The gut and microbiome loom large in the popular and scientific imagination, and have been at the fore of new understandings of mental distress and behaviour change. But epidemiological research suggests that complex, chronic and undiagnosed gut issues are rising exponentially around the globe. Stomach Ache explores how this widespread digestive dysregulation illuminates the gaps between cutting-edge science and everyday lived experience. 

It asks three key questions:  

  • How do people living with complex, chronic and undiagnosed gut issues think creatively and adaptively in response to their symptoms, when medicine is unable to offer a linear pathway toward treatment and cure? 
  • What new definitions of medical and social inequity arise in this disconnect between gut science and lived experience?
  • How might these formulations help us complicate representations of lived experience in curatorial and artistic practices, leading to new ways of framing lived experience as a site of adaptation and creative agency?

Between 2021-2023 University of Melbourne funded lead researcher Vanessa Bartlett to host a series of art workshops and conversations with people with lived experience. These sessions explored how basic functions such as eating and receiving care are complicated by dysregulated guts, and how wellbeing is linked to people’s ability to creatively and adaptively self-manage symptoms.

In 2023 Vanessa Bartlett and Rachel Marsden (University of the Arts, London) were awarded a NNMHR New Networks Grant to test how these insights might challenge ways of representing the brain-gut-microbiome axis in curatorial and artistic practice. We will be announcing more details on how to participate in this research soon.