Circling (again)


Circling (again)

Anna Macdonald 


This site is a document and re-imagining of a moving image exhibition called Circling. The exhibition took place at ArtsKeele, Keele University, in March 2020 and explored the relationship of movement, time and progression within the experience of living with chronic pain. The work emerged from a collaborative fellowship project, awarded to dance and moving image artist Anna Macdonald and literary geographer and writer Ceri Morgan by Keele University's Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2018/19). The fellowship brought together geopoetics (site-responsive creative practices) dance and film and involved working for over a year with six participants with a variety of chronic pain conditions.  In 2019-20, the Keele Institute for Social Inclusion awarded funding to develop the work further to focus on the relationship between chronicity, pain and hope in collaboration with bioethicist, Professor Anthony Wrigley. 

Part 1 contains selected recordings, images and writing made by participants during the project in response to scores created by Macdonald and Morgan.  Part 2 contains a selection of moving image artworks made by Macdonald, working with the participants, which drew on this foundational participatory work with Morgan. The artworks have been re-worked here for viewing on-line and are followed by some images of the original exhibition. Further thoughts about the work will be added over the next few months.

If you are watching this on a laptop, the images and sounds will automatically start to play as you scroll onto them or click on the arrows. If you are using a mobile device, please click on the play button to start the sound/movement and the work is best viewed in landscape. 

Extract from Flower Brain (moving image loop 4m 23) by Anna Macdonald which was developed drawing on an original artwork by Amanda Ravetz (The Odd Project 2020).

Part 1: walking, writing, moving and talking 

Image by Anna Tall (2020): Map of walk near her house


pain professionals

The project began with the artist interviewing pain professionals who specialise in chronic pain conditions. Issues that came up repeatedly were: the difficulty of describing pain, the desire to know the origin of pain, and the complexity of navigating the time (gaps) between appointments.

Extract from interview recorded with Fraser Philp, Physiotherapist Programme Director for Rehabilitation and Exercise Science, Keele University, in 2019.

Choose a point

Choose a point in the room to arrive at

Spend ten minutes not getting there

Anna Tall speaking during a workshop with participants in August 2019

Score by Anna Macdonald (2019)

And then it (Parkinson's progress) 

and then it shook

and then it staggered

and then it fell

and then it couldn’t walk backwards

and then it couldn’t reach

and then it couldn’t fasten buttons

and then it was laughed at

and then it couldn’t get dressed

and then it slurred

and then it shuffled

and then it was called drunk

and then it couldn’t smell

and then it couldn’t taste

and then it couldn’t swallow

and then it couldn’t move its feet

and then it couldn’t write

and then it couldn’t smile

and then it cried

and then it couldn’t. 

John Mills (2020)


Sophie walking downstairs (2020) by Sophie Powell

Sophie made a stop frame animation of her walking downstairs because her limp is

not visible at this speed.

Image by Anna Tall (2020)

Noting the difference

Take a walk 

Take the same walk again

Noting the differences

Emma Henderson speaking during a workshop with participants in September 2019

Score by Ceri Morgan (2019)

walking Image by Anna Tall (2020)

Memory Walk (extract)

Carla Jarrett

Memory Walk – my journey from Brazil to Birmingham – first flight


sao paulo,Brazil

avenida general olimpio da silveira,196

felt very empowering and brave decision to take that walk*(reference feeling)

leave, even for 6 months

however i didnt know if i would allowed to keep walking or return after deportationreturn after deportation


i left home, with my boyfriend at the time & my mother by car, drove by my godparents

40 minutes journey carrying my heart

i have with me the people i most love, there inside a car going to Guarulhos International AirportGuarulhos International Airport


my best friends were there to support me and say bye

so there was the gate and last call

said bye and walk to boarding

still stopped and  look through the window to wave to them

so exciting get in the airplane

luckly the company was five star, very comfortable seat

and the passenger on my side was a nice young boy

i remember drinking a red wine and slept

crossed Atlantic Ocean 11 hours


he woke me up to show the Alps


I realized that i was in Europe.

