Objects of Digestion

Vanessa Bartlett, Rachel Marsden and Lindsay Kelley

Dysphagiac by Lindsay Kelley at the Stomach Ache event Objects of Digestion, part of The Big Anxiety Forum Naarm, October 2022.

The Stomach Ache project gathered at The Big Anxiety Forum Naarm 2022 to explore human-gastrointestinal relations. Attendees were invited to think of an object to describe their relationship with their digestion or mind-gut connection. These speculative and real objects helped us explore the role of the gut in our social and sensory lives.

Artist Lindsay Kelley led a tasting from her performance Dysphagiac, which responds to the feeding tube as an object that challenges social and sensory relationships with food. People with dysphagia lose their ability to swallow, and with it their ability to conform to conventional ways of digesting. How can tasting the pureed food that feeding tubes deliver to the stomach help us reimagine experiences of failing digestion?   

This event extended research conducted by lead researcher Vanessa Bartlett exploring experimental strategies for representing the sensory experience of digestive dysfunction in an exhibition environment. Objects of digestion gathered from participants so far include functional objects: such as chopsticks for precisely selecting ‘safe’ foods from a plate, to more emotive objects: a quilt to provide comfort and nurture. Future research will engage with the question of how these ‘gut objects’ might inspire experimental ways of curating.

The event closed with a reading of Welcome to Nuclear Medicine by UK collaborator Dr Rachel Marsden.

This workshop was part of the two-day event The Big Anxiety Forum: full programme here. The Big Anxiety is an arts and mental health festival focusing on lived experiences of mental health, trauma and suicidality, and exploring the diverse ways in which art and design collaborations can provide valuable psychosocial support, while reframing experiences of trauma and distress in ways that normalise rather than pathologise.