The Queensland College of Art and St Vincent’s Private Hospital have come together to establish a new artist-in-residence program to use artwork as a new means to enrich the environment of care and support.
According to the Hospital’s General Manager Ms Cheryle Royle, the initiative fits well amidst a growing body of evidence to suggest that arts have the potential to significantly improve health outcomes.
“These residencies are creating unique opportunities for talented artists who wish to not only create beautiful artwork, but also contribute to the life of our hospital by supporting the emotional and spiritual well-being of our patients, their families and our staff,” she explains.
“Our vision is to lead the way in transforming health care, making a real difference to the lives of those for who we provide care – and adding an artistic element to this journey allows for a unique response to the specific needs of our patients.”
Bringing arts and health together
The program came together following a conversation between Griffith University’s QCA Galleries Coordinator Cassandra Lehman-Shultz and the archivist at St Vincent’s Private Hospital Delene Cuddihy, and was brought to fruition over a 12 month period.
Cassandra says upon learning of the history of the Hospital, and that it was purpose built and intended as a beautiful place of rest with a magnificent outlook, it became clear that aesthetics already played a significant role – one that could now be furthered by the talent from the QCA.
It was also an opportunity she believed, to bring to Queensland an idea which was already gaining reputation for success in other states throughout Australia.
“Such a residency program brings arts and health together, creating new audiences and broadening understandings,” she says.
“It is intended to provide multiple benefits through a contemplative level of engagement with art, for hospital staff, patients, visitors and those who will then experience the results in the gallery context.
“Developing skills in empathetically reading art can assist medical practitioners and patients in understanding and explaining pain, confusion, loss and healing.”
Three QCA students have been selected to take part throughout 2014 and are encouraged to add creatively to the hospital environment; offer active artistic opportunities for patients; use resources in an inspired way; or offer useful reflections on the hospital and its care.
Reflecting on the significance of life
Doctoral candidate Brian Sanstrom undertook the inaugural three-month residency to coincide with his thesis and already established practice surrounding the human condition.
“From birth to death we all, in a multitude of ways, struggle to assert our independence, our sense of self and to understand our place in the world,” he explains.
“When life is coming to an end, either through the natural ageing processes or more particularly when illness besets us, we may choose to contemplate and reflect on our life, and consider its’ significance.
“Faced with our own mortality, reasoning can often give way to acceptance and finally peace.”
It is within this zone, somewhere between acknowledging death’s inevitability and remembering and honouring those who have passed, that moved Brian to develop his latest sculptural work.
The pieces stand as testament, he says, to the physical care of a patient, their bodily communion with medicine and finally, their absence from the world as we know it. But it is not just a commentary on acceptance.
“This work aims to assist us to not only remember and give honour but to truly know that person and thus gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our place on earth.”
After spending time within the walls of St Vincent’s and experiencing first-hand the individual patient care and the institution, Brian chose to integrate resources found on-site into his work.
With approval, he collected the rusted tin letters of the Hospital’s former signage, bandages, bed pans, plastic gloves and metal file boxes – each becoming a subtle commentary on the physical and spiritual passage of life and death.
The bandages were wrapped around the tin letters and painted with tar to signify the inevitable decay felt with passing time, while his ‘Incision’ piece brought together painstakingly stacked skeletal raw wooden beams.
While fragile individually, Brain reveals, together they represent strength and thus the power of individuals within the Hospital.
“The pieces offer a visual dialogue to encourage discussion, debate and emotion around this unique stage of life,” he says.
“It’s important to look at the formal order that surrounds this organic process, while uncovering the role of the strangers who devote their time to the care of these ones who have put their lives in their hands.
“It brings to light the multiple ways we can accept with grace, the life cycle in all its complexities.”
The next residency with artist Julie-Anne will take place in May-July, while the third with Glen Skien is planned for later in the year. A final curated exhibition of all three artists is expected to take place in October at the QCA’s South Bank campus.
St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane cares for patients aged 14 to 100+ from all around Queensland and interstate, with 3,000 inpatients and over 4,000 outpatient visits conducted annually. The Hospital has been a part of the Kangaroo Point landscape since 1957 when the Sisters of Charity set out to care for sick and dying, the poor and vulnerable.
Lauren Marino, Arts Publicist, Griffith University
0418 799 544, [email protected]