those big white mountains, reminded me a chocolate package

swiss type i used to eat in my childhood

land of swiss chocolate, and watches

time keeping

the stop at Zurich was time to toilet,

but i dont know how to ask for toilet

somehow i found reliefrelief

a microbus take us to to the plane

it was only 30 minutes flight left to arrive in Birmingham

my anxiety to arrive and pass the imigration was huge

i was completely without a clue how could be

i have US$ 200 in my wallet

an invitation  letter from my friend

a dictionary english - portuguese

and full of dreams in my chest

i tried to enjoy the journey

watching from the window

those houses square, green

geometric roads


beautiful and calm

it was 9am

Image by Carla Jarrett (2020)

Pain map by Ellen Adby (animated with spoons by Anna Macdonald) 2020

John Mills speaking at workshop in November 2019 

Image by Anna tall (cloud map added by Anna Macdonald) 2020

Anadromous Like Salmon (2020)

by Emma Henderson

I revisit 1976 by imagining a journey to Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris.

Back in that long, hot summer of 1976, the forty-eight hour journey to Luskentyre began at Victoria Coach Station in London: Patrick and I – eighteen, in love, out of school, rucksacks earnestly stuffed with pens and notebooks, Crime and Punishment, Les Chemins de la Liberte, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – took the overnight coach to Glasgow; another coach to Oban; the slow bus to Mallaig; and then the ferry to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, where we hitched a lift with a crofter and his sheep, to the village of Uig at the other end of the island, and spent the night under a tarpaulin on the small jetty there, which reeked of fish and diesel oil; the next morning, we caught an early ferry to Tarbert, and were met on the quayside by our boss, who drove us the ten miles to Luskentyre.

We were to be water bailiffs for the next five months. I’d answered a personal ad in The Times and been interviewed by a ridiculously posh English man in a ridiculously posh town house somewhere behind Westminster Abbey. The job involved night-patrolling, on foot and by bicycle, the Scottish estate of this English man, to prevent local poachers netting the salmon in the Luskentyre bay or in one of the inland lochs and selling the salmon on. The English man, his extended family and their loud, posh friends enjoyed summers on the beach, picnics by the lochs, mucking about in boats, but, above all, fly-fishing for these precious salmon. They stayed in what used to be the laird’s house, five miles away, at the southern tip of Harris.

In return for our nightwork as water bailiffs, we received enough money to buy food from the weekly travelling shop and accommodation in a small hut with no toilet, bathroom or hot water, and a temperamental calor gas oven that blew out every time the door to the hut opened. It was where and how we both learnt to cook, I tell people, forced to be creative with limited supplies – lamb, lamb and more lamb – and limited utensils and facilities. There was a telephone, which we were to use to call our boss, the estate manager, if things turned nasty with the poachers. Which, he warned us, they occasionally did.

Our hut was yards from a loch, with jagged, arid slopes rising opposite, and it overlooked the vast, sandy, estuary-bay of Luskentyre. The uninhabited island of Taransay was a pleasing, obtuse, isosceles triangle on the horizon. The sun didn’t set over Taransay until midnight and it reappeared in the valley to our east by 3am.

It was the strangest of long, hot Hebridean summers. Everything was purple.

Everything was purple. Because of the weather, because of the heather, the land, the hills, the sea, the sky, even the rocks and clouds – everything was purple.

It was a purple summer. They arrived in July, with the salmon, and departed with them in November. They arrived in July, a couple, and left, single, in November. She blamed the place.

Like a moonscape, she thought. The terrain was all but treeless; dusty and scarred with craters. On the far side of the loch: lunatic stubs of mountain, headless in the clouds; or cloudless a staggered, panicked heartbeat.

Like Florida, he said. She blinked. What did he mean? The sand, the foaming strand, a flashing bracelet of beach, and the terrible strangling heat, seeming never-ending.

Like a Hollywood movie-set, she sighed. He smiled, as if at a child.
They gazed at the Northern Lights, sequins on velvet.
They bathed, inky seals in wrinkled satin, letting the gentle Gulf Stream wash their

darkening skin. Or like a sexless spinster, they both agreed for once. Purple tweed of bracken, scree and gorse, a crepey neckline of riverbank. This unkissed lip of the land was barren, dry and cracked from weeks of heat, salty and sterile from the lightless winters and winter’s endless sea-storms.

