Art or therapy? – Where it all began

Where it all began… This video work led me to write an abstract for a conference in 2012. My paper was selected but I wasn’t able to attend (because I had my fourth miscarriage!)

The interest shown in the work and support from the Family Ties Network members partly inspired me to pursue this work and I was finally able to talk at their event in November 2013.

Here is the origianal abstract and some of the themes I will explore for this project:

Marjolaine Ryley: ‘The Thin Blue Line/The Deep Red Sea: Artists -Explorations of Miscarriage and Loss’; Abstract from ‘Family Ties’ conference at IGRS Seminar, London, 2012.

“This paper takes its title from a piece of work I made after experiencing my second miscarriage and before my daughter was born. This video piece represents a moment ‘frozen in time’ where creating art out of the horror of the experience became not a critically engaged artistic choice but a therapeutic necessity. Despite having made work for many years that moved between the personal album and the social document I had never before knowingly entered the realms of ‚’art therapy’. The photo-therapy work of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin gave us a way to understand the potential power of photography in particular as a tool for interrogating the meanings of family and its associated imagery. That this cathartic re-enactment in itself became the critical imperative behind the work and the focus of subsequent readings encouraged me to re-consider my own work within a critical framework.

Through an approach, which draws on my own autobiographical explorations of this subject as well as those of a range of artists working across photography, photocollage, video, sculpture and text, I examine this troubled and secret side to ‘the family’. By exploring and questioning the ever-fluid boundaries between art and therapy I examine the ways in which ‘unseen’ loss may be remembered and represented. Looking at imagery such as scan photographs ‘home made’ ritualistic objects, memento mori and ‘blogsites’ dedicated to expressions of grief and remembrance (reminiscent of the traditions of Victorian death portraits) I also consider the interface between the materiality of objects and the ethereal and virtual world of the web and its vernacular content. I suggest that pregnancy loss may just be an unexplored area of ‘cultural memory’ a vast, unopened ‘vault’ of experiences of ‘life at the edge life’. By examining our own, as well as differing cultural and historical perspectives we might ‘look again’ at the significance of pregnancy loss, re-defining its cultural status and positioning it as a valid addition to the study of  family memories.”


Joanne Leonard – Journal of a Miscarriage


‘Journal of a Miscarriage’ – Blood on the page

Joanne Leonard is an artist whose response to her miscarriage was literally to smear her own blood into her Journal as an act of ‘saving’ that which was escaping from her. These  images do not allow us to escape from the reality, which is blood, and the abjection expulsion of the very thing that is so beloved. Miscarriage features as one of the pivotal events in her life and is as important as the birth of her daughter or death of her mother. Some may find these images disturbing, yet I think this is partly because of the taboo nature of issues around menstruation and women’s health. At the time I discovered Leonard’s work I had just experienced my fourth miscarriage) and I found it hugely comforting to see these images. Her book ‘Being in Pictures’ also gives e a wider context for the work and talks about some of the ‘less than favourable’ responses she had within the art world!




“Our modern cul…

“Our modern culture has neglected to provide a framework to manage the disruption in our lives that can ensue following a significant loss. Grief is a normal process that will inevitably touch each of us and yet most of us find ourselves ill prepared and uneducated in this realm. It is within this already stifled environment that we experience pregnancy loss, almost like a secret within a secret. When we stumble into this hidden region we enter what traditionally have been considered private female affairs: menstruation, fertility, birth, menopause and the like. Women in many cultures are taught early not to speak publicly of such things and so pregnancy loss becomes one more female experience to be hidden and demurely downplayed.”

Laura Seftel, Grief Unseen – Healing Pregnancy Loss through the Arts

Do Not Abandon Me

Do Not Abandon Me

This is a collaboration between  Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin. Both of these artists are controversial women who are not afraid to explore themes around sexuality, pregnancy, the body and loss. Bourgeois and Emin both had personal experience of pregnacy loss and the work is a powerful testament to this.

You can also see more about their work generally in the following documentary:


The Secret Club

The Secret Club

‘The Secret Club’ shows the work of artists who have explored miscarriage and pregnancy Loss through the arts. 

‘Grief Unseen – Healing Pregnancy Loss Through the Arts’ by Laura Seftel (who started this project) is a wonderful book that I would recommend to anyone interested in art and pregnancy loss or experiencing a need to find healing through the arts.