Australian artist Eugenie Lee evokes the chronic pain of endometriosis in high-tech experiential artworks

Eugenie Lee has strapped a thick, strange-looking belt, a form of torture system, to gynaecologist and endocrinologist Dr Natasha Andreadis.

The custom-built haptic system provides the wearer pelvic pain-like sensations, and at first, Dr Andreadis’s descriptions of the expertise are pretty innocuous: “I am feeling like my organs, woah, are actually getting a deep therapeutic massage.”

However as soon as Lee ratchets up the depth degree, Dr Andreadis says “it is like somebody’s punching you and so they’ve bought spikes on their knuckles”.

Dr Andreadis then begins swearing and is misplaced for phrases for a second, earlier than asking: “Do folks need to undergo this each month? … [It feels like] ripping, tearing, loopy sharp.”


Lee is a Korean-Australian interdisciplinary artist, and this work — titled Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery —is her newest effort to mix set up artwork, scientific analysis and cutting-edge expertise to offer contributors an perception into continual ache.

As she advised Namila Benson and visitor co-host Carly Findlay on The Artwork Present: “The fast and soiled abstract of what I do as an artist is that I give ache to folks for a residing.”

WARNING: This text incorporates graphic descriptions of ache which may be confronting for some readers.

A ‘artistic intervention’

Lee lives with endometriosis and adenomyosis, and has skilled pelvic ache for practically three a long time.

“I really feel like there’s one thing horrendous; some alien factor simply residing inside me, chewing and gnawing away, and generally it looks like there is a massive lump of barbed wire simply rolling and scraping towards the organs and tearing no matter it touches,” she says.

Lee additionally describes ache that is pulsing, taking pictures and stabbing.

A painting by the artist Eugenie Lee depicting a woman sitting on a table back to the viewer surrounded by chairs
“I used to be so ashamed of my expertise and my ideas as a result of I could not clarify it … that sense of disgrace is simply so inherent to the expertise of ache,” says Lee.(Equipped: Eugenie Lee)

In keeping with nationwide peak physique Ache Australia, 3.37 million Australians had been residing with continual ache in 2020 — and that quantity is forecast to rise to five.23 million folks by 2050.

“[But] hardly any of our experiences are acknowledged,” says Lee.

“It is as a result of it’s invisible … I am not saying that my invisible experiences are any more durable than folks residing with a visual incapacity, but it surely comes with its personal difficulties.”

Lee has spent virtually twenty years attempting to make sense of her expertise by work and pictures.

However her life and inventive profession took a major flip in 2014, when she undertook residencies (by Accessible Arts Australia and the Synapse Residency) that launched her to neuroscientists who specialised in ache analysis.

“[Over a] two 12 months interval, they sat with me one-on-one and gave me a crash course within the neuroscience of ache,” says Lee.

She subsequently developed working relationships with different ache researchers and physicians, in addition to a linguist with a particular curiosity in ache expression.

“Inside that scientific bubble, there was an entire lot of data that … [helped me] handle my ache so significantly better than earlier than,” she says.

“The analysis into the neuroscience of ache in Australia is likely one of the most superior on the planet. However most of us do not have entry to this vital data.

‘Seeing is believing’

Lee’s first art-tech hybrid was Seeing Is Believing (2016-2019), a mixture of efficiency and set up that gave contributors the phantasm of experiencing the signs of a neuropathic illness known as Advanced Regional Ache Syndrome.

Within the first stage, Lee (taking up the position of doctor) sits down with the participant (enjoying a affected person) and talks to them concerning the neuroscience of ache, whereas sussing out the participant’s anxiousness ranges and attitudes in the direction of ache.

Within the remaining stage, contributors step into an anechoic chamber and don a haptic glove which supplies them mild stimulation on one hand, whereas carrying a Digital Actuality headset that makes it appear as if that hand is swelling up.

The artist Eugenie Lee invites you into a padded room, she has a glove and VR headset on
Lee says the mixed impact of various components in Seeing is Believing is that contributors really feel like their hand is swelling up.(Equipped: Silversalt Images)

There are three settings for the haptic system, and Lee says even essentially the most intense setting is pretty delicate.

“[But] my intense performative interplay with them will intensify their expertise. So as an example, I say, ‘While you expertise ache, subsequent time, you’ll really feel like this’. So it is a energy of suggestion.”

Lee is tapping into the nocebo impact (versus the placebo impact) and she or he says this, mixed with the haptic glove and the VR, provides virtually all contributors “pain-like signs”.

“We manipulate their expertise by actually giving them discomfort, after which the remainder is completed by their very own mind … and the mind has to cope with the sensory overload, which is what many individuals with persistent ache expertise each day,” says the artist.