They lived for five months in a hut by the sea and a loch. The water in the loch was purple because the rocks underneath it were red. They often walked across the cobbled wall that divided the loch from the sea. They jumped across the stream that divided one side of the valley from the other. They crouched and peered. The stream was about four feet wide, with stones like beetroot at the bottom, and slippery boulders, forcing the seaward rush of water to swerve, hesitate and dip, before plunging on. If they were lucky, they’d see a salmon slalom round the boulders. Lazy and lapilliform in the dark water, their leaps were sudden and shocking, the burst and spurt of a vein, and then, just as suddenly, nothing.

Like sex, she said. He grimaced. As if.

Because it was summer, and the island lay at a northern latitude of fifty-eight degrees, the sun set very late and rose very early. It was dark only for a couple of hours each night, and, in the dawn light, the mountains, at 3am and hazed with sea-cloud, looked like hills, hills that looked like sky – pimpled, stippled, fused – so that when the pink-grey sun appeared, it appeared like a slow-motion shot of a cannonball, looming through gaseous gun-smoke.

They were in love, but they argued incessantly. Like this. No, like that.
The sunsets were Mediterranean, she said. Himalayan, he corrected.

The replies multiplied.

At 1am, the sun going down in the west gave edges to the purple: engraved the spray of waves, lined their in-betweens with aubergine, sheened mauve the mattness of the heather and divided the sky into shanks and shades of red and blue. Ligatures of purple hair. She kept the thought to herself.

You can see the curve of the earth, he said. She couldn’t.
We could follow the sun to Newfoundland, she imagined. He wouldn’t.
They sniped.
The salmon leapt, the summer advanced. Purple rain at the end of August, squalls and a downpour, turning the soil into peaty clods, making a muscle of the land and sea, a bulging and a rippling.

Royal, he said. It’s over. They wrestled, wetly. The withered trees, the two or three, flailed their arms and hunched their heads away from the sea. Like some Celtic legend. She sought to find the one.

In September there was mist, a woolly closing in. Big, amaranthine blackberries grew in the gorse, but they didn’t pick them, because they were too busy picking quarrels with each other, holes in their relationship.

October came and with it, fog, a foretaste. Implacable November weather. Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, fog down the river, fog on the loch, fog on the craggy heights. Fog creeping into their hut; fog lying out on the sea, and hovering in the sprigging of the foam; fog drooping on the rim of a ghillie’s rowing boat. Fog in the eyes and throats of the two who were no longer a couple.

It was snowing when they departed – Tarbert, Uig, Armadale, Mallaig, Oban, Glasgow, London – and parted at Victoria Coach Station.

Nearly half a century later, Patrick is dead, I am crippled with the white pain of severe, chronic, degenerative osteoarthritis, and the journey I imagine begins with days of planning.

I scour the internet, bringing up images of Harris and reading all the tourist information I can find; superficially, little appears to have changed. I download maps and study train, plane and bus timetables; I investigate car hire; I click on hotels and air bnbs; check for access, steep inclines and stairs, estimate distances to be walked, luggage to be lugged, crowds to be negotiated. Streetview comes into its own as a means of pre-empting potential hazards.

I could drive to Manchester; fly from there to Inverness and on to Stornaway; hire a car and be in Luskentyre less than seven hours after my departure from home.

Any other route, not involving flights, is still surprisingly lengthy and would involve an overnight stay: Oban is three trains and more than six hours away, with a tricky-looking change in Glasgow. And from Oban, the journey would be similar to that of 1976: a very slow road to Mallaig, then ferry, then road, another ferry, more road. Stop, start, and fraught with difficulty, this route, but I’m tempted; what would it be like to repeat the joyful journey out, with Patrick, and then the return, with him but not, and marked by despair, me weeping and wailing, snotty, sleepless, exhausted?

No. I’m busy these days, I own a car, am rich enough to fly, and need to practise prioritizing my physical health; even the Inverness-Stornaway flights will knock me out for a day; the other route could take three days to recover from. And time, which Patrick and I had in abundance and squandered in abundance in 1976, is more precious now; I have a job I can’t afford to lose and considerably less time left on this earth than I’d like.

