Friday, 30 May 2008

a few little visual pointers...

These are a few images of Royal William Yard - where HH takes place. I have taken a few random images here - things that took my fancy when visiting.

where to start?

I find it quite difficult to know where to start, at the moment I feel quite clear (for an artist!) with my intentions - so I'm in the position of retracing my steps...

The ideas around the project are extremely exciting, - I am really enjoying it - if not actually physically bubbling over with anticipation of what the outcomes could be.

I have spent two days sort-of volunteering, sort-of getting to know how the project works at HH. I have met staff, several clients, and spent time gardening, sowing and digging. The whole experience of working there is in fact, therapeutic, calming and grounding. I have found it both a humbling and fun experience. It has lead to many different trains of thought and most importantly challenged my preconceptions of people with mental health problems & acquired brain injury - preconceptions that I didn't realise I had. I feel very privileged for the experience - which I find a rich source of thoughts, feelings and ideas for artwork (and life!).

For the outcomes of the project I have in mind both video works and a collaborative photographic project. There are threads bleeding in from the other projects I am doing at the moment - one working at the Histopathology lab at Derriford hospital in Plymouth, where I am using microscopes to look at and create images from body tissues and samples. During my time at the hospital, I am hoping to return to ideas of visual pattern, structure and repetition. To create images that use aspects of the basic composition and forms of the human body, informed by the histories of Fine Art; particularly the aesthetics of Arts and Crafts Movement. I am looking particularly at William Morris patterns and wallpapers, - attempting to make cellular reproductions or replications...

The other is a collaborative project with artist Newcastle based artist Paul Grimmer, and is very much influenced by health care environments and relationships. Together we are interested in attempting to provide a perceptual augmentation and sensory respite for individuals engaged in the appreciation of the arts. We aim to re-open or refresh the eyes of viewers through nurturing, care and self-affirmation.

You can find more about both these projects on my blog.

For this project my ideas started with the concept of suspension, along with Artworld staples such as, transformation and ideas around mortality. I know these are just initial and almost obvious starting points - and in some way may have negative connotations if you relate these ideas to clients. I am aware that there is the potential for a tight rope walk throughout the project - and that there are issues that require super sensitivity.

I feel it is possible to produce beauty from trauma and difficulty, that this can be universally conveyed and understood who ever you are.

I hope this is something of an introduction...

Update on the Artist residency programme at Groundwork South West

We are now in the position of one residency coming to an end, and of one in its early stages. Part of the first callout for artists ran thus:

‘We wish to develop an ongoing programme of contemporary art commissioning, and are keen to work with a wide range of practices including; performance/live art, sound art, video/film, installation, media, sculpture, and everything in-between and beyond. We are looking for artists who reflect our own organisation’s ethos and ideals and who therefore have a critical engagement with some or all of the following; public space (both urban and rural), environmental regeneration and sustainability, individual/community empowerment and participation.’

So we feel we are on track with attempting to use contemporary art in diverse contexts, focusing at present on regeneration, sustainability, empowerment and participation. Other projects are being developed in the areas of youth and also our environmental business team, Envision.

Clare Thornton’s project with Purist, a social enterprise in Paignton, is nearly complete. More on that, and details of the launch event follow.

Our second residency was intended to be a collaboration between ourselves and ZEST at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth. As such, Trystan Hawkins at ZEST compiled a shortlist and the artist Francesca Steele was selected by him and staff working on the Horticultural Healing project in Royal William Yard in Plymouth. However, ZEST’s expected outcomes have shifted, with the result that the collaboration will no longer proceed as planned. Instead, the residency will focus solely on the Horticultural Healing project, although the resultant work will very likely be shown on Derriford Hospital’s many flat-screens.

Horticultural healing works with individuals with mental health issues and acquired brain injury, taking the form of ecotherapy.

