24 August 2017
By Dieneke Ferguson
I have been coming to Barts Hospital since 2008, where I am being treated for Multiple Myeloma (a type of blood cancer). Here is my story. I am very grateful that I am treated at Barts Hospital. Not only because of its brilliant knowledgeable and understanding staff and facilities, but also because of the tranquil and inspiring environment and the site-specific art that you can find throughout the buildings and which has been built up over the years under the auspices of Vital Arts.
Barts has been a place of healing for many centuries and it has a wonderful tranquillity. I always enter through the Henry VIII Gate on Giltspur Street (on the Smithfield Market side) which leads you past the historical North Wing, where the St Bartholomew’s Hospital museum is located and where you also can see the large paintings by William Hogarth in the stairwells that date from 1734 and 1738. That leads you to the Italianate Piazza which dates from 1752. The Piazza and the four buildings surrounding it were designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1752 replacing the medieval buildings that stood on that same site. Founded in 1123 by Rahere, a courtier and favourite of Henry 1, Barts is the oldest hospital in the UK which is still on its original site. The Hospital is Grade 1 listed and is part of the Smithfield Conservation area. (for more information on the history of Barts Hospital)
The four buildings and the square have been part of a major multi-million pound redevelopment of Barts Health NHS Trust, which also includes the Royal London, Mile End, Whips Cross and Newham University Hospitals. Following the restoration of the West Wing in 2004, in 2016 the Trust saw the completion of the new King George V Building which now houses the Barts Heart Centre. Landscape design also re-pedestrianised the main square on the site as a fully accessible space. Planting and paving materials enhance the surrounding Grade I and II-listed buildings and the historic central fountain and provides a welcome green space in the heart of the hospital. The East Wing has also been updated and adapted for medical practice in the 21st century. Plans for a Maggie’s Centre next to the North Wing (Great Hall) are well advanced and the Centre will open later in 2017. This will coincide with the restoration of the Great Hall later this year.
“We are delighted to welcome the Maggie’s new Centre, designed by the distinguished architect, Stephen Holl. This architectural gem adds a new level of artistic and cultural commitment–and a sensitive complement–to Sir James Gibb’s historic square. It is a resonant update within this urban corner which is commensurate with the cutting-edge medical care offered at Barts. “
Catsou Roberts, Director Vital Arts
When working on the restoration of the West Wing a decision was made to ring-fence an additional budget for curated site-specific art. This is nothing new. Artists have been commissioned to enhance hospitals since medieval times. A good example from the 18th century are the paintings in the stairwell of the North Wing painted by local artist William Hogarth between 1734 and 1737.
Vital Arts was established in 1996 as the arts project for Barts Health NHS Trust, in response to the Department of Health’s recognition of the important role art plays in patient recovery. Since then it has been commissioning site-specific artwork to improve the hospital environment, as well as implementing a programme of patient participation projects that brings live music, dance, literature and performance directly to patients to raise spirits and boost staff morale. . An impressive programme was implemented for the West Wing. Subsequently they commissioned works for the King George V building, as well as the Royal London redevelopments.
“The recent expansion of Barts Health NHS Trust to include not only Barts and the Royal London, but three other hospitals as well—Whipps Cross, Mile End, Newham University Hospital—makes the Trust the largest in the UK. There is now an abundance of buildings, departments and clinical services across east London in need of artistic interventions that will welcome, edify, delight—and even amuse—our increasing number of patients. Vital Arts eagerly looks forward to meeting the challenge of delivering many more innovative projects in the years to follow, and continuing to raise the bar of arts in healthcare. “
Catsou Roberts, Director Vital Arts
In this article I have only looked at commissions in the Barts Hospital buildings, leaving the commissions for the Royal London till later. The text that follow that describe the art works are by Vital Arts.
Cornelia Parker, Still Life with Reflection, 2004
My favourite piece is Still Life with Reflection from Cornelia Parker from 2004. This is situated in the Waiting Rooms in the West Wing, where I have my clinic visits.
Cornelia Parker observed that at Barts the waiting room is, by its very nature, a limbo place where time and reality can feel suspended. On being asked to create an artwork for such a room with the potential of a captive audience, she felt the blank ceiling was the appropriate place for it to be located. As she explains,
“The contemporary ceiling is usually a neglected empty space with no decoration, but further back in history, the ceiling was a popular site for art. In the lofty rooms of stately homes, eyes are taken upwards to enjoy the paintings or carvings that might adorn them. The artists who created them would often employ a technique known as trompe I’oeil, to trick the eye. Through the clever use of perspective, this would give an illusion of three dimensionality to what were in fact painted flat illusions or carved low relief’.
