What this collaboration between artists and health leaders teaches us about how to experience COVID-19

New project that highlights the pressure COVID-19 puts on our health systems and the people who work in them has invited health leaders and artists to create works of art that illuminate what it has been to lead, work and live during the pandemic.

The culmination of this collaboration is Topsy Turvy, an interactive digital exhibit initiated by Maridulu Budyari Gumal’s strategic knowledge translation platform SPHERE (Sydney Partnership for Health Education Research and Enterprise) aimed at changing the future health care.

Topsy Turvy is a random image generator that makes combinations from a bank of drawings and texts inspired by COVID-19 experiences. Users can choose to keep, delete, and resize until they feel they have an image that resonates.

The artists worked with health leaders to sum up the tone of COVID. Photo: Topsy Turvy.

To create Topsy Turvy, 15 leaders affiliated with SPHERE shared images, songs and thoughts about working within and with the healthcare system during the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020. Together, these contributions offered a rich palette of images and texts – to record a Dylan-style song on a meditative film of dragonflies above a water lily.

Topsy Turvy was created to translate various experiences of COVID-19 through drawings, text and sound. In turn, these elements have been transformed into an interactive digital platform where people can create their own visual expressions.

Healthy art

Creative responses to health (care) and well-being are increasing in health care settings and in the arts.

Arts-based approaches allow people to connect, express themselves and share their knowledge about important health and social issues. Some experiences, such as physical or emotional pain, can be difficult to express, and the arts offer other ways to explore and convey them.

These projects can also involve diverse populations, generate empathy and fight inequalities.

Collaborative storytelling

For Topsy Turvy, artist and creative director (and one of the authors of this article) Barbara Doran, and artists Anton Pulvirenti, Peter Maple and Annie McKinnon took stories provided by health leaders and have used as sources to create an interactive digital environment, giving audiences the chance to create their own COVID-19 collage. Using the platform, audiences can reinterpret leaders’ contributions to tell their own story.

“Topsy Turvy made me think of the healthcare industry, how many perspectives and experiences are different from where we are today.” Katrina Moore, UT.

Peter Maple described how the words and photographic material provided suggest dominant feelings, rhythms and moods. Anton approaches drawing as an act of listening where he looks for common themes while imagining how drawing styles can open a kind of non-verbal conversation with storytellers. Annie McKinnon created this interactive digital exhibit similar to a live concert, where audiences can dance and experience together.

“I work in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sydney Sickness Hospital in Randwick. I was actually with a COVID patient last night. I should have taken a picture of myself this morning with the air completely exhausted! ” India Heap, intensive care nurse.

The leaders who contributed to this exhibit lead great teams within healthcare organizations. Peter Joseph, president of the Black Dog Institute, started swimming in the ocean in winter as a new COVID-19 activity. For the Topsy Turvy exhibit, he shared a photograph of six ocean swimmers in winter. He wrote:

COVID demanded that we stand back and think about what’s important and not get caught up in the conditions. I have learned to be more open and expansive, understanding that in the grand scheme of things we are tiny and here for such a short time.

“My brothers and sisters all live in worrying LGAs with a strong police presence. The portrayal of them is oversimplified, unable to take into account the complexity and depth of cultural and religious traditions.” Stéphanie Habak, Black Dog Institute. Topsy Turvy.

Amanda Larkin, Executive Director of the South West Sydney Local Health District, located in a COVID-19 hotspot, celebrated “the power of large-scale collaboration and the changes that can be made.” Kate McGrath of the Sydney University of Technology agrees: in research, education and industry, “the imaginary and self-created divisions between disciplines and institutions disappear in the face of this level of change.”

“We celebrated the power of large-scale collaboration and the changes that can be made.” Amanda Larkin, Executive Director of the South West Sydney Local Health District. Topsy Turvy.

Les Bokey, professor of surgery and clinical dean at Western Sydney University, wrote about “adapting very quickly to a new environment”. This included changing operating rooms to only treat emergencies and Category 1 patients. “It has been an unforgettable year, more like a year to forget,” he noted.

Work creatively in 2021

SPHERE Executive Director Mark Parsons said:

Unsurprisingly, in 2021, the themes continue to resonate. The COVID-19 situation in Sydney has posed enormous challenges to our health systems. Sometimes the systems in place are unable to reach affected communities quickly. We have to work creatively to be able to respond better.

Artists Peter Maple and Anton Pulvirenti agree that the arts offer different ways of listening, imagining, and sharing complex feelings and experiences.

Since the launch of the exhibition, new collages and thoughts have been shared. For Katrina Moore, Program and Community Manager at Sydney University of Technology, the experience of interacting with Topsy Turvy has made her:

think about the health sector, how many perspectives and experiences are different from the current situation […] My image was pretty layered and busy… a reflection of my current mind, I guess.

You can create your own collage at Topsy Turvy and see the growing gallery on the #sphereintheknow Instagram page.

The conversation

Barbara Doran, Lecturer in Creativity and Innovation, Transdisciplinary School, UTS, Sydney University of Technology; Ann Dadich, Associate Professor, University of Western Sydney; Chloe Watfern, Scientia PhD student, UNSW; Katherine M Boydell, Professor, UNSW, and Stéphanie Habak, researcher, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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