Hospitals are institutions of healing, but it is not unusual for them to be stark and clinical in their aesthetic, offering little in the way of a healing atmosphere or life-giving art-based activities. At the VERGE Conference at TWU on September 26 and 27th 2019, a health researcher (myself) studying sacred spaces in hospitals, and a photographer (Hannah Kirkham) who captured these spaces for a project in London and Vancouver hospitals, offered a visual analysis of how art can contribute to healing, sacred spaces. In publicly funded hospitals, the priority is often given to funding biomedical technologies, procedures, and highly trained staff and administrators (all of which are important), but a modest investment in creating aesthetic beauty can do much to lift spirits and bring perspective. Increasingly, the links between positive health benefits and aesthetic engagement are being documented in research. My vantage point as health researcher involved analyses of how aesthetic spaces could become prayer spaces, even in clinical settings.
From a photographer’s vantage point, hospitals can be notoriously difficult to photograph in, particularly as one aims to capture the ethos and the human element of hospitals while maintaining confidentiality and, quite simply, not getting in the way of clinical priorities. In the above photo, the empty stretcher in a highly technologicalized environment evokes a sense of waiting and asking, “who will next inhabit this space?” This photo is taken in the space where a pre-operative patient’s requests for prayer slowed down the hospital proceedings until a chaplain arrived. While this is a photo of a clinical space, its aesthetic representation conjures an emotional response to reflect on the lives that pass through the operating room.
Photo credit: Hannah Kirkham