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Gus Cummins 'Ictal Project' is an ongoing series of visual arts, exploring epilepsy.


Colin Hambrook

Another of the visual arts talks that inspired me was hearing Gus Cummins talking about his journey from being an abstract painter making work based on euclidian axioms - to making work about epilepsy. The first set of images he showed was based on a series he called 'Dynamic Symmetry' and was largely about trying to control and to hide. 15 years on from the original diagnosis Gus made a painting he called 'Post Ictal: Nameless' The title was a meaning grafted on to the painting after realising the red shapes emerging from the black background reminded him of space invaders. It expressed something of the sense of being invaded by seizures and was a beginning for the Ictal Project that was to emerge. Cummins began working directly with MRI scans of his brain to express something of the loss of control and the feeling of being an anonymous cell placed under a microscope. He also used EEG records of brain patterns as both a trigger for images which resemble music staves and also as data he could turn into sound using digital software. One of Gus' 'musical' prints - entitled 'EEG' - coincidentally resembles the cover of Joy Division's album 'Unknown Pleasure' which contains the classic song about epilepsy - 'She's lost control again.'

The importance of this work - as disability art - is that it reclaims the experience from the doctors and the medical journals. It demystifies the actual day-to-day experience. The fact that weird things that you have no control over happen to you doesn't mean that you are weird, despite the medical and scientific implications. As a film and series of prints Ictal asks the viewer how they would feel having their personality stripped away and their humanity reduced to a collection of cells. The work moves to Exeter Phoenix in December. I'll be very interested to see how the work develops between now and then.