Touching Visions: moving image commissions for Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Deadline: 03/01/2020  |  Published: 27/11/2019  |  City: Leeds  |  Region: West Yorkshire  |  Country: United Kingdom  |  Sue Ball

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The Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds invites proposals from UK based filmmakers, animators and moving image artists, for two commissions for permanent exhibition in its Hand Transplant Gallery, opening in Summer 2020, following a comprehensive refurbishment of the Museum’s galleries and public facilities.


The Thackray Medical Museum (TMM) has its origins in a small family-run chemist shop, opened in 1902 by Charles Thackray in Great George Street, Leeds.  Charles developed the business into a major medical supply firm, supplying drugs and medical instruments and equipment across the world.

When the business was sold in 1990, Charles’s grandson Paul established the museum to enable the wider public to learn more about the story of medicine. Situated within the St James’s Hospital campus of Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust (LTHT), the Museum has unique collections and exhibits of medical history.

LTHT pioneered work in hand transplantation. It remains the only UK medical facility to offer hand transplants within a comprehensive patient support programme including bespoke surgery with long-term psychological, emotional and nursing care of the patient and their family and to the donor family.

Thackray Medical Museum’s project A Healthy Future is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wellcome Trust, Thackray Medical Research Trust, Arts Council England, Garfield Weston Foundation, Wolfson Foundation, Foyle Foundation and others.

Thackray Medical Museum vision

Thackray Medical Museum exists to inspire people with the passion and purpose of medicine and healthcare in the past, present and future.

Our vision and purpose are relevant to everybody. We will all require medical treatment during our lives, but when we are ill we are at our most vulnerable and fragile, and the medical world can seem alien and intimidating. By engaging people with the incredible story of medical innovation and progress, Thackray Medical Museum seeks to inspire everybody with the passion and purpose of medicine and healthcare, with their opportunity to play an active role in their own medical experiences and personal health, and with their potential to contribute to the development of medicine and healthcare.

We will be delivering this vision when we can demonstrate that we:

  • Inspire people with stories of the motivation, commitment and achievement that drives people working in medicine
  • Engender in people the knowledge and confidence to maintain an active role in their own medical experiences and personal health
  • Enable people to participate in a public conversation about medicine and health
  • Plant the idea that people can aspire to become part of the world of medicine and healthcare
  • Provide a focus for people who work in medicine and healthcare to come together with each other, with patients, and with the public, to be inspired, to connect and to innovate


Thackray Medical Museum wants to commission two artists/filmmakers to make works for its Hand Transplant Gallery that will engage visitors with a personal and human exploration of major surgery innovations and provide a creative platform to open up important questions for personal and group reflection. 

Our hands are our key touch receptors and offer us a deep sensory relationship with self, family and community and through the materials of nature to the wider world. Using advanced technology, touch sensors and robotics, surgeons have enhanced dexterity and augmented the body to offer surgical procedures that radically transform our lives now and in the future.

Simon Kay, a hand transplant surgeon who is working with us on the project, has set out his thoughts on the background to his work:

“The human hand is constantly on view, like the face, and each serves a wide variety of functions through movement and through sensing. Each conveys thoughts and emotions, is capable of examining, sensing, grasping in highly special ways, and each has a role in loving, caring and sex. Each offers information both passively and actively about us, and is capable of communicating silently quite complex information. Each has (probably consequently) a particular quality of beauty and significance for us.

The hand however has remarkable abilities in manipulation and a repertoire of movement that allows power and grace.  All of its parts are elegantly adapted to individual function and to the coherent concert of movement that makes it so beautiful. Whether considering the pulp, the nail, the articulations, the palmar skin contrasting with other skin, the act of opposition or simply the changes of ageing, each hand is unique to each human, as distinct (forensically) as DNA and often customised, perhaps with jewels, or varnish or tattoos.

The hand played an enabling part in our evolution and, credibly, in the evolution of language and thought, as the fossil record shows.  There is a deep atavistic understanding of the essential humanness of a hand, and that they work in partnership with their opposite member, completing the circle of competence and manipulation and embracing that is formed by the upper limbs and body.

Despite these qualities we usually take our hands for granted, accepting them as simple mechanical adjuncts and failing to realise that their health both reflects our own health and influences it also. Only when function is lost (arthritis, nerve disease such as  tremor or loss of feeling) or congenital deformity do we realise the value that is missing, and no more so than in loss of part or all of one or both hands. This lies behind the ethical contention that hand loss is a serious impairment not just of ability but of personal completeness that leaves sufferers at risk of life shortening behavioural change.” 

Commission Briefs

We want to commission two distinctive works for the Hand Transplant Gallery, with a focus on the lived human impacts of medical innovation.

Commission One, presented on a monitor, without sound, at the entrance to the Gallery, will act as an ‘introduction’. We anticipate that the commissioned artist might be someone who works in animation, CGI, collage film or digital, or take a hybrid approach.

Commission Two, a projection (one or two screens) set up as an installation within its own gallery space,  reflecting on the human experience of hand transplants. We anticipate that this will be a creative documentary approach including spoken testimony of the experience from those involved.

