Image shown: Interior shot of Liminality installation. Photo by Marcel Vidal

Image shown: Liminality seminar facilitated by Tina Kinsella.

Image shown: Liminality time donation change over. Photo by Susan Walsh

Image shown: Street view of Liminality installation by Ciara McMahon. Photo by Marcel Vidal

Image shown: Body as Site of Liminality panel discussion. In photo from left to right Tim Wainwright


The participants in this project included:

  • 15 time donors
  • 11 seminar facilitators
  • 3 art students
  • 50- 60 participants in the seminars
  • Innumerable people on the street.


Transplant recipients are unable to attend large public gatherings due to their immunocompromised status. The project participants repeatedly expressed frustration at being unable to, in their eyes, adequately communicate to the wider public the experience of being on a transplant list. They felt this communication is imperative, given the acute shortage of donor organs and the increasing financial pressure on healthcare budgets.  Liminality sought to address some of this frustration by creating an interactive, participatory fine art project.

Additionally, the project discussed some of the wider implications related to or arising from the altruistic act of organ donation. Liminality consciously and provocatively asked the gallery visitor to consider such life and death scenarios: How do we react to an experience of helpless waiting and might such an experience inform our day-to-day living or decision making.

By juxtaposing a mute, quasi-performative act with discursive theory rich seminars Liminality questioned the relationship or hybridity of theory and praxis within the contemporary sociopolitical climate. Finally, the project discussed the changing relationship between fine art practice and the health sciences.


The Leaky Self  was a multi-platform collaborative project which resulted in four intertwined outcomes, one of which was Liminality, a participatory project based at NCAD Gallery. The Leaky Self included a web blog – used amongst other things, to document the progress of Liminality – a film short and an undocumented participatory, community based event called the Café Event.

The Leaky Self evolved through a nine-month period of literature review, extensive interviews with participants and experimental film recording.  The Leaky Self was about talking, discussion and dialogue and thus Liminality was a natural element of this larger project.

Liminality consisted of a multidisciplinary installation in the NCAD Gallery and a web based blog where documentation became part of the work itself.

The gallery was divided into two areas by a semi-opaque plastic curtain. A seminar area furnished with domestic chairs set side by side with a ‘clinical’ area containing a dressed hospital bed, a drip stand, and a beside chair in addition to an office desk, a height measuring scale, a weight scale and various other medical equipment.

During gallery opening hours the artist remained confined in the hospital bed, wearing nightclothes. The public were invited to take part in the projects discursive seminars or Time Donate to the project by replacing the artist in the installations hospital for a limited time period.

Liminality thus included a quasi-performance by members of the art going public, actors and the artist. It also included a program of intimate theoretical seminars; several large format talks with invited speakers; a sculptural installation and performative responses several second year NCAD sculpture students.

Evaluation Methodology

The project was evaluated through a combination of verbal feedback from seminar participants and members of the Living Gift Transplant Support Group, written feedback by participants in the performative part of the project, a visitor’s book in the NCAD gallery itself and finally invited comments via the projects associated blog.

Evaluation Outcomes

The project provoked, questioned, elicited discomfort and challenged viewers. The following quotes were received from participants / viewers / visitors:

‘This is unusual because you chose to put this in a gallery rather than in a hospital or health care setting.’

‘Passing the window got worse as the week went on. It just got more and more horrible seeing you in that bed every day.’

‘How can this be art?’

‘I couldn’t go into the gallery – it just freaked me out’

‘I couldn’t make myself do it (donate time). I just couldn’t get into that bed, when someone else had been there.’

‘I thought I’d feel awful in the bed, but really it was very comfortable. Lying there, watching the world go by.’

‘What you are doing it just fantastic. It’s really great to get awareness out there, make people think about what waiting for a transplant really means.’

‘It felt so uncomfortable discussing this stuff, knowing you were there in the bed on the other side of the curtain. Made it more real somehow.’

Documentation and Dissemination

The documentation of this project included a commissioned printed catalogue with texts by Tina Kinsella and Emma Dwyer; a web blog incorporating still photography; short video clips in addition to diary-type written entries and a theoretical text by the artist.

The project was reviewed on-line on Recirca.

And more recently the project was discussed in the July-August VAI newsheet by Sheelagh Broderick.

Finally the artist has given a presentation on the project at a medical humanities conference at Birkbeck College London and at the IRL conference, RDS, Dublin.

Project dates

June 2010 – February 2011

Lead organisation

Living Gift Transplant Support Group

Funded By

The Artist and NCAD Gallery, The Arts Council’s Artist in the Community Scheme Managed by Create Project Realisation Award


Ciara McMahon


Visual Arts

Healthcare context(s)

Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition


Dublin City


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