Cloudlands is a new performance arts and technology project produced by Helium for teenagers with chronic illnesses. One day a week, artist Rachel Tynan visits teenagers who are on an extended stay at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, providing them with a creative outlet to voice their stories, thoughts, and imaginative ideas.
Rachel has been working throughout the hospital including the dialysis unit, where patients can be restricted for up to four hours on a dialysis machine. When Rachel first meets a young patient she asks them to choose one of the boxes from her blue suitcase. Each box contains a different object which can inspire the patient to begin a story: a burnt map, a blue feather, a long balloon, a bird x-ray. Once the teenager begins their story, Rachel joins the story-making journey, ready to improvise with art materials, hospital furniture, and imaging technology.
Rachel explains: ‘Each teenager has their own story to tell and each one is unique. There is no way of knowing what we’re going to be doing during the day. This is the exciting part of the project. The magical moment is when we start talking about a possible story and the teenager and I have different ideas that we can evaluate and express together. It also means that I don’t know what I’m going to need so my suitcase is like a bottomless bag which usually explodes into life as each session gets under way. Trying to get everything back into it isn’t easy. I enlisted the help of one child to sit on it while I zipped it up!‘
Rachel finds there are recurring themes of flight in the teenagers’ stories; an angel that flies at night-time, a flying horse, a phoenix. The teenagers have the opportunity to first tell their story, then make the characters using sculpture, drawing, or puppetry techniques, and finally bring the story to life by making an animated film, which they can bring home on a DVD.
The young people will soon be able to share photos of their work and their stories with teenagers taking part in the Cloudlands project in Cork and Galway University Hospitals through an online forum developed by Helium. Response from the teens is positive. One 15 year old patient described the project as ‘limitless’, a place where he could do anything. Hospital staff are very supportive and have remarked on the importance of a project that focuses specifically on teenagers in hospital, as they have few activities for this age group.
Cloudlands Dublin is produced by Helium and has been funded through the BNP Paribas Foundation Smart Start Programme. Cloudlands Dublin is taking place at Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, Dublin and is further supported by the Arts Council, The Ireland Funds, Dublin City Council and HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster.