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This article was published in August 2016. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

The man with the memoirs: How 72 seizures became a work of art

17 Aug 2016

When Stephen Timewell documented his major seizures over 22 years, he wasn’t expecting that he would see them represented as art on the walls of London’s galleries

Having seizures is one thing but having an art exhibition based around a series of seizures is quite something else. Nevertheless, strange things emerge from odd places. And to see a huge exhibition of my seizures over a 22-year period in vivid colour in a 17-metre long landscape was clearly beyond my wildest imagination.

If I had not witnessed hundreds of people trying to make sense of the Timewell Timeline, I would not have believed it. But this did happen at the Beyond Seizure Exhibition in March 2014 at the Lumen Gallery in central London. The exhibition appeared again at another showing that June at the Swiss Cottage Library Gallery in Camden, London. And it continued at the Institute of Child Health/Great Ormond Street Hospital Gallery, London, in July 2015. Wow.

What this was all about and how it happened is a curious tale that started months before at an event funded by the Wellcome Trust. This event brought together people with epilepsy, medical specialists, family members and artists. It was arranged by the London Brain Project (LBP) which is a science-art public engagement initiative providing opportunities for public groups to explore brain sciences through the arts.

For me this began on 30 November 2013 when my wife, Gail, and I took part in an unusual workshop. There were a number of tables, each led by an artist, holding a conversation about epilepsy. At each table were some people with epilepsy, a neurosurgeon and family members.

Each table was to produce an artwork from the various views and comments of all concerned. Our table was a revelation to me, as the group conversation revealed more insight on epilepsy than I had heard in decades of visits to doctors.

Using a peg-board, our views on various topics were represented by various colours, with each contributor using a different colour. In a very short time we had a display of colours and had not only covered the peg-board but also learnt a lot. Our neurosurgeon and others provided some very candid views and insights not out of the medical text books. It was a very interesting and fun exercise but there was more to come.

While talking to our table’s artist, Julia Vogl, I showed her a detailed list of all my 72 major seizures in the period 1991-2013. Gail had had me document them by severity, location, time of day, duration and possible cause. This proved very useful to me in giving explanations to doctors and possibly helping to better understand my type of epilepsy.

But Julia saw this and extracted something much more from this collection of data. She saw how 22 years of my seizures could be recorded visually on 72 coloured silkscreen panels stretching a length of 17 metres and one metre high. The specifics of the seizures were represented graphically by different colours and provided an impressive image and definitely a way of seeing epilepsy differently.

Julia’s keen artist’s eye, along with other contributions from the November workshop, led to the Beyond Seizure Exhibition. The Timewell Timeline brought epilepsy into a new colourful light with the large coloured panels bringing a new and different energy into the world of seizures.

I have been amazed at what Julia and the Beyond Seizures Exhibitions have achieved and the numbers the colourful panels have reached. Getting across a different perception of epilepsy is an important achievement. I am hugely pleased that my 72 seizures, with Julia’s help, have been able to be seen in a new and enriching context.  

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