Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Art in Hospitals

Throughout the year, Apples and Snakes run a series of Artist Development Masterclasses. I've been to a few of them (they're FREE), as I'm always looking to develop my practice, meet new people and learn from other artists and practitioners - and these events never disappoint.

Today, I made my way through commuter hell to Whitechapel, to the Royal London Hospital, for a masterclass on Arts in Health: WORKING IN HOSPITAL AND HEALTH CARE SETTINGS. The morning was split in two, with the first half run by Rachel Louis of Vital Arts, who showed us some magnificently inspiring projects that she had co-ordinated and facilitated a Q+A with us, followed by some more practical work with storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton, who ran some writing exercises with us, as well as discussing some of her past projects.  
I wrote my MA thesis on arts in health - specifically using Drama in inpatient psychiatric settings. Indeed the title, colon and all (you've got to have a colon, other wise it's not a real title!) was: 

Stuck in the middle with you: 
How can Applied Theatre help build personal and social skills that could assist young people in the transition between adolescent and adult psychiatric services?  

It was really nice today to think about it again and it's inspired and motivated me to try and source funding to actually do the work I wrote so many thousands of words about. I really care about this topic, and - hey - I got a distinction, so the idea can't be shite!

The practical writing exercises we did with Sally were also really interesting; I enjoy being a participant, not just because it's an important reflective component to facilitation, or because I like learning new tools, but also because it's nice to be guided as an artist sometimes, and to think about my own work - my own writing, my own performance - and to indulge in that a bit. We did a series of writing exercise, some of them based on memory and some imagined, and then we edited bits together. 'Cos I'm feeling a little bit impulsive this evening, I've copied what I wrote below. Feel free to mock me that my being impulsive results in sharing a little bit of unpolished creative writing, rather than doing ketamine and texting all my exes... 

Hospital. The word hospital to me means a secret. A secret I have to be very careful about telling.

Orange and green. Why orange and green? They're supposed to be fun and bright and happy, but really they are forced jollity or colours like puce. What would make me happy? Cool blues, calming colours, dashes of turquoise, of the sky, of the sea. Something that spoke of freedom. Not primary school bedrooms. Not 'we're making up for it', secret punishments. Not matt and shiny floors, and walls that look wet, and fake glass, so you can't slit your wrists. 

I'm starting to feel well again. When I breathe in I taste air, rather than sickness. I never thought I would enjoy quiet like this. I'm learning to live with the world while it rolls by gently.

I'm well enough to walk to the lake. All the time I've been here I've looked out at it and felt it would mark the epitome of wellness to walk there. I'll collect some bread on the way in case there are any ducks. I'm disproportionately excited, like a child at Christmas. This is my present for being well. 

Feels a bit like the beginning of something I want to write. I must make myself write more. Doing the free writing exercise earlier, I discovered things I didn't even know I thought, and that my imagination was much more potent and fluid than I think it is. 

So, while I go away and muse on that-play-I-simply-must-write, I leave you first with a poem and then with a picture. A truly beautiful and powerful poem about hospitals and health. Written by someone who knew what she was talking about.

Tulips, Sylvia Plath

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage ——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free ——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salty, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

And here is a picture not of tulips, but poppies. And a girl I will never forget, who also knew hospitals and for whom health never got close enough. 

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