The American philosopher John Dewey defines the task: –
‘to restore continuity between refined and intensive forms of experience that are works of art and every day events, doings and sufferings that are universally recognised to constitute experience. ‘
It feels that with a procession of tables we have completed a small act of restoration.
Two weeks ago Entelechy held a gathering in Lewisham Hospital to celebrate the culmination of one of the most complex projects that we have ever initiated: Little Boxes of Memories. The project brought together artists, museum teams, teachers, adult social care teams, multidisciplinary health teams, local volunteers, and older Londoners. Still obsessing with the challenge of embedding work into the fabric of our communities.
With support from Heritage Lottery and Lewisham Hospital’s Arts Committee we were able to support a team of artists to undertake the process of ‘deep hanging out’ with older people in a hospital stroke unit, in a residential care home and with people living home alone. Allowing time for artists to spend time connecting with the ‘everyday events, doings and sufferings.’
Sculptor Shane Waltener described work his work in the stroke unit of Lewisham Hospital: –
‘My focus throughout the project was to collect memories through making. I brought in objects and materials to each of the sessions and used these as introduction, ‘meeting points’, that prompted engagement and exchange. Over the course of the few weeks more objects and materials were brought in by the patients and furnish their bedside spaces and were shared amongst themselves. This gave the patients a sense of agency and choice and created a sense of community much needed at a time of loss, fracture and trauma. Many rich and evocative stories were communicated to us over the course of the few weeks and we are now working on how to represent these in the boxes. This process had started early for me as I responded to the stories by producing objects with the patients, which in turn prompted more conversations and revelations and created a connection between us.’
Poet Malika Booker, Sculptor/ Digital Artist Malcolm Buchanan Dick and Musician Zoe Gilmour co-curated the programme under the guidance of Entelechy’s Creative Producer Rebecca Swift.
The whole process has been a chain reaction. The original idea had been triggered by time spent with Entelechy’s sister company Casa das Fases. In the southern Brazilian city of Londrina. The company’s director João Henrique Bernardi has pioneered a methodology enabling elders to move through public squares with fragments of their life stories embodied in miniature theatres slung from their necks. In London we used it as a tool to connect two very separate groups of people with whom we work –the isolated old and young people who have profound and complex disabilities.
From the listening and making and gathering processes that Shane describes above we collected hundreds of stories and fragments of experience. These were then sifted and sorted and handed to designer Allison Walker who was tasked with imagining and creating (with James Morton) multi-sensory artifacts to convey meaning and experience.
We then worked with a team of artists and volunteers who toured the artifacts (‘Little boxes’) for Special Educational Needs Schools across London.
Back at the hospital we are celebrating another strand of this multi-stranded process. Shane has created three tables for the day room in the Beech Ward Stroke unit. It’s an act of transformation and repurposing ,three interconnected works of art that will provide beauty and function, enhancing the healing environment.
Shane describes the process:- ‘The design was inspired by stories of four participants I worked with at the hospital. A patchwork of words, images, flowers, objects and materials all collaged together, it maps out their personal accounts of London and other places. The design weaves elements of interconnected narratives and memories of celebration, hope, love, loss, travel, passions, transformation and change, aiming to prompt further sharing and reflection amongst visitors and patients.’
‘The work that you have done on Beech is so powerful. The fact that you spend time listening to patient`s stories and enable them to feel like creative people (rather than patients) again is unquantifiable’ writes Lucy Wakefield Specialist Speech and Language Therapist from the hospital team.