Introduction to Health Narratives from
The Tipping Point Project
Narratives conducted from the "stuff" of everyday life have always been powerful and a necessary aspect of Western discourse, whose fundamental process of reasoning, has always been narrative in nature. Recasting one's life story centering on health narratives in responses to certain tipping points, is a joint venture requiring the informant (artist) and anthropologist to work together. In the following narratives, I have aimed to accommodate the element of mutuality, sharing attentiveness to the experience of informants as they shape their stories. For many of the informants, the telling of the health narrative ended up being vehicles for the artist's realization of what their deepest values are. Many values surprisingly emerged through twists of a particular life story relating to various diagnoses. The narrative approach focuses on the artists themselves: as agents who enact choices. Of significance is how their lives are changed by a transformative or series of transformative events that pivot around health issues. The descriptions, analyses and interpretations of their journeys become represented in their art in a variety of different dimensions.
The following synopses reflect the narratives' tipping points that will be further detailed in text and represented in sculptural form in "The Tipping Point Project."
1. Diagnosis of epilepsy was identified as the tipping point. Upon receiving the diagnosis the individual felt complete vindication. The seizures served as a linear equalizer. Epilepsy was viewed as "fantastic" and a necessary part of the art being produced.
2. A series of tipping points ranging from distorted vision, feeling of disorientation and injury brought about a realization that a change needed to be made in the genre in which the artist was working.
3. Narcolepsy, pneumonia and a death of a close family member resulted in a life change and reflection about what was meaningful. Painting provided an outlet to stay awake and keep narcolepsy to a diminished role.
4. Congenital birth issues served as a tipping point. The physical limitations affect interpretation and experience of the world. The artist always had a desire to paint "the view before the view" and interested in the discovery along the way.
5. Tipping point was the birth of a stillborn child. Many of the artists' works revolve around the loss of a fetus. Art is a medium that serves the artist to access things that are very deep.
6. An eating disorder becomes the focus of this artists work and life. The relationship with the body has always been "strange" and had an impact on all aspects of life from art to politics. Food represents art and art is food.
7. Observation of torture and AIDS has served as a tipping point representing great impact on the artists work. The artist is moved to represent painful situations in life.
Dr. Ellen Ginsburg, July, 2005
Notes on the Interdisciplinary Nature of the Project
"Anthropology, traditionally, has been a discipline of words (Mead 1975). Specifically it has been a discipline rooted in text. However, at times it has incorporated film, photography, and audio Recordings, either as a featured format such as ethnographic film, or to supplement writing for fieldwork reports or publication. Most recently the contemporary anthropologist educator is faced with developing innovative approaches for using texts in the classroom, but, these are linear forms of representation and allow for a minimal amount of interactivity with the material. The proposed ethnographic based project offers a format for learning which is reliant on different data and different media, and is not restricted to a particular sequence and allows for a variety of ways in which data is assessed. Our project may be read without any didactic narration. However, no piece of scholarship exists without authorship or narrative, but in regards to this project it is important to understand that these usual hallmarks of ethnographic authority remain implicit as opposed to explicit within the body of the work. The strength of doing away with our (anthropological) reliance on explicit, linear narration (such as with text) is that taking this risk may enhance the user's ability to sift through the material by their own directives, and to formulate their own analysis of the material without being constantly exposed to various indicators of authorial control."
"I am not suggesting that the anthropologist should forfeit any degree of authorship. This would be unlikely and indicate a denial of accountability. What I am suggesting is an interdisciplinary collaboration (artist and anthropologist) create a mechanism that allows the user to subject the data to multiple interpretations; the ethnographer's analysis can simply remain a meta-referent. Ethnography suggest that we look at culture "as an assemblage of texts to be interpreted" (1988:38, see also Geertz 1973). While Geertz presumes the that the ethnographer should remain the expert, our ethnographic based project can be subjected to a variety of analyses which the user might use to build their own analysis of the ethnographer's cultural encounter. Multiple interpretations implies a variety of approaches to the material. The collaborative requires the author to relinquish control to some extent over how the information can be manipulated. This project opens up discourse on the reflexive nature of ethnography and goes beyond the linear format of a "thick description" of culture (Geertz 1973)."
"Since its inception, anthropology has drawn from a variety of methodologies and theories from other fields; literature, biology, linguistics, history, geography, and theater, just to name a few. Just as ethnographic film has not replaced anthropological writing, but has arrived at its own respected place within the tradition, the potential for collaborations of this nature to enrich anthropological studies should be an outgrowth of the project".
Dr. Ellen Ginsburg, November, 2004