Francesca Steele is an emerging artist with high profile exhibitions in her portfolio, including performances at the National Review of Live Art for the last 3 years. Two large public exhibitions - the Belsay Fellowship for Picture House at Belsay House in Northumberland and for Nexus in Newcastle, both in 2007, had audience figures in excess of 200,000 And 140,000 respectively. Steele’s collaborative work with Manuel Vason has been exhibited at Arnolfini, Bristol and in the book Encounters – performance photography collaboration, again produced by Arnolfini 2007. She is represented by Waygood Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.

I will attempt to keep individuals up to date with developments on launch dates and other events on an ongoing basis. More anon.

Ray White

Strategic Arts Coordinator

Thursday, 29 May 2008

back to blogging...

I have been quite busy for a while, and now just starting to get a chance to look over and reassess my work and thoughts, -where and how things are going...

A lot of my previous posts were related to the INTERACT placement at PEALS in Newcastle, my work has moved on or rather, 'side-stepped' since then, although I still hope to do more work with PEALS in the future. Currently, I'm working on three main projects, all very much centered around the body, our relationship to it, and how to care - how to give - questions around the wealths of bad or damaging experiences - can they have/provide beauty, positive affirmation, or be truly positive/valuable? -If so, is it forever a tainted beauty, enveloped in niggling reminders of damage? Trauma gives a different perspective... don't know if this makes sense - ahhh! that'll be the brain dribble! Thinking about it already makes me feel like balancing on something high without a safety mat...

Anyway, the three projects are: Artist in Residence at Horticultural Healing, ran by Groundwork Devon and Cornwall. I have started a separate blog for this at

I am also Artist in Residence at Derriford hospital, in Plymouth. I have been commissioned to create a series of artworks for the histopathology lab there - which basically deals with all the parts of the body that are removed from surgery. The department also includes the cytology dept - which looks at cells, -it's where all the specimens are prepared and read. The department also includes the morgue and autopsy dept.

During my time at the hospital, I am hoping to return to ideas of visual pattern, structure and repetition. To create images that use aspects of the basic composition and forms of the human body, informed by the histories of Fine Art; particularly the aesthetics of Arts and Crafts Movement. I am looking particularly at William Morris patterns and wallpapers again, and attempting to make cellular reproductions or replications...

Here is one of the early images - this is using material from the cytology department, it is a microscopic image of a cervical smear - which is showing cell damage from an STD. I used the orginal material to create the symmetrical image - which begins to (for me!) relate to tile patterns, floral structures etc...

The third project I am working on is a collaborative performance project, with artist Paul Grimmer. The project is very much centered around caring and rehabilitation, and developed from a need to recover from Live Art Events!

The project is very influenced by health care environments and relationships. We are interested in attempting to provide a perceptual augmentation and sensory respite for individuals engaged in the appreciation of the arts. We aim to re-open or refresh the eyes of viewers through nurturing, care and self-affirmation.

Here is a little blurb and our logo - to give some idea...

Our collaboration began several years ago as artist-led group Piggyback (, based in the North East of England, offering support structures to students and recently graduated artists with digital and live art practices. We have recently come together again to work collaboratively on the Grimmer & Steele project, based around ideas of care and rehabilitation. Initially we had thought that this relationship would be more centred on digital works, however, we have found that our live art practices yielding and beneficial to our collaborative process. We are currently exploring through process ways to expand our collaborative language and ultimately create new works, which balance between our joint concerns and our individual autonomy – whilst still producing a cohesive and coherent ‘group’ identity.

Our joint concerns have largely been informed by our own personal experiences, which tie in with certain themes approached in the work. Our current aims for the project are based around certain personal and shared experiences of working in the live art sector - feelings that may be associated with participating in a live art event, either as a performer or an audience member: not (fully) understanding, not wanting to participate, feeling pressure to adhere to performative codes of conduct and etiquette and needing to regain perspective…

The work that we have been developing acts to remedy to these difficult, and potentially debilitating conditions. Operating on the borders of what could be understood as live art and what may also be seen as group therapy, meditation or rehab. Our aim is to create a series of situations where the viewer is led through the engagement of various exercises – this occurs within a framework of physically and psychologically modified environments, often employing sensory control as a tool; allowing one sense to rest, whilst another challenged. The work aims to operate somewhere on the border where genuine care, becomes a vulgar display, anaesthetising the viewer but also provoking feelings of disquiet.

