Thursday, April 15, 2010

Prairie Artsters: The Art of Healing*

The Lois Hole Hospital for Women integrates art and design

Dropping in on the public open house for the brand new Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the five-floor, state-of-the-art facility costing $190 million dollars appeared to be worth every penny. Serving as a hospital within the Royal Alexandra's new 33 000-plus-square-metre Robbin's Pavilion, the building will certainly offer the highest quality of care for women in Alberta and Northern Canada facing high-risk obstetrics, cancer surgery and specialized gynecological services, all the while integrating the affect of art and design.

Extended window panes cover the building from top to bottom emphasizing open space and natural light. Coming in from the main building of the Royal Alex, I was distracted before even entering the Lois Hole Hospital as I looked up and saw the new public art work by Liz Magor and Wendy Coburn. "Soft Spot," a nest-like cantilever resting up in the sky activated the public space in a way that could only work for low-density areas as it needed the open sky for a backdrop.

Coming specifically to see the four new large-scale works by Edmonton-based painter Nicole Galellis, I wandered down to the ground level where the outpatient clinics are located. Taking a quick tour of the clinics, each room is not only already equipped, but has a framed original photograph. While the photographic works are a bit cliché and brimming with optimism—the modern day equivalent of the kitten photo the nurse asks you to look at before the needle goes in—they're certainly a far better option than a blank wall. Unlike any other hospital, where upon entering there is usually an overwhelming sense of clinical sterility, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women was actually a calm space. Granted, there were yet to be patients admitted, but perhaps the precedence for peace will persist.

Entering any number of the five clinic entrances and facing a series of outdoor apothecary jars in muted tones by Greg Pace that are supposed to conjure the silhouettes of women, Galellis offers an apt contrast in her bright and bold use of influences ranging from graffiti to wallpaper, textiles, ceramics and of course, floral for the building's namesake. Individually named after the cursive text embedded within each work (Connect, Fit, Join, Bind), Galellis focused on bringing in elements that would connect patients and visitors alike to relate to the works of art.

"Even if it's just reminiscent of something they've seen, then it's easier to connect people to the work," Galellis notes. "Paintings change a space, it shows someone's hand. Like good graffiti, it's work being made for the public. It's personal."

Each piece sits at approximately four metres by two metres and the works will be viewed by approximately 24 000 patients each year. Painting in abstract form, one that Galellis admits has the potential to alienate people who feel like they are having the wool pulled over their eyes with something they do not understand, her paintings are playfully engaging and leave a fresh impression each time you look upon them.
Continuing, she offers, "Western medicine has a growing awareness of emotional health being connected to physical health. Art is optimistic and people turn to it."

*First published in Vue Weekly

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