The commissioned artists will develop their ideas through an R&D phase in which they will have the opportunity to consult and engage with the community of patients, surgical, nursing and support staff.

Artists will be encouraged to document their projects and participate in public events related to the commissions.

Artists will be advised on, and expected to take full and appropriate account of, ethical issues in undertaking the commission. The works must be appropriate for people over the age of 12.

Commission one: Introduction to the Hand Transplant Gallery

Presented on a wall monitor in a daylight space, approximately 3 - 7 minutes, looped, silent.

We want the work to be intriguing, surprising or even provocative. We want visitors to gain a sense of awe at the human body and the hand in particular, and potentially:

  • A realisation of the diverse abilities of hands and what they achieve – both passively and actively – and what it is like to be without hands
  • A realisation of the part hands play in our personal life and relationships
  • Some understanding of the current capability and limitations of prosthetic hands
  • Consider the importance of our hands - whether to children, young people & adults, from diverse backgrounds – race, sex, sexual orientation, dis/abilities, prosthetic wearers.

Starting points for discussion and exploration:

  • large scale, close detail
  • the beauty and intricacy of hands we take for granted but use for almost every activity
  • functionality eg power, delicacy, manipulative skill, sensibility, warm/cold, dexterity, feeling
  • passive and active communication our hands allow
  • what hands tell us passively about our age, experience, marital status, background, personal style
  • active communication eg indicating, story telling, BSL signing, gestures for example around religious and political affiliations eg V sign, black power salute
  • the importance of hands for intimate activities eg holding hands, caressing and masturbation
  • artistic activity and expression eg dance, hasta mudra (hand yoga)
  • within popular culture eg Kitchener/Uncle Sam’s pointing finger, The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo), heart hands (Maurizio Cattelan, meme).

Commission two: Hand Transplants - human experience

We want this film to evoke and explore the experiences and impact of medical interventions with the aim of conveying thoughts and feelings rather than detailed and complex information. It should include a range of voices who give testimony to the process and trusted relationships required to perform this work. Using a creative documentary approach, the artist will be supported through a facilitated introduction to the community and have access to archive footage of surgical processes, if required.

The second work will have its own space and seating, and the specific configuration is open for discussion, with up to two projectors.

Approximately 8 minutes, dimmed light with sound, seating - a space for visitors to pause, consider and reflect.  Voiceover/speech will be subtitled in English. The artist should consider and recommend an approach to including these within/alongside their work.

We want the film to help visitors:

  •  understand the resilience of people who are willing to go through with the very prolonged and difficult process
  • understand that there are great risks and difficult choices to be made at every step and not everyone chooses or is able to pursue hand transplant
  • understand of the range of skilled staff involved in the hand transplant process with many people behind the scenes
  • become aware of the necessity of donations
  • understand the cultural sensitivities around donation

Starting points for discussion and exploration:

  • the patient’s psychological and physical journey  to acquiring donated hands -  12 months is spent assessing patient’s stability, ability to envisage having another’s hands, capacity to cope with the process
  • the profound effect of impaired hands on more than just mechanical function
  • the risk of not having hands – disability, disfigurement, social disadvantage
  • the delicate interface between form, function and participation (as per World Health assessment of disability)
  • choices and risks involved in having transplanted hands - shortened life and other side effects due to immunosuppressant drugs – the choice between length of life and quality of life
  • hand amputation
  • prosthetic hand trials which every patient must experience
  • the resilience of people who are willing to go through with the very prolonged and difficult process
  • the skill of multiple teams
  • complexities of microsurgery in hand transplant operations
  • hand donation and cultural attitudes to donation/transplant
  • aftercare 


The commissioning team is led by Sue Mackay (Collections and Programming Director, Thackray Medical Museum), with Nat Edwards (CEO, TMM) and Professor Simon Kay from Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust.  The commission curators/producers working directly with the artists are Sue Ball (MAAP) and Gary Thomas (Animate Projects).

Fees, selection, schedule

The fee for Commission one is £5,500, inclusive of fee and all related production costs, and any VAT applicable. There is an additional contribution towards travel and accommodation.

The fee for Commission two is £10,000, inclusive of fee and all related production costs, and any VAT applicable. There is an additional contribution towards travel and accommodation.

Commissions will be subject to contract and agreement of a budget and schedule.

We welcome applications from all sectors of the artistic community.

Submission deadline: noon 3 January 2020.

Online discussions with shortlisted artists (if considered necessary): 10 January.     

We expect to inform applicants of our decision by 17 January.                 

Initial meetings and R&D (Leeds) for selected artists: 28, 29, 30 January.             

Delivery: 4 May 2020.                            


Contact the curator
Who is eligible for this opportunity?
UK based filmmakers, animators and moving image artists.
When is the deadline?
The deadline for submitting a proposal is noon Friday 3 January 2020
What are the key dates?
Submission deadline: noon 3 January 2020
Online discussions with shortlisted artists (if considered necessary): 10 January
Initial meetings and R&D (Leeds) for commissioned artists: 28, 29, 30 January
Delivery: 4 May 2020
When will you make your decision?
We expect to inform applicants of our decision by 17 January.

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