The Objects of Idioholism

Artwork by Chris Dooks / Layout Rutger Zuydevelt

Each record comes as a lavish professional package containing sound art and music, spoken word and field recordings.

1: Each record is pressed on high quality coloured vinyl by specialist vinyl manufacturers in Toronto and London.

2. The inner sleeve is always full colour and has a 2000-3000 word essay on the reverse of a photographic or illustrative sleeve printed at high resolution.

3. The overall cover is equally sumptuous and continues the colour-coded theme on heavyweight card.

4. Finally, each record is shipped with a download code which contains not only the music of that particular album, but also an extended digital E.P.

image: wajobu

Film extra from 300 Square Miles of Upwards

The Eskdalemuir Harmonium inner sleeve: Dooks / Zuydeveldt

Film extra made for the launch of The Eskdalemuir Harmonium

At the end of 2012, US label Experimedia featured a teaser mix from the project, click here to listen.

300 Square Miles of Upwards inner sleeve: Dooks / Zuydeveldt

Chris Dooks

Chris Dooks, Ayr, (2012)



The World of Idioholism

Approaching Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with a vinyl record trilogy
as a proto-syllabus of 'exhaustion ursurpation'.

on an ipod/ipad? use this link for the music on this page

Dr Chris Dooks, University of The West of Scotland

Download the related thesis "The Fragmented Filmmaker, Emancipating The Exhausted Artist" from academia.edu


How can phonographic arts offset Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

"Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance..." (Sontag, 1978)

Wherever medicine has discarded its caring role, or simply has no available cure, sufferers of chronic illnesses frequently turn to experimental and experiential strategies. Such strategies can seem an outlandish or surreal response to illness; for example, working closely with an abandoned and decrepit harmonium in the Scottish borders or forging Twitter-length statements about the universe may not be on the medical map, but to artists like myself, these processes are a way of life.

Given that many artists are intimate with their processes, what implications does this 'intimacy' have in the life of the sick artist? Moreover, if artists are supposed to be 'sensitive' (as the cliché goes) or at least receptive, instead of such 'sensitivity' being a derogatory slur, can it be a gateway into self-directed coping mechanisms? Also, what role does 'predicament' have in co-authoring the work? Is predicament (and disability) always something to be overcome - or does it help sculpt the work by ruling out vast swathes of previously available opportunities prior to illness? Can predicament itself 'co-design' projects like this? Does 'predicament' help with an agony of choice that may disadvantage those with multiple opportunities and greater free will?

The idioholism project is a conclusion to a PhD process which began in 2009 and was launched with a thesis and vinyl recors in 2015.

Etymologically, idioholism is simply a fusion of ‘holism’ with ‘idiosyncrasy’ – and my 'idioholism' - or process of 'holistic idiosyncrasy' produced a package of red, blue and yellow 12-inch records - containers of a series of audio/visual/textural arts-lab experiments, including many analogue and digital assets. Expansive download packages accompany the works as does an accessible academic exegesis. But it is the augmented and adapted creative process (which the records have hopefully captured), which is the core of the project, but framed as neatly as possible by three records (and further documentation).

This autoethnographic experiment touches on improving the life of 'the whole person' with CFS-ME (which I have had since 1998). It attempts to forge a broad path of discovery via artistic practice/research and first-person experience. Practiced reflexively, my aim was to construct and test low-energy interventions of CFS-ME through (in the main) accessible sound-art practice, and to collate these trials into three themes. The aim then, was to examine if a 'dynamic' arose in the space between the themes. Put another way - I was 'triangulating' the themes, and identifying any cross-overs - but also reflecting on what areas of my own life became more fulfilling through the process.

As mentioned, the physical shape these resulting inter-reliant art projects took, were housed as three expansive coloured vinyl records. I referred to them as 'fragmented films'. It took five years, and the process was designed so that it did not aggrevate my condition. I was not always successful in the latter, but the records (below) began as hypotheses and ended up as sellable objects, sets of which were sold from £25-£100 each depending on the package. The example below shows the 'luxury' or 'academic' edition [sold out].

The 'Academic' edition of 10. Artwork (c) Chris Dooks / Rutger Zuydervelt / Phil Spitler (box design)

In the illustration above we can see the harmonium record (red) and the cosmology piece (blue) menioned at the beginning of this page. But there is also a third, (yellow) LP which explores the benefits of recording cicadas courting in Provence. Seen apart, these records appear quirky, but used together they illustrate one person's approach to transforming multiple facets of life afflicted by illness (and explored in the sleevenotes of each record). Each colour represents a particular faculty of life that the illness is retarding. A laser-cut wooden box houses the set.

An artist’s take on his or her own illness is a tactic that is gaining academic interest. In the absence of panaceas, many idiosyncratic routes arise from the deficit of understanding in illnesses of 'murky causality'. First-person, artist-led projects are part of this phenomena. This particular project has arisen out of a sober need for treatment that is not being met medically. The only choice for myself and perhaps others in a similar position is a creative response to CFS/ME/CFIDS et al.

