Grampian Hospitals Art Trust

Lois Carson Exhibition at Grampian Hospital Arts Trust

On viewing Aberdeen based sculptor Lois Carson's exhibition at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, we find ourselves looking at what could be a collection of inverted 1960's Claes Oldenburg pop art sculptures – durable soft pillows made solid, not perishable junk food made pliable. Mass made objects rendered unique through the manipulation of substance not form. Carson has attempted to imbue each pillow with its own unique identity. By doing so she has subverted Warhol's cynical repetition and granted it a personalised familiarity.

These sculptures quietly scream at us to touch them. The expectation of soft texture is aborted when one's hand caresses the hard resin surface. The sweetie wrappers cannot be ruffled in some fruitless search for a chocolate or the mussel shells disturbed.

Whose head was resting on these pillows? What became of them? Have they gone off for a walk or a cup of tea? Have they recovered and the pillow is now awaiting a new head to comfort? Has the patient not recovered and passed away? Whatever the outcome, the pillow still stands immobile, awaiting its next head to comfort.

One of the pillows, cast with Portsoy marble set in resin, was initially displayed during the private view on the floor. This gave an inkling of what impact the show may have had if the pillows were displayed horizontally and not vertically. The pillow is now safely exhibited on a plinth on the floor, safely categorised as an art object within a gallery. Perhaps the gallery is too restrictive a setting for this show. One can't help but wonder the effect of the pillows being exhibited on beds randomly selected around the hospital. But this is to be slightly harsh on the artist, being constricted by understandably stringent health and safety regulations inherent in a hospital setting.

Carson is currently studying for her MFA at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. The main concerns of her thesis lie in conceiving a model for how an artist in residence can engage with both the employees and the users of an institution, and how they can be encouraged to communicate with each other more effectively. Carson hopes that through this dynamic the artist in residence can be a visible force to effect positive change.

To demonstrate this model Carson displayed three panels of opaque pastel colour in green, red and ochre respectively which might be three options for wall paint for the hospital. Gallery visitors on the opening night were given bags containing colour samples corresponding to each panel and were invited to pin their bags to the coloured panel of their preferred choice of wall colour. A simple count of bags pinned to each coloured panel would then provide a democratic snapshot of the opinions of the people who use the hospital on a daily basis. This exercise, although the results were not being utilised by the hospital management at the time, provides a compelling working model of how an artist can be a catalyst for debate and enfranchisement within an institution.

Iain Connell

Aberdeen November 2006

© Copyright Iain Connell 2006