the reception you follow corridors that echo school-days - slated floors and dim walls mired in shade that branch out into high ceilings, white-walls and mezzanine layers. The whiteness screams test-tubes and bunsen burners as I walk in with my preconceptions held out to stop me from falling. I take a seat in what at first is very functional space. Taking out my sketch pad I find myself looking upwards, and already the set designer in me is working: I take note of the levels - balconies and alcoves, the potential of pillars, the flexible chairs and tables, and the access to water and technology. There are multiple entrances, strip lights and glass. Electric sockets dangle tantalisingly on sprung wires - reminiscent of robots on a production line (or maybe the harvesting machines from The Matrix?), and there is a sense of things to be created.

We are invited to consider the name - SciArt. It is a nomenclature that is contested - with a seemingly science bias, so the alternative seems to be ArtSci. The suggestion being that here we have a form or discipline that comes from the crashing together of approaches (and that Science in particular loses something from the process). The reality seems to be that the two way name is symbolic of a two way process - a methodololgy that springs from and seeks inspiration in the other. Art and Science both seeking to answer questions, with different methods and narratives, and both finding in the other ways to critique notions of what they are.

In a sense then my first impression of SciArt/ArtSci is one of creative disruption, finding the explosion in the atom if you like… (sorry).

"It's alive!!" (page from my sketch book)

"It's alive!!" (page from my sketch book)

So… Sci Art… Art Sci… or ‘Cartis' - which is the nearest I could get to an anagram that combines the two, and made me think of a warped, or drunk, form of ‘Catharsis' [‘Cart’is'] - the release of feeling through an audiences' investment in a performance. In a sense it may be that this points to the idea of SciArt as an arena where we can connect our understanding of the world and universe with our experience of being in it... warped because I imagine there will be an explosion at some point.

What is it though? How do you do it? And how do I know if it's any good?

I don’t think I can pretend to answer these questions yet - maybe not ever. I can say I’m involved in it now, and the search for a definition is ongoing.

Optioning (A SciArt Blog).

The lecture theatre used to be a cinema - maybe still is? We go down stairs, and thru the underbelly of the building. We’re all thinking what it is we’re going to chuse (sic)? And talking like we know what it is we’re chusing (sic) between. Maybe its the coffee talking, but I’ve already picked my option - but I’m thinking I maybe wanna change to something else that I think I know about?

We cram into the seats of noir, and hunch together. Eyes skirting around to see what everyone else has, to see who’s there - looking for some clue as to what to do next. The presentations begin - but strangely there is no dimming of the lights.

Options step forward, each doing its dance - caught up in the academic hustle. Lights blink on and off in my head - like a moth I follow each one till it burns. 

More coffee later, and getting to the end my brain is following pathways I used to travel on. Finally I see what might be a cul-de-sac, or might be a short-cut - but it’s definitely somewhere I haven’t been before.

“I’m not sure - do you think…?” I ask a stupid question, and taste the answer on the syllables as they leave my mouth…