'THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG': An Argument for Art in Hospitals

For almost everyone, being in a hospital is not seen as a good thing. A trip there is usually coloured by negative emotions: an unforeseen accident, a dull series of visits.

Even trips that are tinged with joy (like births) can be a worrying experience. It’s no wonder that from the rare full blown Iatrophobia - fear of doctors - or nosocomephobia - fear of hospitals - to simply not wanting to be here! many people don’t like being in a hospital building.

We’re now seeing a long term art movement, that has set to work on humanising the site itself. Across the world there are art donation programs, hospital art committees - even hospital curators! But why spend money on art (says the imaginary person, who I don’t like)?

Countless studies have shown that art aids the healing process; bringing down the heart rate, provoking a ‘joy response’, lowering stress and providing a much-needed opportunity for contemplation for staff and patients.

  Jennifer Steinkamp, Mike Kelley 1, 2007, Computer video installation, Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography.

Jennifer Steinkamp, Mike Kelley 1, 2007, Computer video installation, Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography.

It is in no way a new idea either. As Catsou Roberts, the Director of Vital Arts pointed out in the online magazine Tate Etc, in the nineteenth century, the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, was a strong advocate for art in hospitals, and its positive effects on the healing process.

So, the question is not if it works. The question is, how can we make it work to the best affect? I always advocate that art should be integrated into a building from the beginning, allowing for seamless implementation. A hospital is no different.

From culturally informed placemaking, to art-based wayfinding, here are some artistically inspired hospital ideas Art Pharmacy Consulting have been mulling over.

From passive, calming art experiences, to more learning-based,  interactive and distracting installations - here’s how you can think differently about getting arts and culture into hospitals.

PLACES OF CALM AND REFLECTION

A ton of research has gone into what art works best in hospitals. Should you install figurative or abstract works? Sculpture or wall art? Experimental or traditional?  

Typically the preference has been for abstract wall art, with curators and medical experts  basing curatorial decisions on the idea that abstract has a calming influence on patients and staff. Studies have found that works that structurally have “low levels of arousal” can “evoke a sense of calm”, whereas ones that are ‘louder’ can provoke feelings of anxiety.

Personally, I prefer that art whose aim is to provide some sort of reflection is seamlessly integrated into the hospital itself. Rooms that are built to provide the kind of introversion an overstimulated patient, visitor or worker might be craving: an art-based solution that stokes the passive end of a cultural experience.

And of course, within this space there’s room for how ‘full on’ the reflection would be. Would you go for a more traditional, calming space - soft, blue, large-scale abstract painting positioned on the walls, with natural light and comfortable sitting spaces?

  Pilpilotti Rist, Sip my Ocean, 2017. Credit: MCA /    Art Guide

Pilpilotti Rist, Sip my Ocean, 2017. Credit: MCA / Art Guide

Or, perhaps a more immersive and ambient approach, like installations à la Pipilotti Rist ‘Sip My Ocean’, with changing, glowing elements and video. For the hospital environment, it would certainly have to be less intense and provoking. But it would be a great way to ensure some calming escapism that makes the onlooker feel special.

 I’d love to see something immersive like ‘Grotto’ in a hospital environment.   Grotto, 2017, Randy Polumbo, MONA, credit: Culture Scouts / Art Pharmacy Consulting

I’d love to see something immersive like ‘Grotto’ in a hospital environment.

Grotto, 2017, Randy Polumbo, MONA, credit: Culture Scouts / Art Pharmacy Consulting

  Grotto, 2017, Randy Polumbo, MONA. Credit: Culture Scouts / Art Pharmacy Consulting

Grotto, 2017, Randy Polumbo, MONA. Credit: Culture Scouts / Art Pharmacy Consulting

PLACES OF DISCOVERY

Sometimes - particularly when you're in hospital - you don't need reflection, as much as full blown distraction.

  Catherine Opie, Somewhere in the Middle (details), 2010-2011. credit: Photo: Neil Lantzy,    Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography   .

Catherine Opie, Somewhere in the Middle (details), 2010-2011. credit: Photo: Neil Lantzy, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography.

In terms of this type of placemaking, I am fascinated with the Cleveland Clinic’s approach. This forward thinking US health institution established its arts program back in 2006, and now has a collection of over 6,500 (!!) artworks. This includes site specific works, such as a Rothschild sculpture on the lawns, a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture and an Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle aluminum tubing installation, as well as a rotating exhibition area.

  Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2014, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and urethane paint. Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography)

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2014, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and urethane paint. Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography)

But what really puts the icing on the cake for me is their Art Tours. Marketed specifically for patients suffering memory loss, but open to other patients, visitors and staff, these tours offer a chance for discovery and to engage in debates on contemporary art - a sense of discover that is heightened for regular patients by rotating exhibitions.

It would be amazing to interweave way finding methods in this manner. Hidden artworks, art trails, or art podcasts the patients can listen to if a tour guide isn’t available. It changes the way people see and move through the space, as well as diminishing the chance of boredom. it provides a sense of progress, a way of keeping active and means they have something to look forward to in what can become an aesthetically static space.

PLACES OF INTERACTION (BEYOND WORKSHOPS)

There definitely should be a space in health institutions for workshops, which aim to engage patients, distracting them and lowering stress levels. But there’s also something to be said for other - out of this world - interactive experiences, where patients are able to use their own creativity to add to the work.

London based artist and designer, Jason Bruges, designed a gorgeous interactive piece for children's hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (the children’s hospital associated with literary greats, Roald Dahl and J.M. Barrie) in 2012.

Nature Trail’, was created to engage and calm young patients on their way to the anaesthetic room. Created from hospital grade wallpaper, sensors, bespoke integrated LED panels, custom control electronics, “interactive animated patterns of light” revealed “forest creatures” at eye level of the little patients, as they walked past.

I love this for so many reasons. It interacts directly with the patients, providing a welcome distraction. As a mother who’s taken her children to hospital, this kind of calming and distracting activity would be very welcome while waiting to see the doctors and nurses.

  Nature Trail, Jason Bruges Studio. Credit:    Jason Bruges Studio

Nature Trail, Jason Bruges Studio. Credit: Jason Bruges Studio

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Are you an artist with ideas for a health institution? Or a health institution that wants to change your space for the better? Feel free to get in touch.