This morning was an Eureka moment for me..Rach and i were having our usual ‘ state of the union’ meeting before doing down to the wards to meet residents. i was thinking of our piece working on two simultaneous levels..like a good book when one rereads it and finds hidden depths. so I was toying with the idea of objects etc being placed in the art installation space, when Rach came up with the idea of bedside lockers being there in situ…I loved the idea immediately because it ties in with my own artistic methodology which is to juxtapose seeming incompatible people, scenes , objects, ideas etc in order to ‘see’ more clearly and also, taking an object out of its familiar surroundings it..and you the viewer or participant are transformed and led to a ‘new way of seeing ( with respect to John Berger)…it’s rather like E.M. Pei’s revolutionary concept of building a glass pyramid within the pre mediaeval Louvre building..an architectural bold stroke which had ‘le tout Paris’ up in arms, but turned out to be inspired.
We are not in the same league as the Louvre, but the premise is the same.
Then…that brought me to thinking of a way to engage in performance by placing objects in the space..back in the days of my training as an actor in the Stanislavski method, object and sense memory exercises were de rigueur..and I thought of a way of encompassing my performance with residents at its core..also the work of Marina Abramovitch, in particular the piece she did, i think in New York where she sat at a table and engaged with strangers etc etc.also played its part.
Rach and I took off to visit some ladies..in high good form..both them and us and we photographed, with their permission the ‘ world beside their beds..and we felt privileged to know and be welcomed by these wonderful people, who in their seeming simplicity, have so enriched us..in so many ways.
Eleanor and I had a great meet up today at St Josephs. We sat down and had an update , as last week I’d been working on the memory wall in the studio and Eleanor was leading the Spring Awakening Concert with guest musicians.
We are meeting this Friday in the Studio in Glór, which is where we are showing the work in May. We are going to play some of the recordings we have collected so far, which I am going to attempt to assemble into a rough sequence of a soundscape, using the audio software that Eddie the lighting and sound technician from Glór kindly gave me some lessons in how to use. Hopefully I will remember these 🙂 This will allow us to hear the quality of the sound in the exhibition venue. I will bring along some of the pieces Ive made so far for the memory wall and we will take stock of the size and layout of the room and how we are going to place the work. Also Eleanor has written three little vignettes based on residents’ stories that we will record. Also Eleanor had an idea for a silent movie type visual..a woman setting a table..and a Buster Keaton like response to each of her movements and objects she handles. Provisionally called The Table Tableau.
Being in Glór will be a valuable opportunity for us- to get some perspective on how the work we have made so far fits in the space that we will be showing it in.
Meanwhile in St Josephs today we talked about context. I mentioned something I’d read about how, as contemporary art is no longer necessarily ‘just’ decorative or aesthetically pleasing, people look for meaning as a way to understand it. I thought we should apply this to the work we are making. Yes it is evocative and yes some of it could be said to be aesthetically pleasing, but what is it for? What is the meaning of the work? We thought about this and Eleanor responded by saying she initially wanted the project to be about bearing witness. Bearing witness to the highs and lows of everyday life that goes on inside St Josephs, just like it does every other space humans occupy. She put it so well that I could only agree.
We agreed again that when we get to the exhibiting stage, we want people to come to see the work and be transformed in some way. This sounds quite ambitious but by making an experience immersive and multi sensory it can become a transformative one.
We also got two great chats with 2 wonderful residents who happened to be up, in good form and receptive to chatting. They were also kind enough to let us record them reminiscing about their respective careers, in and have enough fascinating stories and recollections between them that we could easily make a series of works based on them alone.
As we were exiting we discussed how you have to let go of a rigid schedule to a degree when working in St Josephs, as you cannot expect things to always go to plan. Some days the residents you have come to see might not be up, or might be under the weather, or otherwise engaged. So we were felt very fortunate to have gathered so much rich material today.
Eleanor and I tucked ourselves away in a small dining room for a tactical meeting re what, how, when, and where regarding the work so far.
What: we’ve collected and made so far, and what remains to be collected
How: the practicalities of how we will put together and create the rest of the work for the exhibition
When: when we will do this and for what dates
Where- this will be done- in St Josephs, my studio, Glór and several off site locations to collect a few more images and sounds.
We spent an hour getting this worked out, had a quick walk around and said hello to a few people, then caught a couple of residents in the hair salon. Eleanor took some great photos, see below:
And we talked about the type of visual imagery we want to get for the slideshow. It will involve some shots of residents and staff, and some of the hospital and its surrounds that convey the ambience and atmosphere at different times of the day. See below:
St Josephs Corridor
A glimpse into the salon in St Josephs
I am thinking about other ways to portray the residents as well as photos- I dmade a drawing from photo Eleanor took- the idea is to give an idea of the atmosphere and the moment but not to make the drawing too personal or identifiable. I would like the residents to recognise parts of their daily lives and routines from these drawings but not necessarily to recognise themselves or their fellow residents literally from the drawing. That is why drawing is such a great transformatve tool. See below:
I am going to motor away with the memory wall panels in my studio and we are planning to access Glór if we can in a couple of weeks time, to sound check our preliminary sound scape in the studio to hear how it sounds over the amps. I will string together some of our sound files using the software that Eddie from Glór kindly taught me how to navigate, and we will use this as our starting point for our soundscape. Eleanor is collecting visuals and the remaining sounds we need we will collect between us. It’s exciting as now we are starting to see the project come together and the fruits of our labours materialise.
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.