continuance seeks to explore the human experience of isolation suffered by tuberculosis patients.
In 1959, Clare’s grandfather was diagnosed with TB and kept in isolation for a period of more than 12 months. Today, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the world’s most lethal bacterium causing over one million deaths per annum. Clare proposed to create a temporal event that connects cells of our being to a celestial body used to determine time. Using images of moon phases and tuberculosis cells in culture, the work reflects on the period of isolation endured by Clare’s grandfather.
My grandfather, Patrick O’Sullivan, died before I was born but we share traits, a birthday, a name, and he was a keen photographer. I knew he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and kept in isolation for a long time when my mother was a young child but I wasn’t aware of TB’s ongoing prevalence today and the new efforts in immunology research until talking with my friend and PhD Fellow, Emer Hackett.
Preliminary discussions and an early exchange of ideas between myself and Emer spurred concepts around isolation of process and experience. Emer’s research involves a process of isolating white blood cells and the images of cells in culture generated by her research have an inherent lunar appearance. With lunar phases we naturally think of the moon in terms of months of time, so I was drawn to the idea of connecting cells of our being to a celestial body used to determine time.
In September 2016, while on an astronomy-based residency in Italy with Lumen Studios, I studied lunar phases and photographed the moon through a telescope. I wanted this project to connect images from a microscope, that looks within us, with images from a telescope that looks beyond Earth. The moon appears as an empty, lonely space but it is Earth’s constant companion, reflecting sunlight into our darkness.
In January 2017, at Emer’s lab in St James’s Hospital, my blood cells were processed and used to create an image of TB cells in culture. I felt that using my own blood cells for these images connected me and my grandfather to the work. Professor Joseph Keane facilitated my access to their laboratories and clinical isolation units in St James’s Hospital and ensured the project received the full support of the research team. This meant I was also able to visit Hospital 5 Unit 2 at St James’s Hospital where I met nursing staff and TB patients and photographed their isolation rooms as they are used today.
While I was researching this project, I had contacted my aunts and uncles who were small kids when my grandfather was in isolation. My aunt Marie who was six in 1959 shared with me a letter that she had written to my grandfather. He had kept it in his prayer book until he died, which meant a lot to her as well as the annotations he had made to it. In the letter, she asked him to come home for Christmas. My mum, Breda, remembers that he did make it home on Christmas Day. He was allowed home for a couple of hours and arrived in a wheelchair, barely recognisable, frail with a long beard and bundled up for warmth. The moon I used for the continuance installation is a Christmas Day moon from the NASA Archives to mark that.
I asked Sound Artist Rachael Dease to score the work and create the sound design. We had talked about the sounds of space in terms of frequencies and pulses. Rachel utilised tones, frequencies and also breaths as she said the project made her think a lot about the struggle for air. She also included a vocal response to Marie’s letter, words that repeat and come through like memories or dreams – ‘now come home for Christmas to us please’ – obviously words that weighed heavily with my grandfather.
The continuance video depicts a month of lunar phases; the viewer watches the passage of time over the moon. It is intended to be a very slow work; I’ve purposely made some parts slower than others as a reflection on how we experience time. There are parts where the shadow seems to move with the intake of Rachael’s breaths. At the half moon point I’ve slowed it a lot, as half-moons are so clock-like and reminiscent of sundials or timepieces. So that part is painfully slow, like clock-watching, you’re almost wiling it on. In the first half of the video the phases are a blend of the moon with a cell image so the moon looks a bit rotten or a bit off. The cells become very clear at the full moon scene and I then remove the cell image completely so you’re left with a bright, clear, hopeful moon.
A second video work, continuance (today was longer), was filmed in a deserted hospital also while I was on residency in Italy. A rotating camera captures ‘light trails’ and orbiting details mimicking Earth’s rotation within the still spaces. Earth’s rotation is slowing slightly with time due to the tidal effects the Moon has on Earth; so a day was shorter in the past. Atomic clocks show that a modern day is longer by about 1.7 milliseconds than a century ago. The title of this piece is based on that idea and also how isolation affects our experience of time. This work is intended to be shown in an adjoining room where sound from the moon installation leaks into the room with Rachael’s sound design and voice haunting the space.
Outputs from this project also included medium format photographic work and digital photographic work.
An installation of continuance was showcased as part of Trinity Week 2017 in the Science Gallery Dublin from 9-13 April 2017.
continuance was also included in the Planetarium Screenings at the UK’s BlueDot Festival from 7-9 July 2017, curated by Lumen Studios London.
In April 2017, Clare was invited by Trinity Creative to discuss her project and creative process at ‘The Constellations Series’ at Trinity’s Long Room Hub. The Constellations Series is a programme of public events exploring the entanglement of creativity, artistic practice, and research. The series features artist-researchers, particularly those who cross disciplinary boundaries. Clare’s presentation reflected on the aims and outcomes of the project as well as her creative process.
Inspired by the research of Emer Hackett, this became a very personal project about my grandfather’s illness and the effects isolation had on him and on his young family. I wanted to create an experiential installation, a space that someone could walk into and have a feeling of being alone and how slow time can seem to move through isolation. But there is hope and recovery in the work, just as there is great hope in the research and continued efforts of the incredible scientists and healthcare professionals I was privileged to work with.
The installation at the Science Gallery Dublin spurred many conversations with visitors about their own personal stories of family members with similar experiences. Members of my own family described the work and process of my research as cathartic and healing. Trinity Creative’s support and trust in me as an artist together with their encouragement and facilitation allowed the work to evolve and grow. This interdisciplinary collaboration took the work to a level I could not have achieved on my own which has had a hugely positive impact on my practice, future work, and collaborations. It has certainly opened my practice to new audiences in Ireland and beyond.
Rachael Dease: ‘I set out with an attempt to mirror and enhance the notion of time and metamorphosis. The beauty and mystery of almost unperceivable change, combined with the monumental power that it holds, I believe is one of the reasons we continue to draw our eyes upwards, and one of the reasons Clare’s work is so compelling. Our fragile humanity has been intertwined, both through biological sample and the tender letter from a child to a father. The pull towards our loved ones is as minute and as powerful as the shadow cast over the moon and I hope to have reflected this with tone, sound, breath and frequency.’
Emer Hackett: ‘It was great to be involved in the project as it gave me a renewed appreciation for the context of my research. It’s easy to lose sight of the human experience of the disease when studying tuberculosis in the lab. The project helps to promote awareness of our clinical research through cultural recognition as well as promoting values of accessibility and values of inclusiveness and openness.’
Documentation and Dissemination
The project outcomes and processes were documented by the artist and shared online. Images, videos, and information on continuance are available on:
continuance, video work sample: https://vimeo.com/213951199
continuance (today was longer), video work sample: https://vimeo.com/211534169
An artist interview was commissioned by Trinity College Dublin, part of which is available online: www.facebook.com/trinitycollegedublin/videos/vb.150084778339964/1688223051192788/?type=2&theater
Documentation was shared through Trinity Creative’s social media channels:
Trinity Creative; Trinity Translational Medical Institute’s TB Immunology; Research Group at Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St. James’s Hospital Dublin; Science Gallery Dublin