Given the readings this week on happenings and events which relate to installations, I looked into Installation Art as Research Methodology, reading Chapter 20 of Leavy’s book, Handbook of Arts-Based Psychotherapy. The chapter by Jennifer L. Lapum is entitled “Installation Art: The Voyage Never Ends. She begins by quoting Pat Control from The Prince of Tides (1986) who said, “once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers (p. 127). She believes this passage captures the ultimate intention of installation art, to provide us with an experience that will have an enduring effect on our minds and bodies. She reminisces about walking through the “Visualizing Absence” art installation at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery in Toronto, Canada, in May 2015. The artists planted one white paper lily for each of the 1,511 people who died at the hospital and were buried in mostly unmarked graves from 1890 to 1974. She says, “To borrow from Conroy, sometimes the experience trickles into the quietest chambers or edges into the corners of our soul, with its residuals ebbing and flowing into our lives at unforeseen times (p. 378).” This inspired her to create her own installation so that her 7.024th patient did not feel like the 7,024th patient.
I saw this installation and was also deeply moved by the untold stories of so many lives locked away from society for unknown reasons. I was moved by a similar exhibition of flags planted for all the soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan and subsequently committed suicide (four times more than were killed in Afghanistan). Immediately I was considering the types of installations that we could create through our Medical Arts and Humanities program that we are creating at Eastern Maine Medical Center and the University of Maine in Orono. The limits of the possibilities are only the limits of our imagination.
Lapum continues by saying that no particular appearance defines installation art, in part related to the various combinations of media that can be used together. This certainly makes installation art intermedia in its integration of multiple media into one integrated whole from which each media cannot readily be removed without the collapse of the entire installation (In multimedia art, the different media function as components of the overall project that can be removed or inserted in a modular fashion.). She said that installation art (like intermedia) differs from some other forms of art in being a complete, unified experience rather than an object on display, which at least establishes it as a cousin of happenings and similar types of performance arts. Installation art can rely upon combinations and permutations of any medium, including but not limited to photos, poetry, performances, sculptures, paintings, narratives, objects, and audiovisual recordings. The focus is on transforming a space much as happenings focused upon transforming a culture. Wouldn’t it be interesting to consider how we could transform the space of a hospital through these types of installations?
Lapum says that the term “Installation art” was only created in the 1960s. She links its origins to Marcel Duchamp and his turning found objects into art, most famously his work, Fountain, which was his now-infamous porcelain toilet presented as an objet d’art. Then came Kaprow’s multimedia works that filled a room and disrupted ideas of separate artistic genres, making the environment and the viewer part of the art, as did happenings. Finally, she mentioned the Surrealist Exhibitions also led by Marcel Duchamp and starting in 1938. She mentions how these exhibitions transformed the museum space, for example, creating a dream-like space in a room with 1200 dirty sacks of coal hanging from the ceiling with leaves and cork scattered on the floor. These are the precursors of installations.
Lapum’s work, The 7.024th Patient, was designed by her (a nurse-poet), a design strategist, a cardiovascular surgeon, and social scientists who focused upon the body and disability. They wanted to create an installation that would immerse its audience in the patient experience of undergoing heart surgery and recovering. Using an iterative process involving the entire creative team, she began by translating patients’ stories into poetry based on the core narrative themes that emerged in their research into a chronological flow from the preoperative period to the journey home after the surgery and hospitalization. The installation was designed as a labyrinth with its center as the heart (the center of the body) leading into the various aspects of the patient experience as the audience member walks through the labyrinthine. They collected data about the audience experience, finding that people had strong emotional and visceral responses to the installation.
Lapum continues in the article to describe other installations, the next of which was The Alzheimer’s Project, a mixed media autobiographical account of caregiving for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. This installation arose from two professors/researchers writing stories and sharing photographs about their experiences of caring for their mothers through initial diagnosis to death. The author described how easy it was to become part of their story, which led her to think about her own related stories as she looked at the pictures imprinted on magnets stuck to refrigerator doors and saw her own reflection in a mirror alongside that of an older woman with a steady but vacant gaze. It reminded me of my friend, Dana Waldram’s graphic non-fiction work about her mother’s course of Alzheimer’s Disease, which she called Aliceheimer, in relation to her mother’s name being Alice. The images and the prose are powerful, though it is not an installation. However, Dana has turned her drawings and prose into installations on the University of Vermont campus, where she is a faculty, and elsewhere in shows, she has conducted.
Then Lapum describes Out from Under: Disability, History, and Things to Remember, from 2013, a traveling exhibition which she viewed at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ontario. It consisted of 13 objects housed within separate alcoves occupying 1500 square-feet of space and highlighting the struggles of people with disabilities in Canada. Each object was meant to tell the story of someone with a disability, situated in a historical context. The installation originated from a seminar series on Canadian Disability History at the School of Disability Studies of Ryerson University. Participants brought objects related to people with disabilities and used the objects in telling the stories of the people represented by the objects. The installation effectively communicated this history in terms of the oppression and degradation that people experienced in the past.
Last, Lapum discussed Hybrid Bodies, an art installation based upon a phenomenological study that employed visual methods to explore heart transplant recipients’ experiences, which included a substantial degree of distress along with disrupted identity and a sense of body integrity following the transplant. A team of scientists collaborated with four artists to design and create art that would represent the embodied, emotional, and cognitive experiences of receiving a heart and the mythology and symbolism surrounding the heart.
Finally, Lapum returns to methodological considerations, finding difficulty in a scholarly critique of installation art because of the frequent lack of permanent record of it in its original form. She comments about how different it is to experience an art installation than to read an article about it. She notes that it is being used with other research methodologies, including autobiography, autoethnography, ethnography, action research, narrative inquiry, and phenomenological research. She mentions Mohatt and colleagues who detailed a community participatory process to design a community mobilization outdoor mural concerning suicide. She comments on the tension between art and medicine in medicine’s demand for systematized and replicable research which art installations cannot always provide. However, art installations can be ideal for interpreting the results of statistical research so long as constant attention is paid throughout a project to the visions and needs of both the artists and the scientists. She finishes by commenting that her installation did change professional practice in her community leading to improved communication and supportive care. In the end, art installations can awaken readers and viewers into deep and intimate conversations.
Immediately I had the thought of using an art installation to convince the leadership in our hospital to implement a program for reducing delirium and its impact among geriatric patients that have been successfully implemented elsewhere in Maine. We’ve been unable to convince them by showing how much money the program saved at the other hospital but perhaps a more emotional and visceral appeal using an art installation would be more successful.