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deAppendix

deAppendix is a cultural space co-located with a Dublin suburban GP surgery that hosts a programme of contemporary art exhibitions and talks.

While not a therapeutic project, deAppendix lives in symbiosis with the therapeutic space of a GP surgery (Amaranta Family Practice). This is a project by artist and GP Ciara McMahon whose art practice looks for hybridity between art and medicine.

Participants

The project is conceptualised and curated by Ciara McMahon. The artists exhibiting in the space include, amongst others, Maire Soffe, Myra Jago, Marie Claire Cassidy, Kathy Herbert and Deirdre Glenfield. Speakers include Jeanette Donnelly, Cathy Fitzgerald and Siobhán Mooney.

Aims

deAppendix has arisen from Ciara McMahon’s desire to integrate the two strands of her work - art and medicine - on an ongoing, extended basis. The aim is to create a project which will evolve and mutate over time.

deAppendix's co-location with a GP surgery aims to disrupt expectations for an overt separation between the disciplines of art and medicine. The project challenges how both medicalised and contemporary art spaces are activated thus questioning accepted norms for these genres of space.

The project emphasises an equality in the validity of both disciplines of medicine and art as a means of interrogating our lived experience, be that in sickness or in health. According to the McMahon, “Contemporary culture values both a scientific and artistic approach to interrogation of the world, but when the disciplines are placed side by side, it seems to me that the art is in someway seen to be less rigorous in its catechizing and therefore is somehow less important than science for our lives. deAppendix / Amaranta Family Practice consciously attempts to undermine this assumption.”

Finally, deAppendix aims to question whether a rigorous contemporary art space / project is sustainable, over an extended period of time, located, as the project is, firstly at a distance from mainstream contemporary art premises and secondly co-located with a working GP surgery.

Methods

The project is a conceptually driven participatory, collaborative project by Ciara McMahon.  McMahon's art practice frequently discusses subjectivity and intersubjectivity asking how these play out through the body within the disciplines of art and medicine. McMahon trained both as a GP and a fine artist.  

McMahon set up deAppendix at the same time as she founded her GP surgery, Amaranta Family Practice, in Oct 2012.

McMahon states “As a GP I see on a daily basis how enriched our emotional and intellectual lives are when we have an involvement with creativity, be that how we decorate our houses, the clothes we wear, the food we cook, whether we garden or if we visit galleries / museums, listen to music or go to the theatre. Our lived experience becomes barren without some form of delight or enjoyment in our senses. It makes sense that this effect would positively influence our health, certainly mental but possibly physical health. Thus when I made the decision to set up my own single handed GP surgery, incorporating an active art practice into the fabric of the surgery was a natural progression.”

McMahon is the co-ordinator for the whole programme which she does while also gradually developing her GP surgery. Primarily this means interviewing potential applicants for the residency, co-ordinating the exhibition programme, mentoring the resident artist and managing the online presence of the project. 

At present deAppendix / Amaranta Family Practice survives with additional help from McMahon's long-suffering husband rather than paid staff, but it is anticipated that as the GP surgery becomes busier this situation will change when administrative staff will be employed. 

Activities at deAppendix include:

  •  An artist in residence programme whereby artists have access to a designated studio seven days a week over an agreed period, usually eight to twelve weeks. It is anticipated that artists would commit to using the studio regularly during the residency. During that time they are encouraged to exhibit work in the gallery space of deAppendix and throughout the premises. 
  • A project blog.
  • An ongoing series of artist talks / interviews relevant to the space. 
  • Hosting the Adragh Residents Association mulled wine Christmas Carol service (the artist in residence, Marie Soffe did face painting for the children).

Timeframe for the project development:

  • The infrastructure for the GP surgery and the artist in residence programme was sourced by McMahon and her husband between May 2012 and October 2012.
  • During this period advice was sought from established curators regarding the feasibility of the project and an Arts Council funded research visit made to the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, London.
  • Initially artists were canvassed by McMahon through word of mouth and invited to get involved in the residency programme, and to subsequently exhibit / interact with the space. McMahon generally chats to applicants informally discussing the parameters of the residency, the artists practice and how they might work within the space during the residency period. As the residency programme develops it is anticipated that the word of mouth method will switch to a formal open call for applicants.
  • Medical users of the space are informed about the project through the GP practices' leaflet and via the practice website.
  • The project blog and Facebook page were launched. Similar information was uploaded to the  website.
  • Artist talks are advertised to the local community in addition to the contemporary art scene.
  • It is hoped that as the surgery becomes more established the artists might work with the GP patients in a more participatory way.

