Eleanor: This morning got busy to collect and send material for Rach to add to our blog after our talks yesterday with two extraordinarily interesting residents.
We are planning to do two offsite visits one to the marketplace in Ennis to make recordings for the soundscape and secondly a visit to Coolsuppeen townland wherein lies treasures of the mind as recounted by residents. There is a cillin, an abandoned school, a lake, a ‘holy’ well, a forge, a bogland, a muchloved farm homestead, a rath or what people long ago believed to be a fairy fort…
We also plan to do a night soundscape when we will visit St Josephs at night..when time permits.
This morning i was talking to one of the residents who is also taking part in the intergenerational project with our Clare Youth Theatre in March as part of the Book Festival. He is going to sing ‘Grace’, a beautiful song accompanied by a young ukelele and concertina player and I was saying we might have a good strong coffee before the performance to strengthen the voice…and he pipes up..’there’ll be a lot of love in it after that’!!!!
Lastly, one of the gentlemen paid Rach a lovely compliment by telling her that every time he looked at the drawing she had done of him it made him feel good. And I thought to myself that in essence is what defines ‘art’.
Rachel and Eleanor: Eleanor and I had a busy and enriching visit to St Josephs yesterday, Wednesday 16 Jan. We have a list of people we are hoping to access for the project and yesterday we were fortunate enough to talk to two of those on our list. The first gentleman had requested to see me as I’d made a portrait of him during my previous stint in St Josephs making portraits of the residents. We called to see him in his ward and providentially he was up and in great form. I always find visiting the wards awkward, as there were 3 other gentlemen in the ward, 2 of whom I knew.
Ideally you would have time to talk to everyone but its a testament to the graciousness of the other individuals that they read their papers and listened to the radio while we chatted with Mr L. Mr L has led a rich life and is highly educated. He told us of his early life as a teacher and school inspector, and explained that as an inspector of primary schools, “the first thing you would do is sit down at the back and keep your mouth shut, and look on for approx 1/2 an hour.” We could have sat and talked all day, and topics we covered ranged from the pre national school system (which was established in 1831) hedge schools, to the best age for a child to learn a new language, to the nutritional value of blue cheese versus spinach.
It was rewarding to talk to Mr L, and he told me regarding his portrait that “every time I look at it, it makes me feel good”. This straight to the point, simply put statement made my day, and possibly my whole month of January.
Then we went on to see a couple of Ladies in Ash, who had previously allowed us to record them saying the rosary which they say together every evening. We wanted to ask if we could photograph them in a portraiture setting, but they were not comfortable with the idea. I fully understand and can empathise, as I myself have always hated having my photo taken, in particular If I am supposed to be looking happy… Eleanor had a photograph of them she had taken a number of years before which they very kindly agreed we could use. It’s a delicate matter asking permission for these images- I always feel like I am taking a little bit of someones soul. Eleanor is very good at explaining what we are trying to do and her deep friendship with the residents and kind and exuberant personality is what makes this all possible.
One of the ladies did however allow us to photograph her hands with her rosary beads, which is a beautiful image and very evocative. There are more ways to show the essence of a person than a head and shoulders portrait. She also showed us some wonderful photos of her and her sister. Eleanor and I have decided to visit a local area that a number of the residents have referenced as a place from their childhoods, near Ballinacally and Coolsupeen. Later that evening I made a drawing inspired by one of the photos of them as children together.
We have accumulated so much rich material and its been endlessly interesting. I was struck today by the intelligence, wisdom and benevolence of the people we got to talk to. I wonder how we appear in their eyes.
Eleanor and I met up for our mutual visit to St Josephs yesterday. All the Christmas decorations were being packed away and there was a quiet but positive atmosphere about.
We wanted to set out stakes for what how and when- what we will show, when we plan to do it and how it will be done. No small feat! As we had outlined in detail before Christmas our plans, it proved to be easier than we anticipated, we simply allotted jobs to each of us and decided when these were to be done by. As we have been working together we have learned who is good at what. Eleanor knows everyone and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the residents, staff and who’s who in the creative world of Clare. I am task focused and am good at getting stuff done within a time frame. Not naturally I may add, I’ve learned to become this! So we use each others strengths to make decisions and come up with plans. We decided on what exactly we are going to present for our St Josephs Show, and what for our Glór show, scheduled for 10/11 May.
