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Waiting Projects

Stephanie Boon


Thursday 30th November 2006 saw the launch of ‘Waiting Projects’ at Truro's Knowledge Spa, Treliske Hospital. Waiting Projects is a partnership between Arts for Health, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and artists Michael Donnelly and Steven Paige:

Waiting Projects seeks to place contemporary art in unexpected places.  This first exploration of this idea has been to use artists’ moving image, in the form of video and film, to be placed in the waiting areas of GP surgeries across Cornwall.

Waiting is a necessary aspect of attending a GP surgery or other health care building.  Everyone will experience waiting in a different way; for some people it may be unfamiliar and stressful whilst for others it is well-known and routine.  These artist films have been specially selected to enhance the waiting experience.

There were some 54 films and videos selected by the organisers, from an international open submission, with much variation in style, length and budget. I watched several right through, and caught glimpses of others while talking to those around me, probably just like the average person might in a waiting room.

Most of the films were serene and contemplative in some way, interspersed occasionally with the sparse and humorous. One that made me laugh was Sam Thompsons’ The Making of a Machine to Get Brain Waves, (below) which ought to be shown in a neurology department: the character in the film ends up with a colander and a light bulb on her head, in a state of beguiling, childlike innocence.  The overall serene mood of the other videos suggested a deliberate curatorial decision, but it could have been simply a happy coincidence: ‘happy’ because, it seemed to me, a surgery would most likely provide an audience already in contemplative mood.

There were a number of films that, in a health setting, might offer an interesting metaphor or two. In Spilled Measures Dancing at My Feet (Alexandra Zierle) a woman in a long red dress and black flamenco-style shoes tugs at a constricting pearl chocker around her neck to release the pearls which bounce to the ground at her feet. The camera often focuses on the regular, circular indentations left on her neck. It's a simple but extraordinarily beautiful film, rich in colour and texture that made me think about the constricting nature of illness, the impression it might leave on someone's life, and the release a cure might offer.

Other films made me think about life's journey.  Candles in Akiko and Masako Takada's Volcano burned the wrong way, forming mountain ranges as they burnt rather than naturally dimin-ishing in size.  This film was another that appeared to be very simple in its premise, but if I was watching it in a surgery I think I might believe I was being encouraged to consider my future empirically: the wax of my life still burning and building, rather than melting away. 

Other journeys were less metaphorical. Adela Jones' One Minute Newt Minute showed a languid newt swimming on the surface of a pond between the leathery looking leaves of water-lilies. As I watched his slow, unpred-ictable movements I wanted to be sitting on the edge of the pond dangling my feet in the water, reminiscing about catching tadpoles as a child.   In David Sants' Pushchair (below) we follow a baby's journey around a city. The split screen of this film gave us both a view of the baby and the restricted view she had through the plastic tent of her pram. She was wheeled around following someone else's journey, just like we were, and ever present was a very colourful, dangling toy spider. I was mesmerised by this film: the changing scenery, the lack of clarity as the condensation built up and a rhythmic soundtrack that sounded like it was made from a child's toy.

Inevitably perhaps, considering the intended audience, there was a lot of 'nature' in the selected films, from rocks, sky and trees drawing in the wind, to water.  The power of nature to heal the spirit is well known and many of the films made me want to go out and explore.  Rupert White’s tranquil film Drawing Made by the Wind (below) seemed to me not only to be about the possibilities of drawing, but a meditation on making the unseen seen.  As we watched a branch weighed down with pencils move across a white piece of paper to record the wind’s movement, I wondered what happened to the wind’s drawing once it had been captured on film – did Rupert let it blow away?

There was a lot of water too. In a disorienting image of a deckchair on a sandy beach, the wind blowing the fabric seat, the sea went backwards making me feel nauseous.  This was Anne Hindmarch’s film Tide Turn, succeeding perhaps where King Cnut failed. There were the abstract reflections on the surfaces of a river in Andrew Payne’s River Ouse, Bedford April 14 2006 and more watery scenes in another of his films Weir.  There was water filling a bottomless glass in the second of the Takada’s films Rainstorm.  At the beginning of the film it appears that we’re watching a cityscape through a rain covered window, then you realise that there are bubbles on the surface of the glass and eventually the cityscape disappears as you see water being poured into, and presumably through the bottom of, the glass - the whole thing an optical illusion that any of us might try at home by putting a photograph behind a glass of water.

Watching rhythmic waves or focusing on the surface of a river always makes me think of death, a kind of urge to dive in and sink. I'm not sure how this would affect my thoughts in a surgery waiting room given my history of depression! But that seems the great thing about the films that have been chosen: many of them have a kind of ambiguity that can be interpreted in ways significant only to the viewer and the particular environment they are being viewed in.

The project is ambitious in its attempts to engage with this particular audience; after all we go to a surgery for a very specific reason, which doesn't include viewing contemporary art. In that sense the art is incidental, something you might stumble into and engage with, if for a few minutes you can forget your introspection, and your worries about health. 

In the brochure for the Project the organisers state that:

Creative arts have been shown to have a positive impact on health and well-being, whether through people participating in arts activities or experiencing and responding to the creativity of others.

I’m not sure that this project will have a direct lasting effect on people’s health, simply because by passing through a surgery visitors won’t have enough time to completely engage with the films, absorb them and take personal meaning from them.  But the films will certainly  enhance the experience of receiving healthcare, and therefore produce indirect benefits by improving engagement with the process as a whole.


For more information and a copy of the brochure contact

The 'waiting projects' site can be accessed via the links page