Skin awareness device for experiencing our interface with the world
by Helena Fox


This image is of sycamore keys threaded on cotton and placed on the skin to be wind-tumbled. The thread can also be drawn across the skin to raise awareness to our body surface for considering how we meet and sense the world through touch including the cascade of wider thoughts and feelings that arise from this. It is easy to forget how we are sensing in this way all the time. And it is easy to forget the touch of the air(1). This is one image in a series of experiments in ‘close noticing’(2). These are small acts that disrupt our habitual ways of thinking(3), often in autopilot, and draw our attention to the moment-by-moment sensed and intuited experience. The aim of all these experiments is to raise mindful awareness of how we respond to the world in a fully embodied way, as subjective lived experience and not through logical thinking alone. These experiments aim to generate exchange of ideas.

This work is part of a larger body of work for an arts-led PhD which explores how the aesthetic mode(4) may enhance the delivery of more compassionate healthcare by raising awareness to all our sensing, particularly within the human encounter in the clinic.

Dr Helena Fox,
Consultant Psychiatrist, London, and PhD student, Oxford Brookes University

1 David Abrams: Spell of the Sensuous
2 A term borrowed from the late Post Jungian therapist, James Hillman
3 Brechtian strategy of ‘making strange’
4 Here meaning sense perception, Greek origin


Ella Breese

02 November 2019 - 23:06:47
"Dr Fox’s ‘Skin awareness device for experiencing our interface with the world’ presents an interesting conceptual approach to considering the more subtle art of medicine. Her method of using ‘small acts’, such as allowing sycamore keys to float across the skin, aims to ‘disrupt our habitual ways of thinking’ and wake us up to the environment that surrounds us. Despite seeming disconnected from the medical world, this work invites us to consider the impact of the world around us on our health and lifestyle. Instead of resorting to medication as our first port of call, there are many different ways of improving mental and physical wellbeing, such as small changes to our lifestyle or environment. Dr Fox mentions ‘it is easy to forget the touch of the air’, something which I think is important in considering our notion of ‘healthy’. People often only appreciate their health when they are deprived of it. For many patients, this might be confined to a hospital for months, sometimes with no hope of recovery. I think this mindful approach to appreciate day-to-day sensations, is important in doctors’ ability to slow down and empathise with patients, whose lifestyles and pleasures are restricted more than we can might initially acknowledge. The artwork is a thought-provoking piece on how we might all improve our compassion and empathy to those around us. From a medical perspective, this may include more personal consultations that aim to detect subtle changes doctors can make, which might have huge impacts on a patient’s wellbeing."