Traumatic Brain Injury Service Morriston Hospital, Swansea
Artists Sian Hughes and Sarah Jane Richards were commissioned to produce artwork which would provide a coherent identity inside the new site of the Traumatic Brain Injury Service, re-located within the grounds of Morriston Hospital. Utilising the important role that art and colour can play, the brief was to create a friendly and positive environment in which to offer support to patients going through the rehabilitation process. In addition the brief was to engage patients creatively in the project. The artwork we have created incorporates work made by these participants through a series of workshops which engaged them directly in the creative process.
The new location, on an older part of the hospital, runs alongside a garden. It was clear from the beginning how important this integral piece of land is to the Unit and the patients. This space provides a focus for imaginative communal planting projects, a place to relax out of doors, to share work and, for us, a great resource for the workshops. The garden also gives a chance for privacy from the rest of the hospital, where users can relax and share conversations and where contact with nature, plant forms and colour can also play their part in the recovery process. We started each of the workshops here with the participants, looking closely through the overgrown garden, seeking out and appreciating the plants
growing there, and collecting specimens to use. These collections of plants, which the groups laid out on the table with great care, became art pieces in their own right and were recorded with photographs. Through this activity, the additional benefit of mindfulness and calm required to find value in the ‘overlooked’ emerged. What initially appeared to be uninteresting weeds and grasses led to the discovery of hidden beauty, colour and intricate details . The ‘overlooked’ took on great value and became a metaphor for those dealing with their brain injury trauma, and the Unit’s support ethos. We realised from the beginning that plant forms would be an essential design approach in order to reflect the centrality of the garden to the Unit.
The brief required us to create a space that would give an immediate sense of care and support to service users starting, and continuing, on their journey with the Traumatic Brain Injury Service [TBIS]. The level of care and warmth the Unitâ€™s staff provide is immediate and palpable on arrival. The active encouragement and level of confidence in the service users creates a setting of safety and nurture. This enables the service users to relax, share experiences, and support each other. We knew that this needed to be reflected in the final artworks.
This extends to the service users families, loved ones and careers who are also coming to terms with difficult changes. This sense of acceptance was very much reflected in the playfulness and creative exploration in the workshops we delivered and in the supportive workshop sessions delivered by the staff. It led to a willingness to explore new processes, allowing a safe space for participants to delve into creative activities.
We ran nine workshops in total, engaging with over 20 people. The workshops were designed to explore three different processes: cyanotype, porcelain and bookmaking, and were delivered to three times to different groups of people accessing the Unit. The processes were chosen for their accessibility to people who consider themselves to have no artistic background or skills, and were designed to be delivered sequentially. The processes are straightforward, with quick outcomes that encourage further exploration.
The results are always positive with a high value impact leading to confidence and feelings of achievement and success. At the beginning of each workshop we outlined and reviewed the overall project and the role of the workshops within this. At the end of each session, we reviewed the work made, encouraging feedback and engagement with colour, shape and design. On alternative weeks, TBIS staff delivered a related activity. We scheduled in regular Skype meetings for feedback on how their ideas were developing during these sessions.
The Cyanotype workshop, which uses a photographic process without a camera, enabled us to explore the garden and plants directly.
They also involved moving around the room to each station, supporting each other and remembering the process.
We started the sessions outside, with the group exploring the garden and collecting plants and leaves. Participants selected plants from their collections and laid them onto watercolour paper prepared with light sensitive solution. These were then exposed in light boxes before being rinsed to reveal the photographic images of the plants.
The groups explored multiple images and investigated different designs and patterns within their work. The procedure allowed for people to review and support each other and share ideas.
Each stage of the cyanotype process was completely engaging. The three stages; design and composition, exposure and rinsing were straightforward and had immediate outcomes.
We then invited each group to attach their cyanotypes to the wall in creative compositions, facilitating joint discussion and to view the individual cyanotypes as a whole piece.
The second process used porcelain paper clay. Participants rolled out the clay into wafer-thin pieces, then carefully placed their collected plants on top.
These discussions included consideration of background colours, strength of lighting with different light sources, and using coloured gels to explore the effect of colours shining through the porcelain.
They rolled and pressed them into the clay before gently pulling them off, creating delicate and intricate designs from the impressed plants. They explored pattern and form whilst discussing which plants worked best and sharing techniques with each other.
We noted that blues, greens and soft, yellow colours came though as popular as well as the porcelain in its natural state without any colour.
The paper-clay pieces were then fired and brought back for the groups to view in the bookmaking session. Here we explored the impact light and colour made through the translucent porcelain pieces.
The last artist led session was used to create personal concertina books. The books were designed to be something that the participants could take home with them and add to, allowing for reflection on the project. These sessions, using collage, colour, motifs and words, facilitated contemplation and sharing. People talked very openly about their experiences and contributed to the group with their own ideas and stories, and the books became reflections of their individual journeys. The courage required during the recovery process was apparent.
‘It’s only when you’ve experienced the darkness that you truly appreciate the light’
Key areas During our visits we ascertained three key areas of importance, which together would form a cohesive design structure for the Unit. The main room, which is used regularly by clients and staff, was quickly identified as the key space to hold the main piece of the installation. The artwork would act as a background to activities and meetings but could also be a focus point for service users at workshops or just a place to feel peaceful and inspired.
The reception area gives the first impression for new visitors. It is a space where relatives and carers spend time waiting. We saw this as an important area to portray the unitâ€™s warmth and welcome and to provide a calming yet engaging environment for those waiting. A dividing wall along the very long main corridor presented itself as a key area for providing an identification point to help locate rooms.
We decided that lighting would be fundamental to the main installation in response to how enthralled participants had been when back lighting their porcelain. Lighting draws the viewer into the art, first to discover and then to contemplate the fine, beautiful detail that is otherwise overlooked. This also reflected some of the key feelings about brain trauma that were relayed to us during our workshops.
These included: the value of looking more closely; the significance of the â€˜over lookedâ€™; the acceptance of how things can appear as one thing but be revealed as another and the celebration of beauty found in difference and change. In order to do this we made bespoke light boxes that enabled us to light each piece of porcelain individually. The boxes were hand painted incorporating natural motifs from the garden. This formed the linking concept throughout the installation.
The groups’ responses to colour were for calm, soft and warm tones. We painted sections of wall yellow to reflect this and to create a unity and flow within the focus areas we had identified. They provided a cohesive backdrop for the artwork. We incorporated negative space into the design to echo the cyanotype and porcelain processes and to reflect comments by participants:
‘there may be missing pieces but there is still beauty and value.’
The painted background of the light boxes uses greens, and blues – soft, gentle colours reflecting the natural themes that emerged in the workshops. Wall paper leaf details throughout the Unit are derived from collages of the cyanotype artwork created by the participants, the colours adapted to respond to the colours in the rest of the unit. The repeated leaf shape, in conjunction with the fluid horizontal designs , creates a visual flow.
The key installation on the main wall are three handmade, bespoke light boxes holding green, blue and white lights which can be activated to change speed and pattern. These lights, set behind the porcelain paper clay, enable each of the delicate pieces to be individually lit. The gently changing light programmes, dimming and rising, now off, now on, further reflect how participants had described their own experiences with living with brain trauma injury. The hand painted surfaces of the boxes hold designs
reflecting imagery from plants collected from the garden. The overall design is fluid and horizontal, with images sourced from the cyanotype workshops used to create leaf shaped wall paper details. The focus piece works on several levels depending on how the lighting is engaged. With the lights off it is a backdrop for meetings and workshops. With the lights on, it acts as a feature or focal point. With the feature lights fully on and the room in darkness it becomes a meditative space to facilitate deep, quiet contemplation and calm.
The resulting installation is an overarching and cohesive outcome for the whole Brain Injury Trauma Service Unit leading users through from reception to the main room. Creating a friendly and positive environment for visitors and users, the artwork reflects the support and care the Unit provides. We would like to thank Carole Saunders, CNS Traumatic Brain Injury Service; Heather Parnell, Capital Arts Manager; Robert May, Mark Jarrett and the team from Estates. Many thanks to all the staff we encountered in the TBIS Unit who were continuously welcoming and supportive throughout this project. Special thanks go to all the service users who took part in this project. They embraced the creative workshops from the beginning and their enthusiasm and willingness to explore the processes enabled a clear vision to be developed and followed.