About us

The Visual and Material Lab looks to the new research questions, innovative methodological approaches and alternative perspectives on human health that are generated when visual and material culture is taken seriously as a starting point.

Visual and material approaches have typically had less influence within medical humanities than literary, philosophicaland historical ones (Whitehead & Woods, 2016, 18-19). Entanglements between visual and material culture and medical humanities often focus on the therapeutic, communicative or pedagogic potential of visual materials and methods.Expanding on these affordances and recognising that there is no knowledge before the medium, this Lab centres visual and material culture as a vital aspect of knowledge creation. Extending the visual turn taken by medical humanities in the last decade (Johnstone, 2018), the Lab aims to: 

  • Build critical mass in an emerging field
  • Identify, experiment with, assess and document the new research methods raised by foregrounding visual and material approaches; and
  • Develop a strategic and sustainable vision for future research and practice  in the visual medical humanities.

Our focus for the first year of Lab activity is on mapping the affordances of contemporary art practice as a medical humanities research method. Some artists address challenging questions of human vitality by working in multifaceted collaborations with clinicians, patient groups and other stakeholders. Others eschew personal narratives and instead emphasise the social and political dimensions of health, complicating a previously over-simplistic notion of artwork as synecdoche for lived experience.  


We understand visual and material culture to refer to both artefacts (including but not limited to images, objects and artworks) and practices (for example, techniques for rendering information or experience in visual form), rather than to a set of discipline-specific approaches. As the Lab develops, we hope to expand its remit beyond an initial focus on contemporary art to engage with visually and materially orientated research methods from a diverse range of disciplines. 


Works cited: 


Anne Whitehead, and Angela Woods. 2016. “Introduction.” In The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, edited by Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods, 1-31. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

Fiona Johnstone. 2018. “Manifesto for a visual medical humanities.BMJ Medical Humanities blog, July 31, 2018. 

Relevant academic publications

Fiona Johnstone. 2023. ‘Collaborations in Art and Medicine: Institutional Critique, Patient Participation and Emerging Entanglements‘, Leonardo, 56(4): 424–429.

Fiona Johnstone. 2018. “Manifesto for a Visual Medical Humanities.” Medical Humanities blog, July 31. 2018.