3-10-6 Add Research: Reflection On ‘Curating Pain The Sick Body’

3-10-6   Reflection On ‘Curating Pain The Sick Body’

Additional Research: Read / Reflect – On Curating Pain the Sick Body by Martin O’Brien

Fig. 3-10-6-05. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (5), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours.

This article opens with the quote below from Susan Sontag part of her essay, Illness as Metaphor, (1978).  This quote especially resonates with me as it notes the twin sides of pain on a life.  It notes each of us will experience soon elements of this night-side during our life as we dual citizenship to the kingdoms of the well and the sick.  We might hope to spend most of our life in the better place – of the well but this is never a choice in life.

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.  Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place. (Sontag, 1978)

Many people become irritated and short with those that are ill, neither recognising their pain, limitations of empathising with them putting to one side that this sick condition is never freely chosen by the sick.  This absence of regard for the sick often includes misconceptions for a condition.  In his performance piece Martin O’Brien provokes this fear, these misconceptions of illness and knowledge of the sick to get reactions from his audience.

O’Brien in his piece ‘Taste of Flesh: Bite Me I’m Yours’ (2015), uses his own illness and state of being sick to challenge his audience.  If is performed over 3-hours provoking the audience with fears of contamination, medical procedures and treatments.  O’Brien is chained to post for the whole performance and he carries out a series of actions including – painting circular marks with his head, biting and being bitten, piercing his mouth with hypodermic needles and coughing mucus into sample dishes.  These actions were met with a ‘variety of responses from shock and disgust and nervous laughter to wincing’.

This performance piece by O’Brien stages everyday actions by him related to his own condition as a sufferer born with CF (Cystic fibrous).  The various photos from the event capture some of the reactions from the audience.

An episode in the performance saw the artist pierce his lips. He then walked around the performance space with blood running down his chin performing bites to the spectators one at a time only ceasing when they pulled away.  O’Brien then reversed the roles where naked and covered in green paint, chained to a post reminiscent of St Sebastian he invited the audience to come up and bite him, as hard as they wished.

Once you take in the various aspects of the performance pieces and think about it you begin to wonder at what O’Brien is expecting and what the exhibition / performance is actually about.  It is clear that many in the audience found the situation and the actions distasteful.  But recoil was not what O’Brien was seeking.  Many in the audience will have wondered at the daily routine of the artist if the performance was based upon his daily activities concerning his treatment.  Many will have more of an insight into CF and sickness of the body and the humiliations and organised torture in the name of remedies that O’Brien and others with the condition must endure.

And I think in that last point above is where the artist was heading with his performance, he did not applause, pity or distain but acceptance and recognition of him as an ordinary person from the audience.  An ordinary person whom is afflicted with a debilitating condition but still a normal person with the same desires, aspirations and ambitions of a non-sick person.

He gives the audience pause to contemplate that we may be on the day -side of life – the happy, non-pain side as alluded to by Sontag in her quote but we will all experience that darker more night-side of life , most probably in latter life as our bodies age and bits and pieces fall off or fail.  What it is O’Brien seeks is not empathy, we should of course feel that, no he seeks, recognition of him as a normal person on the dark-side of life.  The Monty Python song, tells us to ‘Always look on the bright side of life” but unfortunately for some they are stuck on the dark side.

For me I must ascertain what I wish my audience to experience in my exhibition, what I want them to experience and what overall message I want to give to them.  On my website I have noted a subtitle, a strap line, as it where which notes:

“ Getting beneath the skin “                (EddieTuckerArt, 2021)

This short phrase is key to where I want the audience to look and signifying what message I am sending.  Look beneath the skin as I do in my paintings through the exhibition space and look to see what they see, is a old man with wrinkles or an old man tired of life and loss.  My task will be to assist them to see beneath the skin and my curation will be key to successfully performing that task.


Das, J. (2016) “On Curating Pain: The Sick Body in Martin O’Brien’s Taste of Flesh/Bite Me I’m Yours”, Leonardo, 49(3), pp. 266-267. doi: 10.1162/leon_a_01274.

EddieTuckerArt (2021). Website – Homepage. [online]. At: https://www.eddietuckerart.co.uk/ (Accessed: 28 December 2021).

O’Brien’s, Martin (2016). On Curating Pain: The Sick Body. [online]. At: https://direct.mit.edu/leon/article-abstract/49/3/266/46091/On-Curating-Pain-The-Sick-Body-in-Martin-O-Brien-s?redirectedFrom=fulltext (Accessed 2 Dec ’21)

Sontag, Susan (1978). Illness_As_Metaphor [online]. At: https://monoskop.org/images/4/4a/ Susan_Sontag_Illness_As_Metaphor_1978.pdf (Accessed: 28 December 2021).

List of Illustrations

Fig. 3-10-6-01. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (1), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours. [online]. At: https:/ /i1.wp.com/we-make-money-not-art.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/homepagentitled-4.jpg (5 Dec ‘21)

Fig. 3-10-6-02. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (2), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours. [online]. At: https://i2.wp.com/we-make-money-not-art.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/moredreblond.jpg (5 Dec ‘21)

Fig. 3-10-6-03. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (3), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours. [online]. At: https://i1.wp.com/we-make-money-not-art.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/mordrecrowsui.jpg (5 Dec ‘21)

Fig. 3-10-6-04. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (4), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours. [online]. At: https://nicolatriscott.org/2015/12/15/trust-and-the-taste-of-flesh/ (5 Dec ‘21)

Fig. 3-10-6-05. O’Brien, Martin (2015) Installation view (5), Taste of Flesh-Bite Me I’m Yours. [online]. At: https://mitp.silverchair-cdn.com/mitp/content_public/journal/leon/49/3/10.1162_leon_a_01274/1/leon_493-das-esupp2.jpeg?Expires=1643736295&Signature=d29cXk3ezrzDAMVUZTUerrzGDhLZTJbTwruW938AkTNOb WtLtsVbOsBCxRhkiWCZwmjSykrs9MFbOrzHPEdA5Lw604PsOiYWVZHSbWyJGAhETXXtd9Y33BcSOQkgcGOshMG3X2rSLuUIdVmz4ZEbglLqmxbWVyaLWdcAvaPSO1k5CsWO0erMAgAOFil0N0DTk2ThV2JBZwHeKjKkjoeQxAKEcOVPU15ZnzJUAaYXDLheBwW27IXcl2YSgPYQgTUqUBYeM0fRozz1nYebrsTOUf8qqs1kZCIzPmsOKEAjtJsroGOzgr2Pn-x7HLkW5EFu29yf8QkpaeMdEvQtYAz3Uw__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIE5G5CRDK6RD3PGA (5 Dec ‘21)


One thought on “3-10-6 Add Research: Reflection On ‘Curating Pain The Sick Body’

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: