Andy Parsons reflects on his residency at Sligo General Hospital and his exhibition, Patience.
Looking back at the exhibition now that it has finished I am struck by the intensity of the emotional responses it has created. Many people I talked to about the exhibition were keen to share their own personal stories. The stories were sometimes about the minutiae of being in a hospital, and sometimes stories filled with struggle and sadness. The universality of the subject has meant that the exhibition has far reaching appeal attracting a broad audience.
I think the works were also able to connect with people because they combine observation with memory. In a short essay on Rembrandt’s late self-portraits “A Cloth Over the Mirror’* the writer John Berger talks about the process of looking and recording appearances. Berger imagines Rembrandt faithfully painting his own reflection from a mirror until he reaches a point where – in order to get at the truth – he needs to turn away from appearances and somehow conjure an image which depicts his interior emotional life.
I’m no Rembrandt! But I have followed a similar path in making the paintings and sculptures for ‘Patience’.
After the first 6 months of the residency at Sligo University Hospital, I had to change my working pattern. The restrictions caused by the pandemic meant that I was no longer able to draw in the hospital itself and had to rely on my initial drawings and crucially, on my memories. The process also became very personal, my son had been a patient at the hospital for a long period of time and the hospital had very strong memories for me, which over time fused with the observations I had made in situ.
From the start of this process I was very aware of the responsibility of telling stories from the hospital. It is a place we all know, and we all have good and bad memories associated with it. Our fragility as humans and our reliance on science, medicine and the care of dedicated health workers were at the front of my mind while creating the works.
At the same time, in trying to create images and objects that were true to my own experience of hospital life, I tried to capture glimpses of things rather than panoramic vistas or photographic tableaux.
In finding a way of responding to the subject of hospital life I was guided by weekly conversations with Dr. Richard Davey. These conversations led to Richard’s powerful and insightful texts on the website that accompanied the exhibition www.patience.ie
Richard’s critical response to the work helped me explore the empathetic, humanist basis of my thinking much more clearly. At the same time it gave me the confidence to move decisively away from a documentary approach to something that is less realistic, and at the same to closer to reality.
After spending 2 intense years on the residency and exhibition, I have been lucky to meet and work with some amazing people. Accessibility has been a theme of the residency, and the video walk-through Paul Cabena and Daniel MacDonald have created is in keeping with the ethos of the project, allowing people to enjoy the show without physically visiting the gallery.
*“A Cloth Over the Mirror’, is Chapter 12 of ‘The Shape of a Pocket’, by John Berger, published by Bloomsbury, 2002.