The significance of CFS-ME lies in both its invisibility and the breadth of the life-strata it retards. Questions arise. Under these conditions, is it that an artist-devised project may claw back at least some ability to experience a fuller life? What are the adaptations the practitioner must adopt in order to outmaneuver aggressive illnesses (like CFS-ME) which affect the whole person?

Solutions to illnesses like CFS-ME are likely to be bespoke when the cause still remains speculative. Additionally, there exist historical issues surrounding the nomenclature of the illness. While all of this is being thrashed out and fought, time drags along. One way of providing a sense of ownership over the illness is for sufferers to become authors of their own self-initiated health programme - and in my case, artistic intervention is chosen as the route to a better life in the absence of a formal, medical process.

Can artists, who already come from a tradition of 'mining the self' in their artistic practice, be better creatively equipped in coping with their chronic illnesses or does it make them worse? indifferent? Moreover, to what extent would such methods be transferable or practical for non-artists? If sufferers cannot cure themselves of the illness, can they at least have a better relationship towards the illness?

In order to investigate this perspective, this project operates subjectively but reflexively as a kind of arts-laboratory with much of the project in the first-person. My personal route to improved wellbeing (but not a cure) lay in tweaking the way I worked in audio arts and photography. I had to devise a working title/term for the process that may have made a difference over my 'whole' life: 'idioholism'. This word is both a container for the principles I explore in my methodology - but it becomes a potentially transferrable term if other sufferers are interested enough to dive in to the process explored in depth, in the exegesis.

I was a film-maker before I became too sick to make films and TV documentaries. Today I term myself a 'fragmented film-maker'. However, another creative practitioner, from an utterly different background may devise their own bespoke route to a fuller life and if my framework was transferrable, that practitioner would still be pursuing 'an idioholism'. What this project attempts, is to create blueprints or a conceptual template that can be changed and tailored to the backgrounds of other creatives (and perhaps ultimately, to those who believe they are not 'creative').

This first-person adaptation to CFS-ME is a small step towards augmenting an unsatisfactory relationship with one's energy problems. In my case, this has led to my slowly devising a trilogy of conceptual vinyl records, deliberately across seemingly unrelated areas as containers for a number of audio-visual and semi-autobiographical strategies to my illness.

The idioholism project serves as a kind of 'proto-syllabus' of 'exhaustion ursurpation'. In this 'syllabus', seemingly unrelated modules (the tracks on the records) appear individualistic and separate - but each record is themed, and when triangulated together with two other themes they hopefully form more than the sum of their parts resulting in a sense of something 'holistic' in the broadest sense of the word for the practitioner - but also for the person who is listening to (and reading/looking at) the objects.

This project is located within the growing tradition of contemporary artists working with health problems at a doctoral level. One may place the project within the space between the fringes of medical humanities - and artistic practice as research. In the latter, a bias towards unconventional interventions or experimental practice is part of the modus operandi of artists who take this route - pursuing a kind of activism toward their illness - that is the terrain of this project.

In my case, because medical advisory committees continue to argue over the causality and significance of CFS-ME, and because of the ineffectual treatment (if any) offered, it comes as no surprise that sufferers like myself take matters into their own hands. As a result, experiments like this multimedia project attempt to clear part of a path, providing a degree of control over a life that might otherwise become meaningless and filled with a greater volume of suffering.

By further attaching the practice within the academic fields of autoethnography and phenomenology, it may be possible to cement this investigation, without losing the experimental and practical philosophy of this so-called 'idioholism' – and ultimately evaluating the potential for replicability.

The Idioholism Vinyl Trilogy photographed in Ayr, 2014. Special thanks to Helen Wilson and Bill and Betsy Thom for additional funds and to Ian Wallace at Big Sparra Vinyl, Ayr for selling the boxed sets.

The Idioholism Series
Three volumes of music, photographs and sleevenotes (see shop also):

Part 1: The Eskdalemuir Harmonium (2012) – [w/Machinefabriek] funded and published by Komino Records, Toronto. Theme: broken instruments for broken people. Launched at The Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow.

Info/Buy: UK / USA / CANADA

Part 2: 300 Square Miles of Upwards (2013) – jointly published by the University of The West of Scotland and Woodend Barn Arts, Banchory.
Theme: Society bypasses the housebound, so the housebound bypass society and explore cosmology.
Record launch was at image-movement.de (Berlin) in April 2013

Info/Buy: Direct from artist

000 000on an ipod/ipad? use this link for the music on this page

Part 3: CIGA{R}LES (2014)info / buy – published by the University of The West of Scotland - beginner and advanced field recording and composition (in Arles, France and Ayr, Scotland) for the exhausted practitioner. Practical exercises for the housebound field recordist.

000 000on an ipod/ipad? use this link for the music on this page

Email Chris Dooks - chris@dooks.org

*Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is the 'establishment' preferred term in the UK from most medical practitioners, whilst "M.E." is the patient's preferred term as it suggests a biomedical root - many people truncate the two terms in the UK - such as CFS-ME.


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