In her 2001 account of the residency for Leicester City Gallery, Nicola writes:
" In 1991 I was told by my Rehabilitation Consultant that my work displayed the same fragmenting of the body that is shown in the drawings of children who have lost limbs. By sharing my work and its creative journey with the Leicester group I hope to facilitate their own creative discoveries.
The group decided to manage feelings of loss and pain by concentrating on gathering information about the craft and technology of prosthetics. Centre user Steve Wilkes, an accomplished photographer, volunteered to photographically document the project.
An important aspect of the project was the exploration of the Centre and interaction with those who work there. Patients usually only experience the fitting room, so we explored and photographed workshops, plaster rooms and the stores."
In 2001 there was considerable debate about NHS provision of 'Cosmesis' - that is, providing silicon covers for a prosthetic limb's functional armature that reproduces the appearance of a real limb. The Leicester participants all had different attitudes to cosmesis, with some exposing their prosthetic limbs without any covers, others preferring a prosthesis that looked as life-like as possible.
Steve Wilkes set up a photographic studio in the gym, and he and Nicola began to collaborate on photographing prosthetic limbs from the Centre's stores. Steve used a medium format camera and lighting to create their collaborative images exploring versions of 'flesh', and representing the prostheses as fine art objects.
Nicola and Steve Wilkes continued their researches by visiting Blatchfords factory in Basingstoke, where components for lower limb prostheses are manufactured.
Here they witnessed the injection moulding of feet, milling of metal components, the creation of flesh tints, and research into mass-produced (as opposed to bespoke) silicon cosmesis. As with many industrial processes (and the creating of art) there is the juxtaposition of clean, high-tech research with the noise and organised chaos of manufacturing and making.
Nicola and Steve Wilkes went on to visit Queen Mary's, Roehampton, to document Queen Mary's Limb Fitting Centre, set up to provide prosthetic limbs for soldiers from the First World War - in which over 41,000 men lost limbs.
They visited Roehampton's Silicon Workshops, for the research and manufacturing of silicon cosmetic covers for prostheses. Pots of paint are used to mix a 'portrait' of a skin tone:
In her text for the City Gallery Nicola wrote:
"In the Silicon Workshops we were told that there is a high rejection rate for these masterpieces of simulacra. Is this because the desire for a hyper-real prosthesis contains an inescapable contradiction? That it is not and never can be your real arm or your real leg, either in function or appearance? Illusions of being restored to 'wholeness' are shattered when the finished silicon reproduction is brought to you. The rejection is not of the craftsman's work: but of the fact that it's not real and it's not yours..."
" Roehampton was my first Limb Fitting Centre, where in 1968 I was fitted for my first leg and where I learnt to walk again in the Walking School. This is not just my history: Roehampton IS the history of modern British prosthetics, sited here since the First World War.
We were shown the prosthetics workshops, with its rows of wooden benches, surfaces marked with the traces of work from decades of limb fitting. There used to be over 500 craftsmen here. Only a fraction remain, and in three years most will have retired. They are among the last practitioners of the old craft skills used in prosthetics: wood carving, metal beating and leather working."
The workshops have since been demolished, a new hospital built nearby, and the old hospital site developed as luxury flats and houses.
Reflecting in 2016 on the 2001 residency, Nicola writes:
"When I visited Roehampton in 2001 I could not possibly imagine that these workshops, fitting rooms, walking school and reception areas, the entire site of Queen Mary's, would totally disappear.
The 'Roehampton Collection' of prosthetics was acquired by the Science Museum - but the layers of personal history and meaning contained within the Roehampton site has been lost.
After our Year of the Artist researches, Steve Wilkes and I agreed that important lessons could be learnt from the old technologies of wood, leather and metal. Today the craft and technology of prosthetics is increasingly replaced by digital systems, and the number of prosthetists in the UK continues to decline."
The Residency's final visit was to the Orthopaedic Collections at London's Science Museum, where in the Museum's labyrinthine stores the group discovered a treasure trove of prosthetic limbs from every era:
In her catalogue text for Adorn,Equip Nicola writes:
" How complicated are the straps and attachments for these limbs; and this is still true today. People prefer to see prostheses without their unaesthetic attachment systems, because they remind us that attaching inert material to the unpredictable body is in every sense a very difficult thing to do and a very difficult thing to wear..."
At the conclusion of the Residency, Nicola and the City Gallery organised a small exhibition in the Leicester Limb Fitting Centre, with photographs by Steve Wilkes, drawings by participants, and pieces created by Nicola to reflect the group's lived experience of limb loss and prosthetics - including feelings of frustration and fantasies of revenge (and referencing Man Ray) in The Consultant's Shoes :
To reflect a female participant's sense of 'Can't have' when confronted by fashion and advertising, Nicola created the Inaccessible Magazine: cutting out lower limbs from every page of a fashion magazine found in the Limb Fitting Centre's waiting room:
The 2001 Year of the Artist residency enabled both artist and participants to create a narrative of images communicating their experience of the aesthetics, production and use of prosthetics; which proceeded to inform Nicola's ADORN,EQUIP exhibition piece and much of her subsequent work.
For more information on ADORN,EQUIP see the projects menu.