Inside the world of Cloudlands at University Hospital Galway
What are the creative possibilities when working with young people in hospital settings? In this blog, we’re going to look at artist-in-residence Emma Fisher’s journey with adolescent participants over the last five months on the Cloudlands project at University Hospital Galway.
A world of creativity in a large wheelie bag
Artist Emma Fisher works with teenagers mainly at the bedside and one-on-one. Emma has been using a variety of art mediums which she often combines to great effect: film, photography, montage, digital book making, visual storytelling, graphic printing, stop-motion animation, installation. In her bags are the makings of a thousand stories: art materials including cane, masking tape, craft scissors, pink sugar paper, wire, pens, pencils, paint, glue, fabric, armatures, rattan for weaving. She also carries a variety of torches, a laptop (with photo/animation/editing software), an iPad, an iPhone, a small shadow theatre and at times a digital projector. The fact that Emma can provide a variety of alternative and modern creative possibilities has been proven to be a strong point of the project.
A story-making journey
Emma visits teenagers who are on short-term and extended stay in hospital, providing them with a creative outlet to voice their stories, thoughts, and imaginative ideas. When Emma first meets a patient their conversation begins with discovering the online Cloudlands site/gallery and exploring images and video of previous teenagers’ projects. This discovery includes looking at an online collaborative digital book which aims to connect all the participants, stories slowly growing, page by page. Inspired by those who have created before them, each teenager adds their twist to the story, contributing to shared themes of escape, otherworldliness, mythical creatures/super heroes, and individual hopes and dreams. Once the teenager begins their story, Emma joins the story-making journey, ready to improvise with art materials, hospital furniture, and imaging technology.
The teenagers have the opportunity to first tell their part of the story, then make the characters using sculpture, drawing, or puppetry techniques, and bring the story to life by making an animated film, music video, or publishing their own mini-book. A ‘still’ is chosen by the teenager to contribute to the collaborative digital book, and to this they add a written line of text and possibly a recorded sound. The teenager can log on to the Cloudlands site and watch and comment on what comes next in the book. The teenager is also given a DVD of their final animation/video/book which can also be viewed through the Cloudlands Online Gallery.
The digital story book in action
The book is fast becoming a creative conversation around the young peoples’ collective experiences of the hospital environment. For example, a 16 year old boy located on an adult ward painted a rich image of outer space and the planets, explaining while in hospital he felt like he was floating in space. Later that day, a 14 year old girl on the paediatric unit was inspired by the boy’s painting and created a similar image adding cloud people floating in hospital beds in space. The next week, the artist shared the girl’s image with the 16 year old boy who agreed that hospital can feel like another world.
Outpatients ideas box
In addition to working with teenagers on the wards, the artist also works in the waiting area of Outpatients during adolescent clinics. On these days, Emma sometimes sits and works with the teens using the same process above or she leaves an ‘ideas box’ into which the teens can submit text and drawings based on the idea of ‘If you had one chance, where would you go and who would you be?’ These contributions will also make there way into the rolling narrative of the digital book.
Re-imagining the hospital experience (‘a person is not their illness’)
“Today wasn’t like being in hospital at all”, one participant said. One of the unique features of the role of the artist in hospital is that they meet the teenager, not as a clinician, not to discuss their illness, but to allow the teenager to be a teenager and an artist if they wish. “While he was creating a new work we where talking like two artist friends. It was lovely,” artist Emma Fisher said of one young collaborator.
Socialisation – Reducing isolation and growing a community for the teenager
Cloudlands is working to reduce the isolation some teenagers experience while in hospital or due to restrictions caused by their illness. Through the creative process, teenagers are not only connecting more to each other but also to their immediate community (the hospital); their home community (e.g.school and family; and to a new wider community (e.g.The President).
For example, one 13 year old girl in examining the online, evolving book of images created by teens before her, was inspired by the phrase: ‘72 chances left for survival if you don’t hurry up.‘ She decided that her idea of a ‘lucky chance’ would be ‘to be the first woman to walk on the moon‘. She created an astronaut model which was animated in a short stop-motion film. The artist then made a 2D avatar version of the astronaut. With instructions from the teenager, Emma sent the avatar to the girl’s school. The school teacher, principal and class followed her instructions to photograph the astronaut avatar in various places around the school and email the photos to the artist. They also made a space-inspired sound recording using basic sound card technology inserted into a greeting card, which was sent to them by the artist. These photos and card have been sent back to the girl and will also become part of the evolving digital book. The astronaut avatars are currently being sent to The President, NASA, and a Female astronaut, all with the same request to be photographed and to make a sound recording. The teenage girl also recently took 2 of the avatar astronauts with her when transferring to Crumlin hospital, with a plan to continue growing her project, linking in with the artist via the Cloudlands site.
The project in numbers
The Cloudlands project emphasizes personalized interactions with young people. Over the last five months, Emma has had 23 interactions with patient participants, 53 interactions with other patients, friends, siblings & parents, and 87 interactions with hospital staff.
Cloudlands at University Hospital Galway is produced by Helium Arts and is funded by the Community Foundation for Ireland through a private donor. Cloudlands Galway is further supported by The Arts Council and Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.