October 27, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

In issue 19 of I, Science, “Unexplored Worlds”, we feature the work of x-ray artist Hugh Turvey. The full interview with Hugh is published here.

PL: What drew you to pursue x-ray as a medium for your artwork?

HT: I trained as a photographer and I love film and in 1996 I started experimenting with the x-ray aesthetic. There was no real transition to x-ray for me. It is the same creative process as photography albeit a change in physics. The hands on approach and the manipulation of technique: overexposure, multiple exposure, chemical processing, filtering, rigs, happy accidents, trial and error.

As it’s such a technical and specialised process, were there any particular challenges for you to begin with or any subjects that have been particularly difficult to capture?

I tailor the equipment to my requirement, for example, imaging a small insect of low density is very different to imaging the heavy densities of a sports motorbike. When I am inhibited by the technology, I will try to find a work-around and ultimately will use other technologies in conjunction with x-ray to achieve my artistic goal.

What was your reason for choosing the electric bike, featured above?

This bike is beautifully designed to hide its technology…reason enough.

Could you tell us a bit about the inr-i project you’ve been involved with at Yeovil District Hospital and what it’s main aims were?

The Senior Radiographer Sasha Moore suggested that I become the Artist in Residence for the X-ray Department at Yeovil District Hospital. I gladly accepted and with the generous assistance of the Wellcome Trust and the Yeovil Hospital Trust we initiated the ‘inr-i project’ (originally named inner eye). The project evolved rapidly into an engagement project consisting of ‘x-ray art’ workshops with staff and public whereby we would create a large collection of images that would hang in the x-ray department.

My eyes have been opened to a whole inner world experience from collaborating with staff and the public during the ‘x-ray art’ workshops and having the opportunity to see an x-ray department functioning has been truly inspirational, especially when you realise how many patients are treated on a daily basis and how a number of factors really impact on the staff.

The project did create the opportunity for staff to explore an alternative application of the equipment, that they would not normally have and to discover a little more about their work colleagues. They got to meet each other’s children that attended the workshops and we all got a personal insight of participants as revealed by the objects they chose to x-ray. I would say that there was a process of staff empowerment and consequential ownership of this project through the common ground provided by the project.

Images were chosen by voting and everyone including the public was invited to select their favourites. I did work conscientiously to edit the images into sequences and visual groups (and to include images by as many people from the workshops as possible without bias).

There was a realisation that the decor and lighting within the hospital would be a challenge as it is not set up to illuminate the walls directly and anything hung on the wall is prone to be in shadow. The project was generally about changing the public experience when in the x-ray department and image positions were chosen to establish zones, which could define potentially the function of the department.

Do you feel the project has been successful in engaging the public with the science behind the x-ray process and helping them to better understand clinical x-rays?

Yes the project success has created a large amount of interest and as a result we are currently putting together the touring version which will run in various hospitals under the guidance of Alexandra Coutler, Arts & Health South West.

What started as a simple objective, to create some art works for an x-ray department, quickly developed into more ambitious larger collection of works that could challenge the public’s perception of diagnostic imaging and strengthen the identity of the x-ray department. I hope the imagery serves well to instigate conversation, strengthen environment and to enhance an overall positive experience for both staff and the visiting public.

If you could x-ray anything without exception, what would it be?

Two things are on my mind at present. Firstly, the world’s largest animals, to create a touring exhibition that hints at fragility, balance, evolution and survival. And secondly, a series of images that look at ‘packaging’ on a grand scale over all industries – packaging is the façade of the commercial world and presents form over function with deception.

Finally, could you tell us a bit about your new iPad book project?

The concept of ‘X is for X-ray’  was dreamed up by Mike Levad as an A-Z x-ray printed book for Kids but soon developed into an immersive ebook with the advent of the new tablet computing age. The iPad offered immense functionality, interactivity with the images and the potential to change the face of publishing. I think our educational ebook will not only change children’s understanding of the world they live in by encouraging them to see further and deeper but also will change people’s expectations of what an educational book can be. The general response from kids is nothing short of: “Wow, wow and wow…cool and amazing!” – I certainly never voiced such enthusiasm for my educational books.

The X is for X-Ray App is available from the App Store on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and is published by Touch Press, www.touchpress.com