So I buy the plane tickets, book parking at Manchester airport and arrange car hire at Stornaway. I spend an afternoon counting out medication, collecting and folding appropriate clothing, carefully packing: a wheelie suitcase I can use as a crutch, a money belt I can reach into for purse, specs, Kindle, mobile phone. I check my walking sticks are tightened and attach their rubber tip-protectors.

The drive to Manchester airport is uneventful. I’ve done it before. I know the way. I think about holidays in Lanzarote and long weekends in Amsterdam. I’m anxious about the car parking, but it’s straightforward, with only a short hobble from my vehicle, with wheelie suitcase and walking sticks, to the courtesy bus. It’s 8am on 3rd July. The bus driver is cheery, calls me ‘duck’, asks me if I need help. I do, but I say, ‘No, I’m fine, I can manage, thank you,’ and make a comment about the weather, distracting us both from the ungainly fashion in which I’m hauling myself and heaving my suitcase onto the bus.

Manchester airport is uneventful. I love airports. I’ve spent many happy hours, over the years, in quite a few of them. Geneva is my favourite. But Manchester is a mess, with building work and temporary walkways and bad signage. I’m sweating and in pain, breathing too fast, by the time I get to the departure lounge. The queue for the Inverness flight shuffles. I can’t shuffle. Stop, start. I stop, which annoys the people behind me. I start and nearly topple, dropping my walking sticks, which annoys the people in front. It’s all a palaver, and a wave of nostalgia for the agility and insouciance of my eighteen year-old body nearly overwhelms me, at the same time as a wave of self-pity for the absence of a caring other – their steadying arm, comforting hand, diverting words.

Thank goodness it’s a walkway, not steps to the plane. I reach my seat and let a flight attendant take my sticks and suitcase and place them in the overhead locker.

I enjoy the short, uneventful flight. There’s no one next to me. I look out of the window. The weather is clear. The grey-green hues of the land are familiar, uninteresting and soothing. I look forward to the banality of breakfast and coffee at Inverness airport. I’ve never been to Inverness airport, but it turns out to be a delight in terms of size and efficiency. The toilets are clean, the café is convenient and the coffee and muffin I buy from it are cheap and delicious.

The plane from Inverness to Stornaway is small and I’m wedged next to a large Asian man. He’s chatty. He asks me what I do for a living. I tell him and ask him the same. He tells me he owns a clothes’ shop in Stornaway. I’m excited; I remember reading about a bizarre government initiative, in the last century, which re-housed a few dozen Asian people from the south of England to Stornaway. I’ve always wondered what happened to them. I’ve googled and found out lots of stuff, but not enough to satisfy me. I want to ask this man if he is related to these people, but I don’t know how. Instead, I listen and nod along, as he tells me about his brother, who has sciatica and walks with two sticks, but ‘bent like the bough of a tree, not leaning like you.’

As we approach the Outer Hebrides, I realize I haven’t been thinking about my journey at all. The novelty of Inverness airport and the focus of this man’s conversation have prevented my mind from wandering to the past or along the pathways of free association. However, just before we touch down on Stornaway’s sliver of a runway, I do wonder what it would be like to fly here in bad weather. I’ve watched countless Youtube videos about life on the islands, and how the weather affects every aspect of it. As we disembark, the wind is sharp, and there’s cold moisture, like a warning, in the warm July air, and I think about how little Patrick and I were aware, in 1976, of the harshness of the climate, the harsh reality of existence in the Hebrides. We saw the place only in terms of ourselves.

A woman holding a Hertz clipboard greets me and leads me to my hire car. We do the necessary admin on her iPad. I put my suitcase in the boot and my money belt on the passenger seat. She wishes me a happy holiday. I drive slowly from Stornaway to Tarbert. It’s uneventful. I keep expecting to have revelations and significant memories. The landscape is stunning, the views amazing, the beauty wilder and more wonderful than the images and videos I’ve looked at online. But all I can think about are the recently published novels of Peter May, set on these islands. Crime novels. Good novels. Novels that evoke the place brilliantly. Novels I’d have liked to have written myself, because I’ve always wanted to write about this place, and I’ve tried, and failed, many times. I think about another novel, Island of Wings, beautifully written, about St Kilda, even more remote than here. No revelations or significant memories. My thoughts merely rove over the range of things – people I’ve met, words I’ve read, stories I’ve told or been told – associated now, and mixed, with my memories of the place.