Artistic Outputs

The outputs are both intangible and tangible. The intangible outputs include the experience of the artists on the artist in residence programme. They have been exposed to the behind-the-scences working of a nascent GP surgery. Likewise, the numerous conversations with patients of the GP surgery about the project, about the work exhibited in the space and about the role creativity plays in our health remain intangible. As is the overwhelmingly positive and supportive reaction expressed by new patients to the GP surgery towards the project.

Tangible outputs include the work exhibited such as a site specific glass paint panel for the GP waiting room; the ongoing ephemeral publications made for inclusion in the GP practice leaflet about the current artist in residence and their work; the artists talks series; the videos documenting these talks and forthcoming outcomes include the forthcoming series of video interviews with the artists involved. These videos can be watched on the deAppendix website.

Evaluation Methodology

All the artists involved are invited to reflect and respond to their experiences either verbally or in writing both during the residency and immediately afterwards. Patients of the GP surgery are invited to offer feedback on an informal basis.

McMahon fortnightly spends designated time reflecting on the overall shape of the project. Writing this case study has been a form of evaluation, as was writing the article for 2ha.

Evaluation Outcomes

Formal evaluation of outcomes is due to occur in November 2013 at the one year mark. However, each artist in residence has been invited to comment on the experience either verbally or in writing at the end of their residency period. To date each has chosen to comment verbally.

Two artists felt the context significantly altered the reading of their work, one noted that the close proximity of the GP surgery influenced their work during the residency. One felt no influence.

 All reported positively, although the light in the studio is an issue particularly for painters. The feasibility of wet 3D work is also limited. Both of these issues require an injection of funding.

According to McMahon, “As the artist / curator /GP of the project I've been surprised by the mixture of bemusement and tentative curiosity by the artists involved. They appear to wrestle slightly – as do I!! – with the idea of making work in a surgery, with the (understandable) anxiety that they may upset the GP patients and just the shear strangeness of the project. Patients likewise have been shy about commenting, but voluble when encouraged to do so frequently sharing their own interests (or not) in art, their preferences (or not) in relation to work exhibited.”

On average a third of patients attending the GP comment in some way on the work. Recently, one patient had to be transported to hospital by ambulance. On entering the gallery area the ambulance driver greeted Kathy Herbert's wall drawing Houses Trees (2013) with “Wow, did you do that?”

The presence of the artist and their work evokes a subtle shift in the atmosphere of the GP practice with many patients asking astute questions both about the project and the artists. The GP surgery is, like deAppendix, gradually developing an identity of its own (they were set up at the same time). deAppendix has significantly contributed to the public perception of the practice, with many first time patients commenting on how relaxed the atmosphere is. 

On a personal level this project has been difficult for McMahon in terms of funding: “To date deAppendix is not a commercial gallery, the work exhibited is not for sale, thus the project does not generate any overt income, being funded in its entirety through income-in-kind from the GP surgery. This is a struggle, as it's a balancing act, for me, between seeing patients, administration associated with deAppendix and applying for funding on behalf of the artists in residence to undertake more ambitious participatory work or even sort out technical issues in the gallery area and the artists studio.”

Documentation & Dissemination

The impromptu conversations remain undocumented, but the artists talks are recorded either with HDV or audio. The work exhibited is documented with photography.

Information is disseminated via the project blog and Facebook page in addition to publications where possible such as an article for 2ha magazine. 

Notification of exhibitions and events are sent to the project email list, listed in the Visual Artist Ireland e-bulletin, www.artsandhealth.ie news, www.acw.ie and other relevant contemporary art online platforms. Event information is also sent to the local residents association and by word of mouth to the GP practice population.

The GP blog has a page for the project and information regarding the project. The artist in residence programme is included as an insert in GP practice leaflet.

deAppendix has been short listed for the Allianz Business to Arts Awards which will bring the project to a wider audience.

McMahon was also invited to speak on the project as part of PhizzFest 2013.

Dates

November 2012 – present

Lead Organisation

deAppendix and Amaranta Family Practice

Funded By

Ciara McMahon (Amaranta Family Practice)

Location

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown

Web Link

Artist(s)

Ciara McMahon, Deirdre Glenfield, Kathy Herbert, Maria Soffe, Marie Claire Cassidy, Myra Jago

Artform

Architecture, Film, Visual Arts

Context

Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of Project

Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Performance, Residency, Training/ Continuous Professional Development


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