Eleanor suggested asking the residents to pose with an object that had significance for them. I thought this was great and that we could incorporate this idea into our slide show/film, where it would work very well. We realise that the elements that will make up the show, the memory wall, the film/slides, the sound scape, will have reoccurring imagery (probably reinterpreted or featured in a different way each time). For example, if we had a resident with a memory of a place, we might use a drawing of that place on the memory wall booklet, we might feature the resident singing a song about the place in the soundscape , we might feature a photograph of this place in the film. We thought of one gentleman with his snuff box, and how he carries it everywhere.
We thought of another elegant lady in St Josephs who described a black velvet hat her mother had made
Photographic portraits could indeed be a very powerful and poignant and arresting way to portray the residents.
Eleanor and I met today at St Josephs- she had already commandeered a dining room in her inimitable manner and was cheerily holding nurses at bay as she conversed with a lovely man who hailed from Sivermines, Tipperary. He was singing songs and we managed to record 2 of them before we were kicked out of the room as it was dinner time. He had lived most of his adult life in London, and worked as a painter by trade. We talked of the Tipperary mining trade and of the hardships of those days, and of London life in the 50’s and 60’s.
The hospital is in full festive mode, with christmas trees and decorations absolutely everywhere. Upon walking around I realised that of course, a lot of patients here have dementia so visual reminders of the season must be helpful.
Eleanor had been in the hospital the morning before and had sent me some fabulous nuggets of memories she’d collected, which included;
One lady’s thoughts
‘Be gentle and kind to everyone, especially those who are sick or in any trouble’.
A favourite sight is seeing lambs playing with one another in the fields.
2) Another lady’s favourite things were dancing the night away and drinking a pint.
She made me laugh with the following :
‘I never drove a car in my life, but I drove people mad!’
3) And another Lady’s remembered second verse of a song we’d heard a week or two before’;
‘Tonight the stars are gonna shine
And I know that Harry Lee, he will be mine.
Oh, but, Harry Lee,
has been keeping company
With another girl beneath another tree’
And one incredible lady’s recollection of the time she took over the plane and flew it en route to Australia at the invitation of the captain..when all onboard were asleep, including her family..who didnt believe her till a bottle of wine appeared from said captain.
These memories always have El and I in awe of the residents. Their humour and resilience is truly amazing. We have collected such a wealth of stories, songs, sounds, conversations at this stage that it’s nearly reached the sift through and select stage. We still have a few particular sounds and stories to collect and material to gather to complete what we need. We hope to get some of this gathered over christmas, then we can make a start on collating in the new year.
I was in St Josephs yesterday by myself- as Eleanor was away in Dublin this week. I had planned to try to see some of the residents who I have gotten to know through my portrait drawing project and the art classes I taught. I had gotten the idea for the memory wall from talking to these residents, and having designed some memory cards, as I am calling them for the moment, with specific residents in mid I wanted to show them my ideas to see what they thought. It felt strange being in St Josephs without Eleanor’s presence and warmth, but it was a worthwhile visit. The hospital is in full christmas mode, with beautiful handmade decorations and Christmas trees around.
There were children practising carols in the Chapel which echoed out down the corridor, the voices were so young and very sweet, it was the first time this year I actually felt positive towards the festive season, rather than getting stressed out with retail outlets flogging their seasonal merchandise and media advertising reminding me I need to buy more stuff. stuff, stuff.
I met with a resident I knew and spent some time discussing the exhibition opening in St Josephs that he and other residents had attended last week of the portraits I had made. I told him about our Circle of Life project and he mentioned several memories of his working life that I think would work great. This particular gentleman however would be someone who I think I would like to reference in the present time as opposed to his past. He is very observant and sharp and knows the ins and outs and goings on in the hospital very well, and has an opinion on everything. His life is lived in the now as opposed to the past.
I spoke to another resident and showed her my idea for her memory card. She was very interested in the idea and promised to get some old photographs for me to reference.
I wandered back up on my way out and I was struck by the notice board in the corridor.