David Bachelor, Spectrum, 2004
David Batchelor’s large-scale works are usually made in response to a particular setting and seek to interrupt this setting through the use of found objects and intense artificial colour. At Barts, however, Batchelor has created an artwork that seeks to enhance rather than disrupt the beauty of the eighteenth century stairwell. His glowing neon lights frame the original windows and are designed to be visible from every level of the building, but not visible in their entirety from any one point. As he says,
‘ the work will change throughout the day as the light levels alter: in full daylight the work will glow quite softly; at night it will appear much brighter’.
James Aldridge, Twilight, 2004
This painted landscape includes a gradation of colors—representing warm sunset to cool evening–that span the transient moments of twilight. Drawing on influences from ancient Roman frescoes, and nineteenth century French vignette wallpaper, this waterfront scenes wrap around the second floor waiting room at the West Wing, and echo the wall-covering painting by Hogarth in the North Wing.
George Shaw, Home, 2004
George Shaw’s paintings often explore the landscape of his childhood home, a post war housing estate in Coventry. At Barts, Shaw has created a series of paintings that have a haunting nostalgic feel, intensely personal, but at the same time recalling a landscape common to many of us. He explains,
“When I began making these paintings for the West Wing I had in mind a place of familiarity and warmth, of stories and memories and life. The place in the paintings is my own childhood home where my parents still live and where I visit often. It is a place from where we have visited hospital many times over the years and where phone calls to and from such places have been made. It is a place where, as a family, we have all returned. It was my intention that these paintings brought with them a touch of the familiar and the loved to a visit which can often make us feel isolated and removed from our daily lives”.
D.J. Simpson, Check, Double Check, 2004
DJ Simpson makes his work (in laminate and birch plywood) by ‘drawing’ directly onto wooden panels with a carpenter’s router cutter, to create beautiful, spontaneous sculptural reliefs that invite the viewer to touch them. In the main waiting room, He has created three large-scale panelled walls that seek to work with the historic features of the building. As he explains,
‘the walls I’m using have a format that might make you think of a traditional landscape. It’s a common human game to project an image on to something abstract but there are all kinds of spaces to imagine other than the picturesque’.
KING GEORGE V BUILDING
Tord Boontje, Herbal Medley, 2014
Studio Tord Boontje has created a series of window designs that provide privacy as well as atmospheric beauty for the newest wing at Barts. Because some of the patient bedrooms are overlooked by the adjacent Bank of America offices, the aim of the commission was to design a permanent treatment onto the windows that would offer privacy yet retain a level of transparency so that patients and staff could still enjoy the views outside. The pattern is an intertwining mix of twenty four different herbs and plants with medicinal qualities, including arnica, rosemary, dandelion and lavender. The play of light, shadow and shapes, as light passes through the windows, animates the space and sets it aglow.
“I set out to create a pattern for the windows that would make you feel good about being in the rooms. The herbs add a botanical, floral and healing quality to the space.”
CATHERINE BERTOLA, From the Archives, 2010
Catherine Bertola draws on the 18th century fashion for “print rooms”, where a room was decorated with prints pasted onto the walls and embellished with drawings of swags and ribbons to lend an illusion of three-dimensionality. Creating a modern interpretation, she references the architecture of James Gibbs whose 18th century buildings form the historic square at Barts. The images she has used are all taken from the Barts historic archive and bring to the new Cancer Centre some of the atmosphere of the hospital ‘s illustrious past.
Darren Almond, Full Moon, 2010
Turner Prize nominee, Darren Almond, has created a photographic installation for the new Radiotherapy Department. Running throughout his work is a reflection on time, duration and memory. For these images, the artist has travelled far and wide to remote geographical areas. These pictures are taken in the middle of the night, using only the full moon as a source of light, and an extended time exposure. Entitled Fullmoons, these meditative and evocative photographs are filled with a strange and frozen beauty that creates an immersive environment for patients throughout the waiting area.
Katie Deith, Dardas and Daklion, 2009
These two small paintings offer a picturesque view of stereotypical holiday destinations. However, the artist undermines such clichés with a sense of ambiguity and disorientation, not dissimilar to that of a dream. The end result is an exotic yet alien landscape devoid of human life, that permits the viewer to be the lone inhabitant of this utopian landscape.