Image: 'SELF' No 1 by Mark Ware
Mark Ware is an artist whose work and life can be split into two distinct periods. Until the age of 39, Mark had a successful career as a multimedia fine artist, commercial videographer, and professional photographer, then 25 years ago, he had a stroke. Stroke signaled the beginning of Mark’s second life, which has seen him use art to explore the altered subjective experiences caused by his brain injury, leading to collaborations with the CEDA disability charity in Exeter, which is shedding light on how disability can alter the perception of self.
Mark says, “Although I didn’t welcome my stroke, in many ways I’m incredibly grateful it happened. It has shown me profound insights into life, and the way we navigate and negotiate the world around us. I now view my past life (before my stroke) as a period when I became what fiction writers might call an unreliable witness and narrator of my own life. In retrospect, I feel that I was simply looking in the wrong direction.
“One of my greatest realisations during my 2nd life concerns a subject that affects us all – how the natural environment can be of enormous benefit to our health and wellbeing. This has led to ongoing art/science collaborations with scientists that began in 2014.
“Currently, there is an increasing awareness of how the natural environment can be of benefit to our wellbeing and health. This awareness is influencing not only our lifestyles but even the way we think about the design of the built environment that most of us engage with on a daily basis.
“As a professional artist with over 40 years experience, I’m convinced that an understanding of art and ‘art language’ can play an important role in research into how nature affects us. Influenced by my experience of stroke and disability, and through my collaborations with scientists, I’m seeking to find new ways of taking nature to people who:
find access to nature difficult due to a wide range of physical or cognitive barriers or socio-economic reasons
work in environments that lack natural stimuli
experience long-term stays in sensory-deprived environments, such as hospitals, care homes, prisons, and even space
“I was once asked what I feel is the most important lesson my stroke has taught me. In reply, I explained that the discrimination I’ve experienced since being disabled has made me understand the importance of familiarity. From the moment we’re born, we strive to become familiar with, and understand, people and the world around us. The more information we gather, the better informed we are, and the happier we are.
I often feel as though we’re living in a social media world where divisive, abusive and intolerant language, unsupported by evidence, is often the norm and is accepted as true. But, it’s not truth at all. It’s fake; an illusion.
“Some people say that ‘familiarity breeds contempt. Stroke has taught me that familiarity needn’t breed contempt, but rather, leads to what someone once described as ‘the inevitable acquisition of empathy’ (the understanding of ourselves and care for others) An understanding of the value of familiarity is now behind all of my art, including my art/science collaborations.”
Mark’s nature-inspired art/science collaborations have received widespread recognition and have involved the publication of a scientific paper, art exhibitions, and ongoing science/art investigations.
As a result of his work, in 2017 he was given the title of Associate Member at The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, Staffordshire University. In 2016, he was awarded the title of Honorary Research Fellow at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (University of Brighton & University of Sussex) where he was also given the title of Visiting Scientist in February 2021.