mayu and vic's artistic response to mayu's diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

Taboo Avoidance

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The word pet is a signifier that evokes emotions of companionship, love and caring.   But that’s the thing with serious illness,  it changes everything.  The word pet no longer stands for a memory of those warm emotions, in the case of someone undergoing treatment for cancer,  it now stands for  Position Emission Tomography  (pet) scan.

Even our language and our emotional response to it is altered by our illness.

There is both a comfort and a static to be had in succumbing to the process of disease and treatment and the loss of control that evades not only our daily decision making but also our grasp and control of language and memories.

As we explore issues that are somewhat taboo,  we often reach a point of caution “can we say that in public”, “is that ok?” The term “political correctness” has even popped up in our conversation.

I remember the initial discussion Mayu and I had about working on art making during her treatment,  she talked very passionately of wanting to make art from the heart that wasn’t second guessing the concerns of community.  Pure expression from her that might not only be beautiful art but sometimes might be ugly or horrendous.

Sometimes, I watch Mayu and myself second guess thoughts that we have “what if that upsets someone”, “can we actually say that”? It is cancer after all, serious stuff.

I am very committed to the ugly and difficult stuff being said through this project, if that’s what Mayu wants/needs. Redefining social boundaries in terms of disease as we fulfill our desire to express honestly and sometime painfully and to navigate that with a remembrance that this very subject matter is an emotional trigger for lots of people. How do we negotiate it with responsibility to ourselves and with the responsibility that we have to others purely from the fact that we are making things that have a public life.

If we avoid saying something that we wanted to say, because society deems it to be a taboo, is that just another form of taking control away from Mayu?  If we can’t have complete control of our outpouring at a time of disease and treatment, when can we have it? And what then is the purpose of self expression if we can’t use it when we need to in both defence (to protect) and in attack (to protect) from the effects of disease.

Taboo avoidance/taboo embracing.  Deciding whether to whisper or whether to scream, often wanting to do both simultaneously.

by Vic McEwan


Body Scan Composition

“A spectrogram is a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in a sound or other signal as they vary with time or some other variable”

Random waveform (top) and spectogram (bottom) image taken from the internet

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Spectrograms are a way to visualise sounds on a time/frequency axis.

You can use a spectrograph to visual any sound, but what if you reversed that idea and used an image as a spectrogram to create sound.

Mayu now has a large number of xrays, mammograms and scans. That so happen to look, just a little, like a spectogram.

So with this principle in mind, I am composing a long and major piece of music created entirely from the X-rays and scans of Mayu’s diagnosis and treatment.  Here is a sample, created using the image of a full body scan.

by Vic McEwan

incredible lightness

This is a video-work on my post operative physio-philosophy.

After surgery, the physiotherapist gave me deep breathing exercises using a tri flow:


– Sitting in a relaxed position, take a slow deep breath in. Hold for 3 seconds.
– Slowly breath out.
– Repeat 5 times.

Been doing this every hour as prescribed. Its meditative, dreamy and uplifting.

  • Thanks to my friend and colleague, Annette Shun Wah for helping me video myself 🙂

i just can’t say that word



This videowork is related to the loose working title of our project, “I just can’t say that word”.

Vic combined his recordings of my conversations with him immediately after my surgery to remove my breast cancer, still hazy with anaesthetic, and my voice replies to his earlier emails, images from my ultra sound, mammogram and my drawing to help me express the complex (perhaps its actually very simple) balance I hold between fear and laughter; reality and absurdity; body, emotion, intellect and spirit.


A practical decision, an existential one
Between fact and dream.

The project, to work with Mayu artistically during this difficult time, is generating a lot of content and as we go deeper, things are just finding their place very naturally.

In this instance Mayu talks,
I record it
I compose something
She draws something
I animate it/edit it
We talk it through several times
Between artistic freedom and conventions of taboo
We talk, each conversation filled with both laughter and tears.

voyage to the moon

we’ll hold each other’s hand

on a voyage to the moon

i will guide you inside my heart

you will be my comrade on the milky way

in passion, precision, poetry

your tiny hands

slim steady sexy fingers

perfect for my small breast

cut me, clean me, heal me

we’ll hold each other in infinity

on our celestial journey tonight
– in thanks to my surgeon, now friend,

Dr Deborah Cheung

Digital Decoupage


My friend,
in a haze of post operative half consciousness,
has allowed me to decoupage her.
Digital decoupage.

Layers of meaning,
both stripped bare and concealed.
and eternal.

Before being admitted to hospital,  I asked Mayu to send me some images.
Images that hold an emotional resonance for her.

When she came out of surgery  I was there, and as we had agreed I projected these images onto her vulnerable, hopefully healing, body.

by Vic McEwan

In a Room with Pink Plastic Bags


This is a site specific artwork.
The site of this collaboration isn’t necessarily Mayu’s body.
The site of this collaboration isn’t necessarily the illness itself.
The site of this collaboration isn’t necessarily the hospital or medical clinics.

The site of this collaboration is in the tenuous link between present and future.
The site of this collaboration is in the complex emotional networks we build around us throughout our life.
The site of the collaboration is the struggle between power and no power,  control and no control.
The site of the collaboration is in the constant negotiation that is present in daily life.

The site is both hidden and on show.
No matter how much we reveal, we are never emptied of all that we suppress.

by Vic McEwan

morning images

images this morning

of you, of me, of us

under my arm, close to my heart

distant stars within

shining light skipping a heart beat

good morning

it is early

She says she has stars near her heart

Last week I was coming to the end of a hectic 3 months where I had been working and travelling non stop on projects.   From Sydney, Melbourne, Lightning Ridge, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, Manchester(UK), Liverpool(UK).

I was dreaming of home being within my grasp when I received a call from Mayu.  She told me her news; Breast Cancer.  I felt shock and wanted to console her however Mayu’s voice told me that she needed something else.  I realised immediately what Mayu needed from me at this time wasn’t someone expressing sorrow, what she needed was a collaborator, someone to work with through this difficult journey.  A friend and collaborating artist that could help her live in “the present” as she put it and to focus on what she loves to do the most “make art”.

So now I find myself having just returned home yesterday, packing my things again to spend some time with Mayu in Sydney at a crucial stage of her treatment.

We don’t know what this process will uncover.  Already we have gathered a lot of material, some visual, some written, some recorded.    For me, this project is about giving something back to a friend, a long time collaborator who have given me so much in the past and contributed to my own artistic and personal growth on many occasions.  To help a journey occur between us both and for herself, personally.

Some work will be borne out of this, I hope at times that work is horrific, i hope at times the work is beautiful,  I know that the work will always be honest.

by Vic McEwan

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