So no revelations or significant memories, just confirmation of time as layered, so layered that revisiting 1976 in time, through space, via my imagination is like skiing in white- out, blizzard conditions. There’s no sense of direction, which is both terrifying and intoxicating.

I don’t need the Satnav provided by the hire car, but I tap in ‘Tarbert’, for reassurance.

I park the car in Tarbert and sit on a bench at the quayside. The little harbour town is as picturesque as ever. A ferry chugs in, and I can see Patrick and me, with our rucksacks, striding down its gangplank. It would be easy to follow us. Easy to conjure the past. Harder to describe the present or imagine a future.

And the drive from Tarbert to Luskentyre is complicated, not because of the route, but because the past is in the present now: I recognize landmarks, crofts on the hillsides, stones painted white by the sides of the road, a certain curve of the land, a heart-shaped loch in the valley to my right; a distinctive outcrop of rocks. The car window is down, and there’s a brackish, salty smell, sheep, sheep and more sheep, their bleating, and suddenly the sea in the distance, and Taransay, layered now with the knowledge that it was where the TV reality series ‘Castaway’ was set in the early 2000s, and I want not to have that knowledge, but I can’t peel it away.

I slow down, get closer, see the whole broad sweep of the Luskentyre bay and turn off the road, down a track, to the hut. Nothing much has changed in the layout, the landscape, the views. Nothing much has changed in my memory of the place, either. But revisiting, in fantasy, the summer of ’76 spent in it, releases a rush of other memories. It’s as if I can remember everything, everything from the summer of 1976, with its weight of purple emotion. And, simultaneously, everything from last week, when I prosaically studied images of the place on Streetview.

The years in-between are the layers of my whole adult life.

I stand outside the hut, leaning on my walking sticks. My back hurts. My knees ache. An ow shoots – ow – constantly, ow, ow, ow, down one leg. My fingers are stiff. It’s 8pm on 3rd July. Osteoarthritis is just another layer. I think about purple and look for it in the land- and-seascape before me. There’s plenty of it, but not enough, in truth, to make such a song and dance about it as I did, once upon a time. Yet if I hadn’t, what would I remember from then, let alone pass on?

I think about my pain at the end of this imaginary journey. It’s white, containing therefore all other colours, including hybrid purple.

Emma Cycling (2020) by Anna Macdonald 

Performer: Emma Henderson

Camera: Luke Margetts

Emma's pain is evident when she walks and invisible when she cycles. When she cycles she looks like a film star.


Part 2: Circling (the moving image artworks)

In 2020, drawing on the themes and images that emerged from the collaborative work with Morgan, Macdonald created a moving image exhibition called Circling. The show contained a collection of moving image artworks, made with partipants who experience chronic pain, along with an installation consisting of a series of large and small metal signs saying 'wait here'. Some of the films concern walks people take regularly, or walks they would like to take in the future. Some bear witness to the way people’s movement is affected by their pain. Some of the works contain images and words created by the participants themselves and others have a more abstract, durational quality designed to generate a felt-sense of chronicity. Collectively they respond to themes such as: the changing sense of scale that pain can bring, the nature of chronicity, and the complexity of walking with others.

Clip from Reasonable Adjustments 2 by Anna Macdonald (2020)

Performer: John Mills

Camera: Calum Smail

Selected films

Reasonable Adjustments (5m 21)

400m (2m 45 loop)

Wait here (2m 38)

Alpen (3m 45)

Holding (2m 13)

Image by Anna Tall: Anna Tall lying down (2020)

Reasonable adjustments

(moving image diptych: 5m 21)

Participants in the project spoke about the endless adjustments, and tiring dynamic planning, that moving with pain requires. This film responds to the creativity shown by participants as they adapt continuously to their changing environments and capacities. Drawing on Miranda Pennell’s influential work, You made me love you (2004) it shows the participants trying to stay in the frame of a camera that moves playfully away from them: sometimes they adjust – sometimes they refuse. The film has a quality of responsivity: the intensely present quality of a body seen reacting to events as they unfold in time.

Performers: John Mills and Sophie Powell

Music: Franz Schubert's Du bist die Ruh transcribed by Liszt played by Takashi Sato

Camera: Calum Smail


(moving image loop with sound: 2m 54)

In one of the workshops we thought about the complex relationship between movement, time, and progression and the way pain can affect the scale of movement. Later on, John ran around the table as if it was a 400m race.

