A fresh perspective: the beauty of the everyday

For our first project we worked with South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, commissioning artists to transform the Phoenix Unit at Springfield University Hospital in Tooting. The Phoenix Unit is a secure psychiatric rehabilitation residence housing up to 18 patients who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. 

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Mark Power, a Magnum photographer, and Jo Coles, an artist specialising in community projects, worked collaboratively to create work for the Phoenix Unit’s Relatives Room. This small room represents a connection with the outside, being a space where residents spend time with visitors. Mark and Jo were keen to create an impact but, mindful that this was a room in which delicate and occasionally challenging interactions with families take place, they did not want to create artwork that would detrimentally overwhelm the space. 

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It was the role of the Relatives Room in making connections with the outside world that inspired the work Mark Power and Jo Coles decided to create, though their concept also drew heavily on their own artistic interests and became a natural extension of their ongoing personal practices. The artists decided to work within a one-mile radius of Springfield Hospital, becoming urban explorers and archaeologists to ‘collect’ the kind of everyday curiosities and beauty that is easily overlooked. 

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For Mark this meant photographing local trees, urban nature that we rarely stop to appreciate. For Jo, capturing the everyday took on a more literal form as she pursued her ongoing interest in collecting discarded objects, a practice which had formed the basis of a project she’d developed for her recently complete MA. Keeping within the one-mile radius they’d set for themselves, Jo collected weathered debris from the streets and her findings were photographed to appear alongside the trees Mark had encountered on his own exploration of the area. Arranged in a checkerboard formation, Mark and Jo’s images were were turned into a unique photographic wallpaper to cover the walls of the Relative’s Room. 

As a rehabilitation unit, residents at the Phoenix are encouraged to work towards spending increasing amounts of time outside and beyond the hospital site. By drawing on the local area for material to create the work that would become part of the fabric of the Phoenix, Jo and Mark’s images are a subtle reminder of the pleasure that can be found in exploring, and the possibility for discovering beauty in objects we overlook and inspiration in even the most ordinary environments.

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"It felt so good to have given the time to make something as important as this. Even though it wasn’t reaching thousands of people, it felt strangely more important than something that does. Which is odd, but I suppose it’s that sort of semi-permanence. Not many artists are given the opportunity to make anything that is both permanent and quite special"

- Mark Power

 

Mark Power and Jo Coles share more insights into the development of their work for the Phoenix Unit in this brilliant interview with Lou Stoppard for SHOWstudio.

 

Work like this would not be possible without the generosity and support of Hospital Rooms’ friends and donors. With your help we can transform more NHS mental health care environments across the UK and give more people the opportunity to be touched and inspired by the unique and radical work that we do.

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