Artist, puppet designer/maker and writer Corina Duyn became ill with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) aged 36. No longer able to live independently, she moved to Signacare Nursing Home aged 59. Realising that she needed to take action to maintain her creative spirit, Corina issued a plea to her friends and contacts to help her find a way. Catherine Drea, Chair of Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT), heard the call and a new connection was forged between WHAT artist Caroline Schofield and Corina. Caroline is a freelance visual artist who has worked with WHAT since 2016, delivering programmes in different healthcare settings.
The project originally aimed to discover new ways that Corina Duyn could continue to work within the increasing limitations imposed by her illness, and within the confined space in her nursing home room. As the project progressed organically, the idea formed to create an exhibition with the intention of illustrating this new collaborative creative process, and the evolution of an artist adjusting to a new life in full-time care.
‘There is always a way’ – Corina Duyn
During a year of working together in Corina’s room in the nursing home, the artists spent time learning, being surprised, inspired and excited by each other, their practice, their methods and their approaches. They began to shape a way of working together, a new creative process which allowed Corina to push the boundaries of her physical limitations and realise her artistic ambitions. They explored new materials, but also re-used many puppetry-related elements from Corina’s past work to re-examine her new circumstances.
Corina and Caroline are both makers. They found their new approach different to how they had previously worked. By making, and exploring ideas, they had a creative conversation which was process-driven.
The artists worked each week in Corina’s room for an hour and a half. Most of the work they created came from recycled items of Corina’s, such as puppets and art materials.
In the midst of this process, Corina made the brave decision to face her greatest fear and create work which confronted her move into long-term care: ‘I fought the impulse to make art about this life-altering time, but it was too strong. I had to accept and act on it.’
‘We started with a mono print process, but this quickly developed into a conversation about home and independence. At first Corina did not want to explore this area and thought this was being brought up by our art practice. On reflection, Corina realised that the cause of the upset was the move from her home into full-time care, and that making art allowed her to express that.’ – Caroline
Each week over the course of this extended research phase, as the artists got to know each other, ideas and thoughts developed: ‘We were very lucky to be supported with time for this conversation, without the pressure of having to produce. For example, the ‘puppet room’ we developed came from an initial conversation about mapping out on the floor the space that Corina lives in, to an entire room being constructed by her nephew. This happened because of the time given to explore possibilities. We couldn’t know, until the work was exhibited, how that piece would capture the essence of our collaboration, while showing the audience Corina’s every day, 24/7 living space.’ – Caroline
The 18-month collaboration culminated in the exhibition ‘I brought the dream of flying’ at GOMA Gallery of Modern Art, Waterford, from 14 January to 11 February 2023. The title of the exhibition was inspired by a broken-winged bird puppet which accompanied Corina when she moved into her nursing home.
At the official opening, guest speaker and artist Pascale De Coninck led a tour of the exhibition. Over the duration of the exhibition, three further public talks took place – for artists, for healthcare workers and for arts and health programme participants.
Corina Duyn created a short video of the exhibition at GOMA from her perspective.
The exhibition toured to Creative Brain Week at the Naughton Institute, Trinity College Dublin in March 2023, at the invitation of Creating Aging International and with funding from Creative Ireland.
This project has been reviewed and evaluated in the following ways:
- Artists’ documented reflections
- Review meetings at the end of each phase of the project with the artists and the project managers
- Regular feedback from artists
- Feedback from nursing home staff
- Discussions and informal review with nursing home management
- Feedback from attendees to the exhibition and to the public talks
- Exhibition review by arts journalist
This project has been impactful in several ways.
From the art making perspective:
The original aim of devising a new way for artist Corina Duyn to continue working was realised through the new collaborative creative process she and Caroline Schofield developed together. In spring 2023, Corina is continuing to explore art making with Caroline, but she is also making art independently and has initiated a new art project in her nursing home, involving the staff and other residents.
‘Collaborating with my co-artist was, for both of us, a big learning experience: to understand our different arts practices as well as finding ways to work together. While I slowly accepted the ‘use of her hands’ to create my ideas, we brought many into being. Our connection often changed the direction of the works, as well as fine-tuning them. A beautiful collaboration.’ – Corina Duyn
For Caroline, this project has also broadened her art making: ‘As an artist, I am normally leading. This was a very different way of working. Getting to know Corina, an artist in her own right, collaborating. To be given the time to work together and have an evolving creative conversation built confidence. I learned so much from Corina, how she works, her way of thinking, how she makes and re-uses. Working with Corina through this collaboration opened up ideas and valuable learning as an artist.’ – Caroline Schofield
In terms of communicating the wider issue of an artist moving into full-time care, the exhibition has had a significant impact, as evidenced by documented feedback:
‘I found out and now understand things I didn’t before… I saw things from different sides. I have a better understanding now why art is important in healthcare settings.’ – Healthcare worker
‘I thought the exhibition was a great insight in the life of Corina and her day-to-day struggles. I thought it was wonderful how the different pieces told their own story.’ – Healthcare worker
‘A human story of hope, inspiration… a beautiful, heart-rending exhibition… a story of frustration and resilience… My heart soared as Corina Duyn’s dream of flying made it to the gallery and set the creative spirit free to inspire others.’ – Liam Murphy, The Munster Express
‘The exhibition “I brought the dream of flying” at GOMA Gallery of Modern Art Waterford was wonderful. The place was buzzing! There were many heartfelt conversations about the importance of people’s voices being heard – and how powerful the arts is for sharing stories and meaning, which furthers understanding and dialogue between all who connect. The partnership between artist and writer Corina Duyn and visual artist Caroline Schofield (via Waterford Healing Arts Trust) clearly required a deep level of listening, sharing and trust. Their moving exhibition speaks volumes.’ – Karrie Marshall, Director, Creativity in Care CIC
‘This exhibition and collaboration between Corina and Caroline is very interesting and certainly thought provoking around sustaining creativity while coping with ME.’ – Arts Centre Manager
‘This project really works: Two artists, working collaboratively, bringing their work to the community and showcasing how creativity can take place in unexpected places. Corina and Caroline have broken boundaries and shown us how a nursing home can be a place of creativity. That’s such an important aspect of this.’ – Katherine Collins, Creative Waterford
Documentation and Dissemination
- The project has been documented in film and photographs by photographer and videographer Keith Currams, including imagery capturing work in progress with Corina Duyn and Caroline Schofield, in addition to the ‘I brought the dream of flying’ exhibition.
- Both artists captured the collaborative process photographically.
- Corina Duyn has created a film of the exhibition at GOMA from her perspective.
- The exhibition launch at GOMA was livestreamed in order to reach the many supporters of Corina and Caroline’s work who could not attend in person, in particular the worldwide ME community.
- The project was discussed at three public talks in GOMA, Waterford, and a further public talk as part of the exhibition at Creative Brain Week at the Naughton Institute, Trinity College Dublin.
GOMA Gallery of Modern Art