Performer: John Mills

Camera: Luke Margetts

Wait here

(moving image diptych: 2m 38)

In this project, about the experience of living with chronic pain, the idea of waiting came up over and over again. People talked about waiting for consultants, scans and diagnosis. They described experiences of waiting for pain to subside or asking others to wait for them as they rest. Waiting is an active state, but it can also feel static. Here, we thought about how art might be used to find a sense of progression in conditions that are ongoing.

Performer: Anna Tall


(moving image: 3m 45) 

Emma used to snowboard and Emma could probably still snowboard. This film offers images of Emma moving through familiar pathways in her kitchen overlaid with sounds of snowboarders in the Swiss Alps. This layering creates an obvious contrast between different environments and scales of movement, but here we were interested in ways of re-expanding a sense of space and resisting binary divisions of time into ‘before’ and ‘after’ pain.

Performer: Emma Henderson
Camera: Luke Margetts and Anna Macdonald
Text: Circling the square (extract) by Emma Henderson 2020


(moving image diptych: 2m 13)

Carla drew an image of a balloon in one of the workshops with a pin held near it. I brought in a large bunch of blue balloons and there was a storm the day we filmed her holding them. Carla also brought in a large ball of red wool and bound it round her foot. She said it felt warm and comforting to feel her foot held by the thread.  

Performer: Carla Jones
Camera: Luke Margetts

Thanks to

Ellen Adby, Emma Henderson, Carla Jarrett, John Mills, Sophie Powell and Anna Tall for their generous, expert and insightful participation in this project.

Thanks to Takashi Sato for kindly giving us permission to use a recording of his performance of Schubert's Du bist die Ruh in Reasonable Adjustments (2020).

We also want to thank June Brammar, Project Manager at Haywood Hospital, for her input and the following pain management professionals from Keele University: Kay Stevenson, Consultant physiotherapist, John Bedson from the Research institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences, Nicola Cornwall, Lisa Dikimitos, Sarah Harrisson and Charlotte Woodcock from the PROMPT project, and Fraser Philp, Programme Lead for Rehabilitation and Exercise Science.

This project was made possible by: Kerry Jones at ArtsKeele, Keele Institute Liberal Arts and Sciences, Keele Institute for Social Inclusion at Keele University and Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Some information about the makers

Anna Macdonald is an artist and researcher whose work spans experimental dance, film, and participatory arts practice. She currently works in the Manchester School of Art, Manchester and her most recent research, funded by Arts Council England, explores the relationship between the body, time and affect within performative digital practices.

A Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Keele University, Ceri Morgan works on literary geographies, place-writing, geopoetics (site-responsive creative practices), walking studies, and geohumanities. Since 2014, Morgan has worked increasingly on geopoetics as a participatory practice and has led workshops on a variety of themes, including mining, food, and deindustrialisation. In 2017, she founded a walking-reading/walking-writing group, called the Dawdlers. Morgan has published some fiction, creative nonfiction, and prose-poetry, notably in Littoral (2017) and GeoHumanities (2019). She is about to begin an AHRC Leadership Fellowship entitled, ‘Heartlands/Pays du cœur: Geohumanities and Québec’s “regional” fiction’.

Anthony Wrigley is a Professor of Ethics at Keele University whose research engages with bioethical issues in law, medicine and society from the perspective of analytic philosophy.  His work focuses primarily on ethical and policy issues on the margins of life, including the use of new biomedical technologies, consent for those who have lost capacity, and end-of-life care.  He also engages in theoretical work on philosophical concepts, such as hope, trust, and vulnerability, and held a Research Fellowship for a project on ‘Hope and Death’ as part of the Hope-Optimism project at Cornell and Notre Dame Universities in the USA (2015-16).

Circling (again)

Circling (again): Copyright Anna Macdonald May 2020

Circling (again) was created by Anna Macdonald using Mural software and is a development of the Circling project and exhibition created with Ceri Morgan between 2018 and 2020. The artworks within the site are individually credited so please contact the artist or ArtsKeele to gain permission if you wish to use any of the images and artworks within it.