Heritage & Culture

Claire Collison

Each year arts organisation Metal invites a number of artists into residence. The artists spend time in the city undertaking research to inform new performances and art works. Working in the city, meeting people and exploring places, invariably ends up with the resulting art works being about Peterborough or involving local residents. This month sees Metal introduce artist Claire Collison

Can you tell us about your work?
Yes, I’m an artist and writer. My work manifests in a whole range of ways – from installations and exhibitions to poetry and performance. I’ve engaged with issues around women, representation and health for most of my working life, so it was only natural, when diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, that this would become a focus.

What are you developing in Peterborough?
Since deciding (like 70% of us) not to have reconstructive surgery following my mastectomy, I’ve been asking: Why are the thousands of women like me so hidden? What has happened to us that means we are so preoccupied with how we appear rather how we are? I’ve come up with two ways of exploring these questions: a walk and a life drawing performance. I shall be creating Peterborough-specific versions of both… ‘An Intimate Tour of Breasts’ is a participatory walk looking at the mythologies surrounding breasts, and their commodification throughout history to the present day, and unraveling the implications of all this on how women feel about their own breasts. ‘Truth Is Beauty’ is my single-breasted life modelling monologue, which all women, regardless of artistic experience, are invited to join. I’ll then be exhibiting the resulting drawings.

What brought you to the city?
Last year I was invited to Metal Culture in Southend to take part in their International Women’s Day ‘Pecha Kucha’ – a 3-minute rant where I showed lots of slides of jugs and shouted out as many slang words for breasts as time allowed. It was quite a night and they invited me back! I returned for a Time and Space residency last summer, where I developed the work I shall be continuing in Peterborough and Liverpool (I’m the very lucky recipient of residencies in all three Metal Cultures: a hat trick!)

Who have you been working with so far or who are you hoping to work with?
I’m working with Metal to find ways for this project to happen in a uniquely Peterborough way. I’m convinced everywhere has its own Intimate Tour of Breasts; my mission is to meet the people who can help me unearth it. I’m hoping to meet a wide range of people – including those affected by breast cancer, people from the arts and life drawing communities, people who enjoy local history, breast feeding activists, bra fitters, psycho-geographers…

What do you hope to achieve with the work?
I want to open up conversations – not just about breasts or breast cancer, but about plurality and inclusivity. How can we make informed decisions about our healthcare unless we are able to see ourselves reflected in the world around us? One of the most wonderful things to come out of my life modelling performances has been hearing from a participant who, since her mastectomy, had consigned herself to changing in the cubicle in her local gym, but after attending Truth is Beauty found the confidence to use the communal changing rooms again.

How can people in Peterborough get involved?
Firstly, I’d love to hear from you with places you think I should include on my Intimate Tour of Breasts. Please follow me and share your thoughts on twitter (clairecollison1) and Instagram (adalodge). Secondly, I’d love you to come to the events. Information will be available on the Metal website: www.metalculture.com/artists-area/claire-collison-2/ You can also call Metal on 01733 893 077 and speak to Ruth.

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