In Adorn,Equip, a process of consultation between artists and makers, designers and disabled people, inspired the production of unique, functional objects and thought-provoking work. In her accompanying text Nicola wrote:
"The Year of the Artist residency enabled me to work with a small group of amputees from Leicester's Limb Fitting Centre, to explore the craft and technology of prosthetics. We visited prosthetists' workshops at Queen Mary's, Roehampton, Blatchford's factory manufacturing components for prosthetics in Basingstoke, and the Orthopaedic Collections at London's Science Museum. In the Museum's labyrinthine Stores we discovered a treasure trove of prosthetic limbs from every era, including a collection of photographs taken by an Edwardian prosthetist of his clients wearing their appliances, carefully posed against a painted backdrop. We were all profoundly moved by these people in the photographs: and I believe these images move us because they crystallise our experience as amputees.
As the user of a prosthesis you will attend a Limb Fitting Centre for the whole of your life; and all your life you will, from time to time, have to sit in the fitting room half-undressed and exposing your prosthesis, under the eye of other patients, clinicians, and your prosthetist.
The Edwardian prosthetist has taken great care to conceal the women’s real legs with aesthetically draped and pinned skirts. What a contrast between this elaborate concealment and the almost brutal exposure of their prosthesis. There are clues in the photographs that also reveal their intention, which is to ‘sell’ the prosthetist’s skill. A stick has been removed from the little girl’s hand. Her doll is placed to conceal that she is holding on to something, or being supported. The young man grips the back of a chair to keep his balance. These images present them as successfully ‘normalised’ at the same time as displaying their prosthetic appliances, a contradiction which is still present in the promotional images of contemporary prosthetics.
A hundred years separate us, but shared experience puts us there, in that room with the painted backdrop, and the lens that selects our difference as a subject.
I have made a selection from the photographs and digitally removed the prosthesis from each image. Through the removal of the prosthesis, the gaze that focuses on our 'difference' is altered. The viewer is freed to look at the subject's body language, beauty, clothes, or environment. Concealment and exposure becomes ambiguous.
The prosthetic limbs are displayed separately, in a format catalogue designers call 'Limbo' - that is, floating on a plain background. The series is called 'Beautiful Pictures', words visible on the magazine held up by one of the women to conceal her identity."
'Beautiful Pictures' formed part of Nicola's installation The Aesthetics of Prosthetics, her final piece for Adorn,Equip:
The 'Beautiful Pictures' series was juxtaposed with photographs of 4 prosthetic limbs made between the Eighteenth and early Twentieth Century, selected by Nicola from the Science Museum's collections to represent the ongoing aesthetic debate between form and function. The selected limbs were photographed in the Science Museum photography studio, art directed by Nicola to be represented as luxury objects with a high-end aesthetic, carefully arranged and lit, floating against a coloured background in the 'Limbo' format:
The Aesthetics of Prosthetics installation also included photographs by a contemporary prosthetist of limbs he had customised for his patients, and two real prosthetic limbs representing aspects of form and function: a lower limb prosthesis from R S L Steeper with a hyper-realistic silicon cover, complete with freckles, veins and hairs; and the Jaipur Foot, the result of a collaboration between P.K. Sethi, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Ram Chander Sharma, a craftsman from Jaipur, designed to address the needs of India's rural poor.
Nicola dressed the Jaipur Foot for performance in India's Bharatta Natyam traditional dance; painting the toenails red, henna patterns on the foot, and a leather ankle bracelet with a triple row of bells.
Research into the Jaipur Foot subsequently led to SPLITSCREEN, Nicola's 2006 moving image piece. You can find more information about SPLITSCREEN in the projects menu, where you can also find more information about Nicola's Year of the Artist residency, with documentation of research and images produced during the project.