Remembering Tim Wainwright, a talented artist who did inspirational work on cancer
It was with great sadness that I learned, last week, of the death of Tim Wainwright. Tim, who died at the age of 64, was a supremely talented video and photography artist. He developed pancreatic cancer in the summer and spent his final days at Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, London.
I first met him five years ago, when he and Dr John Wynne, a sound artist, combined their talents in creating a sound and video installation called ‘I am not the cancer’. Taking the title from one of the participants, who said “I have cancer, but I am not the cancer”, the piece depicted exactly what it is like to live with secondary breast cancer. The artists created an atmosphere in which the women could relax into almost a meditative state to describe the impact of the diagnosis.
Sitting far from your neighbour in the darkened room, watching the video portraits and listening to the disembodied voices, the isolation felt by the women was tangible. As each story ended, it required the viewer to move to another chair for another story, another face and another voice. The women described their own cancer journeys, of trying to come to terms with the diagnosis, yet living with the uncertainty of how much future would be granted to them; of needing to rise above the detritus of normal life but, at the same time, continuing to function for family and friends; and how the disease encroached on each one’s identity. The message was hugely powerful and I remember we all emerged into the light in total silence. I am a breast cancer survivor, and the words “There but for the grace of God go I” played over and over again in my mind.
The installation left a lasting impression on me and I began to follow Tim’s work with interest. He chose difficult subjects – young people in care, recovering drug users, people with mental health problems, sudden cardiac death syndrome, prostate cancer and heart-lung patients – and his last piece, again with Dr John Wynne, is based on their work with organ transplant patients. It will be completed by John and will be in place at the new Science Gallery in February 2019.
‘I am not the cancer’ was significant in so many ways. First of all, the installation was not just made for the UK, but with women from other countries too, culminating in an event at the European Parliament, which brought together 70 patient groups from 34 countries to mark the launch of the ‘Here and Now’ campaign, supported by Novartis Oncology. Called ‘The Invisible Woman’, the campaign report unveiled – for the first time – the impact of secondary breast cancer on women, families, society and the economy across Europe.
Secondly, the installation, which toured Europe, inspired more women to tell their stories, either in blogs, books or podcasts; each one adding something to the growing pool of information for those whose lives have just been altered irretrievably by the devastating news and, at the same time, using their strength to highlight what is missing in the care of those with a secondary diagnosis.
The two breast cancer charities –Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now – focus heavily on secondary breast cancer. Breast Cancer Care has launched part two of its campaign, ‘Secondary Not Second Rate’, adding ‘Incurable shouldn’t mean unsupported’. This calls for the creation of a Secondary Support Package, identifying and offering the right care and support, which would include access to a clinical nurse specialist. Breast Cancer Now’s website carries a guide giving detailed information about dealing with a secondary breast cancer diagnosis, what treatment and care is available and ways to maximise quality of life. Once the two charities have merged next year, the voice speaking for people with secondary breast cancer will have doubled in volume.
Tim leaves behind a wealth of work from a lifetime behind a camera lens. In the 1980s he left behind a successful career in advertising and fashion photography to travel. When he returned to the UK, it was with the conviction that the camera could be used as a witness to events and not as a voyeur. His work on ‘I am not the cancer’ was the perfect result. John tells me that the installation was mothballed after its final showing at the European Parliament. I sincerely hope that it will be dusted off and shown again in memory of Tim. In fact, I believe firmly that it should have a permanent home and be always available as a reminder – not only of Tim’s work but of the impact secondary breast cancer has on the lives of far too many women.