There is a lot more to say about all of these projects...

About Horticultural Healing

The text below is taken from the Groundwork Devon and Cornwall website

The project uses horticulture as a therapy medium for people recovering from mental health problems or acquired brain injuries. In the late 1990’s we were working extensively with unemployed people through our Intermediate Labour Market programmes and through this work it became clear that mental health was a significant barrier to employment. As a response to this we set up the Horticultural Healing project in 2001. Since then we have helped 126 people and 31 return to work (either paid or voluntary). The project has helped us to develop the specialised knowledge and skills needed to work with this client group through horticulture and we have developed good practice procedures to deliver the project.

The project makes the following differences to people:

· Build confidence and self esteem

· Help towards getting a job or other volunteering or training opportunities

· Increase independent living

· Reduce reliance on medication

· Support personal development

· Enable socialisation with other people

The project achieves this by giving people the opportunity to undertake a wide range of horticultural activities including growing plants and vegetables from seed, weeding, potting on, pruning and grass cutting amongst other things. Our clients, with support, work on horticultural schemes such as maintaining and developing plant nurseries, a zen garden, wildlife areas, vegetable plots and formal grounds maintenance.

We provide each client with support and help depending on their needs. These needs are assessed and monitored throughout the length of time a person stays on the project. There are regular client review meetings and discussions with referring agencies to assess improvements or evolving support needs.

The location, the identified need and our history of successfully running projects of this nature in the past mean that this project is the best way to meet our outcomes and address the identified need.


We believe that a person’s recovery from mental health or an acquired brain injury is an individual process and everyone is different. It is for this reason that we engage participants in setting their own action plans and why participants are allowed to remain on the project for as long as it takes for them to get better.

We believe that horticulture is a valuable means towards recovery for our participants. This is because of the tactile nature of the work through touching plants, playing with dirt and using tools.

We believe that being outdoors has both physical and mental benefits for people. Whether this is simply being in the fresh air regardless of the time of year or weather conditions or whether it is benefiting from the healing qualities of the sun.

We believe that our Horticultural work provides a non-intrusive relaxed environment from which participants can learn to walk again or interact with others on the project depending on their needs.


Often full recovery is reliant on long term intervention and the opportunity to get out and do something in an environment that can adjust to their physical and mental needs, that challenges and moves people forward in a constructive way towards measurable physical, mental and emotional improvements, employment and independence. Participants often need something constructive to take part in to aid their recovery and build their strength and confidence.

Our Horticultural Healing project can provide that. We take referrals from psychiatric nurses and social services who want placements at suitable sites so that their clients can slowly start to integrate with other people again in a well supervised and friendly environment.

We have recognised powerful changes in our participants addressing some of the symptoms for mental health and acquired brain injuries. Each person arrives at the project with a different set of physical, mental or emotional needs. Recovery requires an awareness that this work can take a long time to achieve small changes such as: walking from the office to the poly tunnel without taking regular rests, being able to complete tasks that require long handled tools rather than hand tools working on our raised beds or communication improvements and learning socialising techniques.

The outcomes listed below are generic project outcomes.

· Improved Employability:

· Reduced Isolation:

· Increased Physical Activity:

· Improved Social Well Being and Psychological Health:

· Improved Personal Independence


The project is run by two full-time employed supervisors, overseen by a Programme Manager and supported by 6 volunteer supervisors. Staff have experience and knowledge of supervising volunteers in a horticultural setting. They have an understanding of the needs and complexities of working with mental health problems and acquired brain injuries.

We believe our Horticultural Healing project is a vital scheme that supports a number of people with a range of mental health problems. We know we can make a real and positive difference to people lives.