Time in Our Lives is a series of limited-edition illustrated books designed to engage participants and staff in creative conversation and art making during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The project was devised and led by visual artist Sarah Ruttle as part of the Arts for Health Partnership Programme in community hospitals in West Cork.
Eleven participants in five different locations across West Cork. Arts for Health participants were invited from St Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital, Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals.
- To explore new methods of meaningful creative interaction between artist, participant, and staff, responding to the challenges of isolation and physical distancing.
- To develop and reconfigure roles and relationships with healthcare staff in the delivery of the project on-site; being sensitive and responsive to the challenges they are negotiating during the pandemic.
- To forge and navigate new pathways, and learn new skills in remote communications relevant to visual art practice.
Over a two-month period visual artist Sarah Ruttle shared a series of postal parcels and video call conversations with participants with the support of healthcare staff. A series of three handmade artist’s books were created for each participant. Each of the books was a starting point in a creative conversation. They were illustrated with drawings and prints to inspire and guide the residents in their own creations to mark this challenging and unique time in our lives.
Sarah seeks to create artwork that is well considered and made with attention to detail. Intricately made books were presented to each participant in gold envelopes with illustrated stamps. The intention was to create a special moment for participants from first impression. The inspiration for the first book was the dedication of our healthcare staff. Through a series of drawings and prints participants explored ‘Who or what makes a difference in your day?’
The second book opened up as an accordion, seeking to offer delight and intrigue, and explored the theme of people who have ‘inspired, mentored or taught you’. The third book was a pop-up which considered ‘the difference a friend has made’. The pop-up market scene introduced a conversation around community and its impact.
Each book was thoughtfully made to provide the opportunity for genuine connection. Following one-to-one conversation through online sessions, some participants responded by sending their ideas back in the post while others shared images of artwork.
Time in Our Lives was a visual art project re-imagined for the lockdown period. A number of potential challenges had to be taken into consideration before and during the project, for example: How would a video-call conversation rather than an in-person interaction change the engagement? How would talking to the artist on screen impact on someone who may be experiencing cognitive differences? How would a creative collaboration work using both postal elements and new technologies?
Healthcare staff have played a vital role in the continuation of Arts for Health projects during the pandemic. Their new role involved practical tasks such as managing and arranging the parcel deliveries, to a more complex collaborative role of translating and mediating the artist’s intentions with residents, as well as participating themselves in the conversation.
One participant’s story inspired another and Time in Our Lives was made in the exchange between artist, the residents and staff.
Limited-edition series of handmade books for each participant.
Participants responded both through creative conversation and through letter correspondence, with one participant sharing a meaningful place through a painting made by a late family member.
Continual evaluation and consultation took place both during and on completion of the project through phone/zoom meetings with Arts for Health Programme Manager Justine Foster. Feedback from healthcare staff and management supported the development of online and remote creative engagement.
Sarah Cairns, Activities Director at St. Joseph’s Unit, Bantry General Hospital, shared feedback in conversation with artist Sarah Ruttle:
It was lovely that people could take that quality time in ‘one to one’ conversation. When the pandemic came residents were separated from their family… to have the focus on them in that intimate conversation, to have that connection was massive. Knowing the participants from previous projects you can help someone feel they belong and in the conversation it’s like two old friends chatting.
Residents being asked their opinion is something we need to encourage and have flourish. When you start chatting with someone it’s an ongoing conversation and through the books there was a story in its questions so when you ask questions the story has already begun. The drawings came to life….there was regular and recognisable links for people and it was inspiring.
Artist Sarah Ruttle describes how the project has inspired collaborative making in new ways during remote engagement:
I was thinking about how to translate a visual art project remotely and how collaborative making might work practically. The learning from Time in Our Lives gave direction to the development of further remote connections. One example is a print-making session with participants, where a participant’s Lino drawing was posted back to me. The Lino drawing was cut and printed during online engagement, with the participant choosing the colour and composition for their artwork.
Learning from Time in Our Lives also led to the development of Dancing in the Gloaming, a collaborative remote project with singer-songwriter Liz Clark in autumn 2020. Liz shared stories and songwriting with Arts for Health participants while Sarah explored lyrics visually with more Arts for Health participants across West Cork. Participants’ ideas on bringing their ‘story’ to life led to an experimentation in stop motion as it translated visually through screen rather than a traditional flip book.
Documentation and Dissemination
Time in Our Lives has been shared on the Arts for Health website:
Date of Publication
May – June 2020
Arts for Health Partnership Programme, West Cork
Lead partner is Arts for Health Partnership managed by Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre with the HSE, Cork Education & Training Board, Cork County Council and Arts Council Ireland. Local project partners are HSE Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Community Work Department.
Nature of project