From the Latin con (with, together) and fabulari (to talk, chat), from fabula (a tale)
- (formal) To engage in conversation; talk
- (psychiatry) To fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory
Confabulations: Art Practice, Art History, Critical Medical Humanities is a new series of urgent conversations on health, medicine, and medicalized bodies triangulating three areas of practice and scholarship, each with their own lineages, disciplinary ambits, and trajectories of remembering and forgetting. Consisting of talks, workshops, readings, performances, and works-in-progress presentations, the series intends to make explicit the contributions that artists and art historians can make to debates and developments in critical medical humanities and, in turn, to offer ways of expanding the possibilities of art practice and art history. Calling on artists and art historians who are ‘medical humanities curious’ as well as those who already identify with medical humanities, Confabulations aims to make and hold space for experimentation, risk, and dialogue in the hopes of fostering a community of practitioners and scholars interested in shaping future relations and interdependencies among art practice, art history, and critical medical humanities.
First-wave medical humanities frequently assumed a primarily instrumental attitude towards art and art making. But recent calls for criticality and postcritique are shaping a different epistemological space that emphasizes entanglement, materiality, and affect to imagine inter- and transdisciplinarity otherwise (e.g. Viney, Callard & Woods, 2015; Fitzgerald & Callard, 2016). Confabulations explores how art practice and art history can creatively and perhaps awkwardly operate in this space. How might artists and art historians, with urgent attention paid to constructions of gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, help to ask and address pressing questions about contemporary and historical structures of health- and medical-related experience, knowledge, care, research, and education as these are complexly and unevenly distributed across different histories, geographies, communities, and corporealities? In the belief that these difficult questions demand new ways of thinking and doing, ‘a creative boundary-crossing in and through which new possibilities can emerge’ (Whitehead & Woods, 2016), Confabulations aims to explore the affordances of art’s practices and art’s histories for critical medical humanities.
For John Berger (2016), ‘confabulation’ described the activity of writing as ‘true’ translation, not just between two different languages but also in a triangular relation with the ‘pre-verbal', implying subtle shifts among 'voices' to convey the complexities of human bodily experience. In psychiatry, confabulation denotes the process by which the imagination fills in memory gaps with fabrications that are experienced as if they were real. The series title thus explicitly draws attention to the problems of translating bodily experience into language and, at the same time, to breaches, fissures, and omissions not only in individual memory, but also in collective memory as constructed in and through an archive, a discipline, or a field of practice. And it aims to think about how these might be occupied imaginatively across time and space. In this sense, Confabulations intentionally echoes Saidiya Hartman’s process of ‘critical fabulation’ (2008), a method of research and writing that plays with the basic elements of a historical narrative in order to displace the dominant or authorised point of view. As deeply colonialist in conception and structure, art institutions including art history have long been dominated by period- and geography-specific approaches that constructed and reinforced hierarchical binaries and evolutionary narratives. Confabulations therefore insists on the urgency of decolonial, intersectional, transhistorical, transnational, transgeographical, as well as radically local thinking about health, medicine, and medicalized bodies.
Confabulations: Art Practice, Art History, Critical Medical Humanities is envisioned as a two-year series of monthly online events beginning in fall 2021 and leading up to an edited volume of texts, artworks, and documentation of artworks. We invite expressions of interest for the series, the edited volume, or both. Please submit an approximately 250-word abstract of your proposed contribution, including your preferred timing (i.e. when you wish to present) and a description of the nature of your contribution (talk, workshop, reading, performance, work-in-progress presentation, etc.), a short CV, and, if appropriate, audio-visual documentation. Collaborative submissions are very much encouraged. Organizers are hoping to group submissions together for the online events, but submissions of pre-formed events are welcome. Subject to participants' agreement, contributions will be available online for a short, limited time after each event. Independent artists and scholars and those in precarious positions will be compensated for their contributions in line with the CARFAC-RAAV Minimum Recommended Fee Schedule. Submissions should be sent according to the deadlines below to: Dr Fiona Johnstone (email@example.com), Dr Allison Morehead (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Imogen Wiltshire (email@example.com).
Deadlines for Expressions of Interest:
Confabulations 2021–22: 31 August 2021
Confabulations 2022–23: 31 July 2022
Confabulations Volume, Early Expression of Interest: 31 July 2022
Confabulations Volume, Regular Expression of Interest: 1 May 2023
Berger, John. Confabulations (Penguin, 2016)
Fitzgerald, Des and Felicity Callard, “Entangling the Medical Humanities,” in The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, Angela Whitehead and Angela Woods, eds (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 35–49.
Hartman, Saidiya, "Venus in Two Acts," Small Axe 26 (2008): 1-14.
Viney, William, Felicity Callard, and Angela Woods. “Critical Medical Humanities: Embracing Entanglement, Taking Risks,” BMJ Medical Humanities 4 (2015): 2–7.
Whitehead, Anne and Angela Woods, Introduction to The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 1–31.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of Durham University, Institute for Medical Humanities, UK, the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research, UK, Queen’s University, Katarokwi (Kingston), Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Allison Morehead, Associate Professor of Art History, Queen's University, Katarokwi (Kingston), Canada