An image of a splotchy hand reaching out to barbed wire from the work Seeing is Believing
These are the visuals that contributors see after they don the VR headset in Seeing is Believing.(Equipped: Andrew Burrell)

Round 500 folks have participated in Seeing is Believing, first at UNSW Galleries in Sydney, after which at different galleries and museums round Australia.

Lee was anxious nobody can be eager about experiencing ache — however classes booked out, with many contributors saying they had been eager about attempting to know the experiences of family members residing with ache.

‘Breakout my Pelvic Sorcery’

“Pelvic ache is likely one of the least fashionable topics even inside ache analysis … [and] there’s a lot stigma round pelvic ache,” Lee says.

She attributes this to the truth that the situation primarily impacts ladies.

The haptic system in her art work Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery, which continues to be in improvement, was made with the assistance of College of Know-how Sydney mechatronic engineer Peter De Jersey.

“It is truly designed for therapeutic functions … however he hacked it for me after which we kind of refigured this machine right into a pain-invoking machine,” Lee says.

A man with a VR headset and haptic belt on in a room with curtains in the artwork Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery
Lee says the staff examined the system on themselves first, to make sure the ache was “acceptable”; additionally they take a look at every participant’s ache threshold earlier than starting.(Equipped: John A Douglas)

Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery provides the participant sensations described as “pulsing, stabbing and cattle-prodding ache” — matching the phrases pelvic ache sufferers used to explain their signs within the scientific survey The Language of Pelvic Ache.

Lee says that in her interviews with pelvic ache sufferers, they typically talked about how others failed to know how troublesome it’s to do even easy duties, if you’re experiencing ache.

To discover this, contributors play a VR model of the arcade recreation Breakout, a easy ball-hitting recreation, whereas carrying the haptic belt.

When Lee premiered Breakout my Pelvic Sorcery on the Massive Nervousness Competition in 2019, contributors solely lasted two to a few minutes.

She says many contributors advised her afterwards, “I did not realise [how hard it was], now I do know.”

Artist Eugenie Lee with a VR headset and haptic belt on in a room with curtains in the artwork Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery
Lee (pictured, with VR headset and haptic belt from Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery) is an envoy for the Pelvic Ache Basis of Australia.(Equipped: Eugenie Lee)

Whereas mounting a one-on-one experiential work like Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery has been unimaginable throughout COVID-19, Lee plans to current the work at a world ache convention in Amsterdam in 2021.

Like many individuals from the incapacity neighborhood, Lee describes a silver-lining to 2020, with each her work and the humanities typically transferring on-line.

“I do not need it to return to regular as a result of it has been actually fantastic, in a method,” she says.

‘Altering the tradition of ache’

After attempting Breakout My Pelvic Sorcery, Dr Andreadis, who usually treats ladies with pelvic and interval ache, stated to Lee: “Take this to med faculties, strap each physician and nurse [to it because] it will make us extra empathetic when it comes to managing our sufferers.”

However Lee says she’s cautious about utilizing the phrase “empathy”, preferring to border her work round social justice.

“Most individuals suppose that they perceive what ache is. However persistent ache is a unique expertise to the kind of acute ache that lots of people are accustomed to; it is simply a lot extra advanced, and it could possibly have a devastating impact on folks,” she says.

A woman wearing a magnifying glass headband working on a piece of art
Lee was amongst a gaggle of feminine artists with disabilities who did a residency at Bundanon in NSW this 12 months.(ABC Information: Mary Lloyd)

Final 12 months, Lee hoped to use for an artist residency in Melbourne however could not write a grant utility due to her ache.

The choice possibility supplied by the scheme was additionally not viable.

“I defined the state of affairs once more, and their response was simply easy disbelief, suggesting that possibly I is perhaps asking for particular therapy or possibly I used to be a liar,” she says.

These psychological and social parts of ache (e.g. anxiousness, worry, anticipation and isolation) are one thing she tries to seize in her work in an try and pressure folks “to rethink their very own preconceived beliefs and actions in the direction of folks residing with long-term ache”.

The artist Eugenie Lee invites you into a padded room, she has a glove and VR headset on
“I intention to contribute in the direction of altering this tradition of confusion … [that] comes from individuals who typically do not stay with ache,” says Lee.(Equipped: Anna Kucera)

Lee’s works may sound daunting, however she says within the conversations that she has with contributors on the finish of Seeing is Believing, many ask detailed follow-up questions and converse passionately of the expertise.

She’s hoping folks take what they’ve skilled and share it with others.

“I am virtually like this queen bee and I am creating these little employee bees [the participants] … they’re all doing their very own bit to unfold the data and alter the tradition of ache.”

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