Art in Hospitals- curing the spirit


                                                 Le Jardin hospitalier (2015)  by Jyll Bradley

                                               Hôpital Roger Salengro, CHRU, Lille, France

                                                                                  photo credit Maryline Migot.


I know that the main function of a hospital is to repair the damage. Usually they are good at repairing physical damage and sometimes they can point people to the place to help repair their mental health, even if they cannot repair it then and there. Hospitals tend to deal with acute problems, patching you up and sending you out. They cannot repair your life.

Hospitals want to be holistic, but seldom are. They cannot be all things to all people. But what they are is a place that anyone, the stranger, the excluded, can come in at any time of day or night. The door is always open. The word ‘hospital’ has the same root as hospitality. It is meant to be a place of care.

UK hospitals are usually extremely ugly. As I said in another blog, we do civilised care, but not cultural care. We don’t care beautifully. We don’t care for ourselves and others with due diligence, with real care and empathy, with respect and dignity. We treat our ill as bodies. You come in and surrender your bodies to the staff. We shove you into cramped cubicles, we put you in beds with scant curtains between them, we degrade the space and your space, your body, to a non-functional body in a bare, ugly, functional space.

In the UK, particularly in Accident and Emergency (A&E) or urgent care settings, people often behave badly towards staff. This is for a number of reasons such as being frightened about their health, scared that they or a relative are going to die or, the most common reason, being high on alcohol or drugs. But people also behave badly in ugly places. Beautiful places lift the spirit and speak to a higher emotion than the instant physical fear.

So then we put ‘Art’ into hospitals. Childish, primary colours, bright and ‘cheerful’ that are so depressing and sentimental, infantilising and childish. We say we could not spend money on good art as the priority is to spend money on medicines and technology. Why is it either/or? Why not both. Beautiful places make you feel better and behave better and painting a wall in an ugly colour costs the same as in a beautiful colour.

In France they take a different view. On a corridor that is used by 3000 people walking along it each day, a depressing, soulless, windowless place to literally lose yourself and your directions, in a hospital with very depressed staff going up and down this corridor, they took a huge budget (in fact about double what it would cost to refurbish with horrible paint, lights and flooring) and commissioned art.

They got smart. They chose an art production company: artconnexion that really get art, rather than slickness or merely production. Artconnexion were very brave, they chose a British Artist, Jyll Bradley, who makes architectural structures and installations.This is not sentimental or infantilising. The hospital staff, doctors, nurses, administrators, porters, chefs and patients also got brave. They went with it.  The result is mind blowing.

This is not sentimental. This is not false cheer. This is visceral. This is the blood and guts and care and beauty that is us. This is nature and nurture.

Jyll Bradley has made other work, architectural art installations, particularly site specific work,  and interacts with the place in all its aspects discovering things that are unknown or forgotten. The corridor reflects the history of Lille, the town where the hospital is, with its large botanic and herbal medicinal history. A corridor with no windows and an artist who understands and works with light, that basic need for plants to grow and therefore for us to thrive. Back-lit images like stained glass windows, but also like windows onto a world, the world of the gardener, who tends the plants, revealing parts of the plant: the flower, the bulb, like an operating table; the water and earth that feeds the plants like a nurse tending a patient; where you enter, remove your outer clothes and put on your apron to avoid the visceral mud, blood, cells, getting onto your outer clothes. This cross-reference. This beauty. Put together with extreme care. The installation. The wall colours. The flooring. Extreme care. In a place that cares about its corridors,  where the artist has made a corridor look like a walk through a forest, that has ‘la source’,  an area where you can sit and read, which looks like you are in a tree-house, a wood, back in nature, that brings such care to place,  nurture. How much more so that you will be cared for as the patient, the family, the staff?

Care, being careful, really caring rather than careless; providing beauty, showing how much they care about you that they create a beautiful space for you, the visitor, the stranger to enter, to use your eyes, the windows onto your soul, to see such beauty. A healing place where you are nurtured back to health.



Leave a Comment

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s