It struck me again how the assorted information, all overlapping and jostling for space, was a representation of the varied goings on and interests of the individuals who make up the St Josephs community. In a way it is already doing the job of the memory wall we want to create.
I had attended a very interesting talk by a curator named Matt packer in Glór earlier that day. He had talked about how his job is not always as organised and straightforward as one might think , and that trust and instinct play a large part in his decision-making. It was a great talk in my opinion, and a reminder that you dont always have to have it all worked out from the get go. I feel like we need to stay on course with our ideas as to how best respond to the hospital, but to make sure we allow ourselves the space and flexibility to try other ideas if we feel they need to be explored.
I was knackered last night so thought I’d get a non taxing job out of the way by listening to and filing the sounds Eleanor and I have collected so far on the digital sound recorder. It turned out to be a lovely job, and made me smile as I listened to Eleanor whispering in a conspiratorial way, cajoling and prompting her subjects into singing, dancing or recollecting the particular sound she wanted to record. It was like being brought along on a journey through her week, from the wild atlantic way shores, to a bedside in the St Josephs Wards, to the youth theatre group in Glór. I felt like we should simply string these clips together, unedited, and we would have a very special piece of audio right there. It’s interesting how you start off with an idea, and as you begin to build the idea it changes and takes on its own form. We discovered this with our ideas for how we would approach the visual side of the project, and I can see now that our sound scape idea will probably evolve in much the same way. It’s a good thing and we will, as Eleanor said, keep going on for now.
I got some great sounds over the last week …the feet tapping rhythms of a talented staff member…a champion dancer.. who kindly allowed me to record on his time off.
On Sunday, I went to the wild Atlantic coast up near the White Strand to record the waves…but, I nearly fell over the cliff in my enthusiasm and I don’t know if I got any sfx’s.
I could of course record it off the internet..if I knew how!…but I prefer authenticity. I also went to find Gleann na gCaor, an evocative place name , described to me by a resident…it translates as Glen of the Berries…and he has wonderful stories of youthful days exploring…he told me of a ‘speirbhean’ (fairy woman) who he believed guided him home when lost in fog in the glen. Basis for a storyline forming in my mind.
I also recorded songs by Monica Morgan, whose singing is redolent of Co.Clare and residents and staff alike adore her singing.
Rach is going to see what worked on the machine…so I can only wait..with fingers crossed.
Interviewed residents to give Rach some material for memory wall/Now and then booklets.
Stormy day…but we are ‘going well’
This beautiful study of shoes by Van Gogh shoes speaks to me of how objects can speak volumes about people. It is something maybe worthy of exploration with residents as we progress on our journey through The Circle of Life…
‘Age creates beauty such as the rivers we admire every day’…
It is Saturday night and gathering my thoughts as the full moon rises. Today at rehearsals I recorded three of the youth theatre giving their thoughts on their experience of working with residents in St.Joseph’s. The above quote is from one of them. It was humbling. They ‘see’ with great depth. I was a little taken aback at how much they had taken in…and their joy in being with all these friends of a different generation.
Earlier I had popped into St.Joseph’s and quite by chance a lady recounted creating a headdress made of black crushed velvet with a big antique brooch pinned in its layers….and I thought we must recreate this as a work of art, which it most assuredly is. The lady in question would love it…she is so stylish.
After Rach showed me how to work the technical aspects of the recording machine on Wed, I took off..we also had such stimulating conversation..and hope all.of it worked…dancing feet, interviews, trolleys (Rach really likes this sound), singing with lady residents at lunch.
Rach has been thinking of night ,day, morning, afternoon. evening…sounds evocative of that…
to be continued.
El and I met again at St Josephs on Wednesday morning. So far we have been working in a kind of gathering method, where each week we contribute our thoughts, combine them, delegate tasks and then take action. Its been a successful methodology so far, and there needs to be plenty of elasticity within our working system as understandably, the residents of the Hospital are not always available to meet with.
I showed Eleanor some sample ideas for our memory moment wall, which we are calling it for the time being. I had thought about how we could get the residents to connect and feel part of the project. How could we make the project resonate with them, and make them feel like they personally had helped shape the project?
