CHRIS FREMANTLE

Whose space is it anyway?

Posted in Arts & Health, News, Sited work by chrisfremantle on September 1, 2014
Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013.  Photo Alan McAteer (with permission)

Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013. Photo Alan McAteer (with permission)

You can’t easily go and see the work that Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge did for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) unit in the Gorbals. It’s not that we might not particularly want to visit a CAMHS unit. It’s not that it isn’t public space (of course it’s not a gallery, not that sort of public space). It’s real public space, public service space (NHS space) where people sit and wait whilst their children and young people attend sessions with clinical psychologists and therapists. You really can’t just wander in and have a look at the art.

This is a problem for arts and health projects. The public places in which they are often to be found aren’t public in the same way as a park or a street or even the atrium of a big hospital.

But these spaces matter. And it’s all the more important that as a professional community we are able to see what colleagues and peers are doing, hear how it works and learn from these projects.

Maria McCavana, artist, and Dr Lindsey MacLeod, Clinical Psychologist specialising in child and adolescent mental health, shared the process and results of the work in the CAMHS unit in the Gorbals and also previously at the Knightswood Centre (now demolished and therefore even less accessible). They talked about their interests and motivations as well as the lessons learnt.

This event was part of UZ Arts’ programme for the Fringe (for background on UZ see the end of the piece).  Maria participated in UZ Arts’ residency programme in Sri Lanka this year, and UZ are interested in how the lessons can be transferred to artists in Sri Lanka for the benefit of the patients, families and carers. Creative Therapies, the Glasgow based art (in the broad sense) therapies organisation, provided organisational support and structure and the project was funded by the Yorkhill Children’s Foundation.

The brief for the project was focused on the users of the space, the clients, having an influence on the design of the space, actually to give them a sense of ownership. Lindsey said, “We asked young people to make their mark on the building.” The brief also asked that, “the space should be interesting, but not too interesting (ie not overwhelm the kids on the spectrum or over stimulate the children with ADHD).”

It was refreshing to hear the concerns from the perspective of the clinician:

That colleagues and teams are busy (and a project such as improving a waiting area is on top of an already full workload). Service delivery on a day to day basis is the priority.

That as a clinician, maybe more so in mental health services, you need to be very confident to entrust your patients/clients into the hands of someone outside the NHS.

That if it wasn’t some of the clinicians’ “cup of tea,” did that really matter? This led onto a really interesting discussion around evaluation.

Of course we assume that evaluation is important. But what exactly are we evaluating?

Is the space improved? Yes the space is improved, but it would have been improved with fresh paint, new carpets and new furniture. What did the ‘art’ do? Actually the art made it more specific, more interesting. The waiting room is now a nicer, more comfortable waiting room, but its also now an interesting waiting room rather than a generic one. It’s got funny bookshelves where each book fits into its own slot.

Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013.  Photo Bill Breckenridge (with permission)

Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013. Photo Bill Breckenridge (with permission)

It’s got an amazing sculptural bush of individual letters sticking out in all directions (top image). The signage has been sorted out to reduce visual clutter.

Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013.  Photo Bill Breckenridge (with permission)

Maria McCavana and Bill Breckenridge, Waiting Room, CAMHS Gorbals, 2013. Photo Bill Breckenridge (with permission)

But let’s be clear, you wouldn’t reproduce exactly this scheme in all the CAMHS waiting rooms across Glasgow. It’s not designed to be literally reproducible. It’s designed to be distinctive. The approach used is definitely reproducible.

Who benefits and how? The brief was drawn up through consultation with staff and users. McCavana and Breckenridge proposed a residency-based approach working with nominated patients/clients of this CAMHS unit. They did a series of workshops over an extended period. McCavana and Breckenridge designed the workshop process and all the activities, and there is a clear development from the workshops to the installed project. If I’d been involved in the workshops, I’d recognise my contribution in the space.

Like many artists interested in participatory and co-creative work, McCavana is articulate about the need to change power relations, to give voice to those who don’t normally have a voice. We’re not talking about art therapy – that’s something different. Grant Kester, one of the key writers on participation and collaboration says,

“In the most successful collaborative projects we encounter instead a pragmatic openness to site and situation, a willingness to engage with specific cultures and communities in a creative and improvisational manner … , a concern with non-hierarchical and participatory processes, and a critical and self-reflexive relationship to practice itself. Another important component is the desire to cultivate and enhance forms of solidarity… .” (The One and The Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context, Duke University Press, 2011, p125)

The discussion following the presentation raised some other issues, including the important role of the ‘host’ in doing this sort of residency based work. This is something that the Artist Placement Group highlighted in the late 60s but continues to be an issue. If an artist is going to work in a context, especially one where there is an existing community, it is essential that someone in that community acts as a host, doing those things a host does. This includes doing the introductions but also discretely making sure that the artist doesn’t step on toes. It means making sure that the artist is included in community activities where appropriate, but also protecting the artist from internal niggles and ongoing wrangles. A member of the audience pointed out that when this works well the host becomes a co-creator of the process.

The other subject that was raised from the floor focused on the extent to which these sorts of projects involving artists in healthcare buildings are actually patching up bad architecture. There was some feeling in the room that this was the case. Of course the specific projects that had been presented were work done in older buildings, but…

What is distinctive is the participatory and co-creative process that artists are using. Although some of the younger architecture practices also do this, the larger more established ones, particularly doing public sector work, are not. Nor would it be easy for them to, given that they are embedded in the supply chain, usually employed by the main contractor, not even the client.

What is also distinctive is the blurring of art, design and architecture. This project could have been done by a young design or interior architecture studio. It’s not the art specifically that makes this distinctive, rather it’s the turn to participation and co-creativity.

There were other good points made from the floor which I haven’t covered here, but the overriding one is that we need more presentations like this, and more time for the ensuing discussions.

 

==

UZ Arts is an international arts charity based in Glasgow. We create our own work and collaborate with artists and producers who wish to work across art forms and across borders creating work outside conventional arts venues – often in public space.

We commission artists and support the development of their work through residencies, hothouses and collaborating as their producers or co-producers. In the last 3 years we have commissioned over 60 artists in 8 countries but with more than 50% of the work being made in Scotland.

Much of the work we make or support is sited . That is to say site specific – made for a particular place or site located – made for a particular type of location.
Some of the artists we work with engage with the public either as a source of inspiration or as collaborators in the delivery of their work

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: