Visual Art in Hospitals

coperta libro arte e ospedale

This volume comes out, almost entirely, of the International Symposium on ‘Art and Hospitals’, held in Florence from 26 to 28 March, 1998, and organised, following my proposal, by the Fondazione Michelucci, in collaboration with the Councillorships of Culture and Health of the Regione Toscana.

The subject matter of the three days was the relationship between the visual arts and hospital structures, in the perspective of a new vision of hospitalisation, drawing attention to the interaction between the environment and the conditions of the patients and the medical staff.

This new vision is very rarely put into practice, despite the fact that the concepts of health and therapy are no longer only identified with medical action. In 1978, the Declaration of Alma-Ata underlined the need to ‘…produce a change in the attitude and organisation of health services, so that their development focuses especially on the needs of individuals, in their entirety.’ A few years later, the Ottawa Chart (1986) stressed the point further: ‘…Moreover, health is not only an objective, but a source of wealth in everyday life’… ‘As a consequence, given that the concept of health, meaning well-being, goes beyond the idea of “a healthy life style”, the promotion of health does not concern national health services only’.

The idea of a Symposium on the role that artistic expressions can play in the qualification of hospital environments (and in helping health), together with the responsibility to curate this volume, which collects the opinions voices during the conference, are strictly linked to the guiding lines of my artistic experience.

The attention to the position of art in the relationship between man and society (the connection of art with the social dimension of life) was, indeed, also a thread in my artistic research. Its traces are visible in many of my works on the concept of “borderline”.

At the basis of the concept of “borderline”, both from the technical- pictorial point of view, and from a social point of view, is the thought that ail that is placed near a border is characterised by extreme instability, and therefore has an enormous potential for change.

The start of my cycle of adventures on social marginalisation dates back to 1985, at the time of my first stay in Bolivia. Long stays in Latin America followed this first one, always in social borderlines. The unifying feature is the fact that my research, born within a personal route, was projected into a collective di­mension, through a connection with strongly marginalised environments. This is how the experience with collective painting was born: for instance the realisation of a mural painting in an indigenous Guarani village in Bolivia (Ascensione, 1988, mural painting, 4.50×7.70 m), in a favela in Rio de Janeiro (Por urna favela, 1991,
mural painting, m 2.00 x 19.50 + m 1.00 x 17.50), in a home for the ederly in Italy (Flussi d’incontro, 1992, murai painting, m 3.30×6.50). The common element is the relationship of the artist with a team of workers, formed by the individuals who are part of the reality which is the object of the work in progress. The people are part of a project of social advancement, not through an educational process, but through the creation and use of a work of art.

‘…I am after a paradox: an elegant and sophisticated way of painting, well measured and planned, realised in the exuberant land of the extremes, of abundance and spontaneity, of improvisation and novelty. Behind my shoulders I have the vision of Renaissance palaces, with their grey stones, regular and rational,

planned with the utmost accuracy: now I am painting in the heart of a Brazilian favela, where’ as I. Arestizabal observed ‘the sensual perception predominates, the rainbow rules, everything grows spontaneously and organically, in a trans-formation worthy of Escher at his most creative, where this cape, or banner, or tent, which is Helio Oiticica Parangolè is a symbol, a matchbox – musical instrument, the stone from which water springs …’ (from the catalogue Por urna favela, Rio de Janeiro, 1991).

A large project, to which I have been working since 1992, is connected to this intersection of the artistic and social dimensions, and a marginalised reality. The project pivots around a reflection on the role of ‘health helpers’ that the objects of art can play if planned and produced purposely for hospitals, and which has found its initial expression in the Symposium “Art and Hospitals”. When I handed in my proposal of the project of Art and Hospitals to the Fon­dazione Michelucci, I was certain, once again, that I was running after that extreme relationship between man and art, and I was also certain that I would be welcomed at the institution founded by Giovanni Michelucci, as the architect had always been committed to humanistic issues.

Just so it happened. Thanks to a similar sensitivity, expressed by the Regione Toscana, the Symposium developed around the documentation and discussion of various International ventures, either in progress or already carried out, as a proof of the fact that art in hospitals was not only a possibility, but an accomplished fact. So, we saw the experience at the Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen, where the administration appointed an artist as technical director, for the choice of colours, furniture and interior decoration in the hospital. Gernes writes: ‘…the artistic embellishment enhances the quality of life in a simple way’… ‘bright colours have the function of creating a diversion, stimulating dynamism and new energies’. We also made our acquaintance with the experience of the Universitatsklinicums Charitè in Berlin, or of the Herz-Zentrum in Bad Krozimgen in Germany, where exhibitions are held inside the hospital structure. Another one is the Maternity Hospital in Dublin, which defines itself as ‘a haven for art’. Yet another is the hospital Poìncaré in Paris, who entrusted an artist (Ettore Spalletti) with the creation of its new ‘Salle des departs’. These are just some of the achievements we learned about during the Symposium. Moreover, the Symposium has been the occasion for me to present a pilot-project for a hospital in Tuscany, based on the role that objects of art can play in the qualification of the space in hospitals, and to promote the resources of the people that live in it. The project foresees a situation which, while preserving its specific functions, is more integrated with daily life. This project will hopefully be put into practice soon, and I am confident that it will stimulate similar ven­tures.

A lively exchange of practical knowledge and projects between artists, architects, psychologists, art critics and art historians, was originated from the voices and images proposed during the symposium. Such a debate could provide food for thought for those politicians and administrators willing to operate in that perspective.

Indeed, Italy has historical precedents, between the XVII and the XVIII century, of harmonious co-operation between art and health structures, as recently high-lighted by a symposium organized by the Fondazione Michelucci, ‘Hospitals and the city’. Despite this glorious past, however, our country, unfortunately, does not have many models or experiments to propose at present.

The aim of this volume is to participate and give its contribution to a debate with more and more voices.

Mimmo Roselli, Florence, December 1998

I would like to thank those who made this symposium and this book possible: the Fon­dazione Michelucci, the Assessorato alla Sanità and the Assessorato alla Cultura della Regione Toscana. Furthermore I would like to thank Antonio Cirri, manager of the Seg­reteria dell’Assessorato alla Sanità della Regione Toscana, Nicola Solimano and the members of the Fondazione Michelucci, for their competent aid. Last but not least Dario Rossi and Letizia Salvestrini for their professional work in the press office.