The answer I came up with was literally that- to make it personal. I thought, if we could represent a number of the residents, (perhaps all of them?) by having those who could; contribute a memory, an expression, an observation even, that was in some way synonymous with them or important to them. A song that had personal meaning to them for example. We will follow the theme of day running into night, and gather moments and memories from the residents, and hopefully the staff too, moments from the here and now and from the past, and our job then is to respond to each Moment in a visible way. So from these moments we make a visual image, which is then displayed on a wall. A wall of memories and moments. Interestingly Eleanor has already addressed this idea here at the hospital before, in the form of a book about caring, which unbeknownst to me she had put together a number of years before. So the idea seemed to fit.
I had thought about the prayers left on the holy wailing wall in Jerusalem, which is interesting to me when you consider the sheer volume of prayers stuffed into the wall, so many hopes and dreams. Or in the case of the contemporary prayer wall below, the amount of prayers written down and stuck onto the boards, is what makes the sight of the walls so significant. We would like to have as many visuals, each representing a moment or memory from a resident, as we can. These would represent the individuals in St Josephs Hospital, who are basically a group of individuals all residing or working in a particular place, all who have hopes and dreams of their own, observations about life here and now, and not to mention a rich tapestry of memories from lives lived locally and abroad.
Our strength here is Eleanor’s knowledge of the staff and residents- she knows them all so well, which I do not as much. But between us we can gather moments and memories and start to collate these visuals. Those who cannot speak or who are not able to easily communicate will be represented too, through the voices of their fellow residents and the staff who take care of them and know them. Between our emerging soundscape, and our plans for a short film accompanied by performance response, this may be one part of our project resolved.. tentatively.
… two titles on two levels today..earlier in the morning Rachel and I met to review our progress to date and to plot our course, with particular reference as to how we will make the work relevant and interesting and meaningful to residents. Any good piece of art, in whatever medium or discipline, works at several levels..but the first criterion is that it will be intelligible to those who will view and / or participate in it. Rach had a fab idea of little booklets hanging with thoughts , quotes, snippets , visuals etc from residents..and I thought of two publications I have done with residents entitled ‘Humanitas – A Book of Caring’ and ‘ A Little Book of Thoughts’, which we could revisit and update. There are so many wonderful stories within the life experiences of residents. I have always felt that everything that happens in life is contained in St. Joseph’s. There is a rich tapestry of what it means to be human.
Rach played me the recordings that we have collected so far and it is more haunting and thrilling than I had even anticipated..so when we can gather more we will have a beautiful sound study…
I spoke to three lady residents in Ash later and they talked about their love of going to the forge as children…the shower of sparks was like magic to them..and then another lady said she loved ‘The Anvil Chorus’ from Il Trovatore by Verdi..and I thought..wow..what a beautiful setting for a performance piece based on their stories. Then we had a story of travelling through darkness to Kilmaley from Miltown, visiting a forge and the lady’s dad being asked ‘ were ye not afraid of Cudmer’s Ghost?’ and the name alone set me off on a creative journey with her. Cudmer was the name of a local landlord and who was widely believed to roam around the countryside terrorising all. and this lady’s Dad replied ‘ it’s not the dead you have to be afraid of..it’s the living!’.
Earlier in the week , we had such a laugh..I was discussing a poem by T.S. Eliot with the same ladies and in came one of the male care staff..whom they all have great chats with..and with a big grin and a cursory look at the book , piped up ‘ who does he hurl for ?’.. !!
One of the gentlemen has a great friendship with another man opposite him in the ward, who is blind. It really is the most lovely thing to see this gentle and caring relationship. I am always humbled by it, as is Rach. Love has many forms, really.
Went down to Glor to speak to Eddie, one of the sound engineers who works with me and the youth theatre to make sure, that if we need his expertise, he will be available, and, like the professionally cool, but warm-hearted man he is, he has agreed.
I am thinking of songs, hands, stories…lots and lots. I had a ‘ quo vadis’ moment earlier this week..but after yesterday and ‘fizzing ‘ with residents and Rach, I now have a clear view of
We have set sail.. and to quote Eliot ( we are having a bit of a love affair with him at the moment!),