Unique new art exhibition pays tribute to research into blood cancers
An internationally renowned artist who spent time learning about the work of researchers at the University of York has created a unique piece of art to highlight the vital role played by patient data in improving the treatment of blood cancers.
Jacob van der Beugel constructed ‘The Pathways of Patients’ purely using recycled concrete material and rust. The work signifies the journey that patients take from the point of diagnosis and the obstacles that they face along the way. It is currently on display at York Art Gallery until mid-January 2017.
Van der Beugel was one of five artists in residence at the University of York during 2016 as part of a programme of work funded by the Wellcome Trust. He spent time with the Epidemiology & Cancer Statistics Group (ECSG) at the University of York, NHS clinicians, and patients – all of whom are involved in the world leading Haematological Malignancy Research Network (www.hmrn.org).
HMRN is a unique initiative that captures information on every blood cancer patient diagnosed in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, following them for the entire length of their cancer journey. The data collected has provided valuable insights into how patients are diagnosed, how they respond to treatment and the factors that impact on their survival. The blood cancer charity Bloodwise has supported the HMRN since it was established in 2004.
Two pieces of art make up ‘The Pathways of Patients’, both measuring around 1.2 metres in height and 1.8m in width. Van der Beugel used concrete and rust as working materials to draw parallels between the breakdown in healthy blood cell production that occurs in blood cancer and the process of ‘concrete cancer’ – an engineering term for the internal degradation of concrete. If a concrete surface starts to degrade, it allows water to get in and compromise the integrity of its internal steel reinforcement bars – sometimes causing rust to leak out of the concrete.
Van der Beugel said: “I learnt that people of all social backgrounds have an equal chance of developing blood cancers but, in some conditions, patients with a lower socioeconomic background appear to have a higher mortality rate. This needs to be urgently brought to peoples’ attention and remedied and I wanted to reflect this fact in my work.
“The pieces have a refined polished texture graduating towards a rough and crude surface. For me the grit and concrete materials signify the obstacles in our everyday environment that hinder a smooth patient pathway. The more polished and refined the concrete, reflecting social affluence, the more the impact of these obstacles are softened.”
HMRN collects tissue samples and demographic information on age, gender, socioeconomic background and ethnicity. Findings from this study have influenced clinical practice in the NHS and across the world, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of diagnosis and treatments, and ultimately improving the lives of patients.
“I have learnt an awful lot about epidemiology and its huge societal value during my residency,” said van der Beugel. “What struck me were the amazing lengths gone to in obtaining high quality data. I have come to learn that the concerns, honest techniques and data depictions of these brilliant researchers are something to aspire to as an artist.”
Professor Eve Roman, from the University of York, said: “The time that Jacob spent with us was a really interesting and rewarding experience for our team. The finished works of art are incredibly impressive and we’re delighted that they highlight the vital work being done to improve the treatment of blood cancer patients.”