The Balloon Tree is a pair of sculptures by artist Róisín de Buitléar commissioned by Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) for its new Outpatient and Urgent Centre at Connolly Hospital and its Emergency Care facility at Tallaght University Hospital.
As part of the development of the proposed artwork, the artist engaged with children, young people and their families attending CHI in Tallaght, Temple Street and Crumlin in May / June 2018. Participants made postcards for loved ones which explored the concept of the travelling balloon.
The artworks were commissioned in 2018 with the aim of connecting with the child in all of us, offering surprising discoveries and creating moments of magic and wonder for children, young people and families attending CHI.
In 2017, staff, families, children and young people told us that they wanted artworks in CHI that would:
- Appeal to children of all ages
- Provide colour and light
- Provide diversion while waiting and during diagnostics and treatment
- Make it clear that it is a space for children
- Give a strong identity to CHI
- Help people find their way around
- Engage children in play
- Welcome people to the hospital / centres.
The Balloon Tree by Róisín de Buitléar playfully welcomes children, young people and families to the CHI Outpatients and Urgent Care Centre at Connolly and the CHI Emergency Care Unit in Tallaght. Both trees have similar construction methods but one is round and plump, the other tall and conical. Both are reminiscent of a child’s drawing and filled with colourful glass balloons which nestle in their branches. Just as these centres take care of children and young people, the trees gather up the ‘lost’ balloons and mind them. Balloons also ‘float’ through the buildings, turning up in unlikely locations – corridors, stairwells, waiting and procedure rooms.
In the words of the artist: ‘I was inspired by young people I met from the CHI Youth Advisory Council [during the Research and Development phase of the project]. In their wish list were the following ideas: an airy atmosphere while in hospital, something that would inspire you to escape the mundane, a feeling of optimism, of the outdoors, something that would surprise you, or something to make you smile. They specifically wanted something that would appeal to a child and teenager.’
The artwork was selected as part of a bigger programme of public art for CHI public realm spaces called The Child in All of Us. The artist was selected through a process of open competition to participate in a 12-week funded Research and Development phase in 2017, which offered an insight into the scale and ambition of the project and opened up a dialogue between artist and commissioner.
During this phase the artist met the design team to understand the concepts underpinning the building design and to explore the potential for integrating artworks into it, met members of the Youth Advisory Council to get an insight into a patient’s experience of hospital services, and learned about the constraints that apply to placing artworks in healthcare settings. At the end of this Research and Development phase, shortlisted artists submitted detailed proposal(s) for artwork(s) from which The Balloon Tree was selected.
The commission comprised three stages of work:
- Design development from March – December 2018 (with two stage gates) during which the artist mitigated risks associated with the proposed artwork and engaged children and young people via The Postcard Project.
- Fabrication took place at different stages between January 2019 and October 2021.
- Installation in CHI Connolly took place in June 2019 and in CHI Tallaght from October to November 2021.
As part of the Design Development stage, the artist engaged children and young people attending CHI Crumlin, CHI Temple Street and CHI Tallaght through a series of creative encounters in the play rooms and at the bedside in which children, young people and their parents imagined where travelling balloons might go to through making a series of postcards to post out to loved ones.
The trees were made from welded steel by Grogan’s Engineering in Dublin and the balloons were mouth blown by Róisín at Benefield Spencer Studio Glass in Northern Ireland for Connolly and at Pierini Glass Studio in France for Tallaght. All were finished at the artist’s studio in Dublin.
The Balloon Tree comprises two steel sculptures fabricated by Grogan’s Engineering, one which now stands in the atrium of the Outpatients and Urgent Care Centre at Connolly Hospital, and the other in the new OPD and Emergency Care Unit in Tallaght. A number of mouth-blown balloons are captured in the trees and others ‘float’ through the building, settling in unlikely places such as phlebotomy rooms, behind reception desks and in other procedure rooms.
Documentation and Dissemination
The Balloon Tree at CHI Connolly was launched in November 2019 with a storytelling session for children facilitated by Fiona Dowling and a Q&A session with the artist.
The fabrication of the balloons for CHI at Connolly and the installation of the sculpture was documented in a short film by Morgan Creative. This was viewed by children, young people and families waiting in the Centre: https://vimeo.com/343256619/01319b4ffe
A shorter version of this film was released via social media: https://vimeo.com/599700340/6110709e11
The Balloon Tree in CHI at Tallaght was photographed by Brian Cregan.
Date of Publication
March 2018 - November 2021
Children’s Health Ireland (CHI)
The Research and Development phase of the commission was funded by the Per Cent for Art Scheme.
The Balloon Tree commission was funded by the National Children’s Hospital Tallaght Foundation.
Róisín de Buitléar
Acute Hospitals, Children, Paediatrics
Nature of project
Public art commission