Creative team credits
Glimpsing Air Pockets
Mona Kastell; Assistant: Hannah Myers
Tao-Anas Le Thanh
Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity, Creative Scotland
Sensory pads/projections: DLSV
What was the case study project about?
The show was conceived following dancer Christina Liddell’s outreach work with the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity. She describes it as ‘a poetic response from […] many, beautiful encounters’ that had a profound impact on her creative practice and perspective on life. In consultation with the hospital staff, she aspired to help the children’s rehabilitation and healing by providing creative movement and dance. She then invited several artists to capture the children’s contributions during creative workshops to be combined within the set, music composition, projection mapping, film and sensory equipment that were to make the show.
Children were invited to contribute to the set making process during creative workshops at the Edinburgh Royal Sick Kids hospital. We needed the kids to make something simple that they could easily finish on the spot. The amount of time we had together could vary between five and twenty minutes independently or in a group in the waiting room, sometimes shortened by the doctor’s arrival. We chose to wrap wool around willow sticks to create colourful wishes together.
What does ecological thinking mean to you and how do you approach it in your work?
To me ecological thinking is about wholeness and that is constantly evolving. Over the years of searching and practising, I feel more and more connected daily to the natural world and what is happening to the world. We must recognize and celebrate the interconnectivity and authenticity of what exists. Once we realize that we are part of the same ecosystem as everything else living – Gaia included – how can we then create work that would be in the slightest detrimental to ourselves or others?
Consequently, when I start on a new project, I ask myself and my team: how can we be respectful and accountable for what we create? In the research process, I design with what was already available locally instead of creating from scratch. Only then a model box and design sketches take form. For this project, the director and I decided to have our conversation outdoors over Nature walks as ecological ideas were a fundamental part of the process. We would happily let ourselves be distracted by birdsong or a floating leaf, which would guide and influence the through process.
Aims and Objectives
What were the aims and objectives of the project?
The aim of the show was to bring Nature indoors to the audience; especially the hospitalized children with no access to the outdoors. The set was designed as an immersive participatory sensory experience to be interacted with: from visual curiosity – woodland path to follow, willow trees to stroke, felt bees to seek, rosemary mist to smell and seed maracas to play with along their journey within the garden.
The audience was to enter the performance space through the set, led on a short woodland walk, then invited to sit on wooden stumps. The idea was to let me co-create as participants when walking around onstage and attaching the colourful wishes to the tree trunks.
Working with the kids at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children was a profound experience for me. I was humbled by the kind of difference and joy we could accomplish by spending a bit of creatively crafty time. The kids welcomed the input of personal attention, and parents appreciated the distraction to take a break and get some fresh air or make a phone call. Some loved them so much that they asked for more materials to make some more later and some asked to take them home.
What did you do to challenge the status quo?
The design team (myself and Hannah, the design assistant) put in place a healthy practice of giving each other time in the morning for our personal ecology such as yoga or meditation, allowing ourselves to start slightly later though refreshed and ready to work each morning. A healthy work and life balance – putting as much value on self-care as on work – supports the artist to work in gentle slowness and authenticity. This awareness was extended to the children, co-creators bound to the hospital, to release some emotions and tension through the artistic activities actively increasing wellbeing. Not expecting them to yield finished products but allowing them to focus on the process.
The set was made accessible to cater for a variety of users, disabled patients and audience members alike. For example, I had to familiarize myself with disability access wheelchair ramp specification to make a strong japanese style bridge fit for purpose with the right angle elevation as per official regulations. Also, as the audience members were led through Dance Base grounds – Scottish National Dance Centre – in an experiential walk leading to the performance space, we had to check the route for lift access, a wide enough path, etc.
As the workshops were to happen on hospital grounds, all items to be brought in needed to be approved following strict health & safety rules to assure a safe practice. Each item was disinfected ahead of each day to avoid cross-contamination, such as between the children’s oncology ward and general admission. It was the first time I facilitated workshops in such an environment. Nowadays, most hospitals incorporate the arts as a tool to improve wellbeing.
What are some of the best decisions in relation to ecological motivation and action you’ve made related to this project?
The best decision we took was to use real plants and willow as our main materials and gather the main elements locally in anticipation of the set being built in the summer. We foraged the native willow branches kindly donated by a local nursery that had no use for them, coppicing the willow trees and helping to produce next year’s healthy supply of willow. The director and I spent a day foraging, which was quite hard work at some times and also led to some giggles.
They became part of the design process. Hannah and I spent 1 week weaving the trees, which felt very meditative and led to friendship being formed. Rather than using man-made materials, it gave the set an earthlier appearance and enhanced the audience’s connection with the raw, natural energy of the piece. When weaving the pieces together, we allowed the process to flow through us: we could either fight to force the willow sticks into shape or gently let them guide us, working in partnership with the materials. This fluid engagement allowed an organic design to emerge with its own unique narrative.
I was very excited to be able to use real plants over fake foliage. They were to be stored at the director’s house in between each touring period to be looked after. They really became fully fledged members of the cast. Not only did it give us plenty of local resources but wove connection between the team members. The wooden stumps were salvaged from street bins following Christmas waste dumping and the wool was purchased from charity shops.
Sharing is Caring
What is your advice and best tips for other people and teams who want to bring these values into their work?
I appreciate the leading artist, Christina‘s, attentiveness to including the designer as part of the funding application process by drawing the budget for the set design and construction. It made me feel valued as a collaborator. I was able to share the true cost of a production without fearing an inadequate budget which generally would mean lots of unpaid hours with the often accompanying stress.
Engage all your senses to design from Place to deeply connect and collaborate with Nature by taking the process gently, being attentive to the wisdom freely available in Nature. Slow down and think about the impact of the work before even starting, question the practice, take responsibility for the creative decisions and stand up against any detrimental effects that the production may have.
It’s not about ticking all of the boxes nor making a profit, but about showing our commitment to change, and making sure that our environment is safe to pass on to the next generations. Our wellbeing is connected to the wellbeing of the Natural World: by taking care of it, it takes care of us.
How can you be more accountable through your actions as a creative professional?
Having the ecological mindset at the base of the production, I think we did pretty great. Sustainability was the main focus and it showed in the realization.
The set was designed to be repurposed in a playroom for visitors in the new Edinburgh Royal Sick Hospital following the short Scottish tour. This was approved to allow future patients to be able to rejoice in a space that inspires calm and wonder in the midst of what can be stressful times. Ultimately, the ephemeral materials will be put into the compost, returning to the earth and continuing the life cycle.
To build the mushroom sensors, we ended up purchasing plastic bowls to be a strong surface that could be pushed by the audience to trigger the projections. I wish we could have found an alternative to plastic.
The knowledge that I haven’t got all the answers and that I continually reflect on my practice is present. Reflection is a necessary part of the creative process to make sense of things through deep processing. It provides the ability to contemplate and challenge the choices made, establishing constructive feedback to build from and evolve for each future project.