ixia: public art think tank

ixia has taken over the ownership and management of Public Art Online from Arts Council England. The design and content of the website are currently being reviewed.

Bookmark and Share

Leeds General Infirmary

Location: Leeds General Infirmary, UK

Artist: Kate Mellor


Fourteen images of Australian landscapes featuring trees, water and open countryside, the work of Kate Mellor, are installed in the Day Case Unit (DCU) of Leeds General Infirmary. The large colour transparencies, each measuring 550mm x 550mm, are displayed in light boxes set into the ceiling above the beds in the Unit, either singly or in groups of three making up a composite image. The installation in the DCU was completed in 1997, and is a pilot for the installation of further images by Kate Mellor as part of the same commission in other areas of high dependency care. The photographs were commissioned by Arts in Healthcare, now called Tonic, which delivers the arts programme of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.


The idea for the commission developed slowly, and the commission itself stalled at a number of points and took a long time to realise. Research published in the British Medical Journal in 1994 showed that post-operative delirium in patients coming round after invasive traumatic surgery and treatment with narcotic drugs, raises the heart rate and creates stress, delaying patient recovery or even leading to death. The delirium can be prevented by bringing patients back to consciousness in normal rather than clinical surroundings, especially in rooms with windows looking onto natural landscapes. Gail Bolland learned of this research and was keen to take the opportunity to move the hospital art programme towards commissioning works which would have a positive physiological effect and hence assist patient recovery.

The Cardiothoracic Unit, a six bedded windowless unit, was identified in consultation with medical staff as an appropriate location for a pilot scheme, with the idea of extending the project to the Intensive Care Unit and other high dependency areas if the pilot was successful. Take Heart, a Trust with the purpose of improving the hospital environment for heart patients in Leeds, agreed to fund the pilot project and the Institute of Work, Health and Organisation at Nottingham University agreed to undertake an evaluative study of its clinical and psychological impact. Yorkshire Arts Board was consulted about possible photographers for the commission. Kate Mellor, a photographer from the region with an interest in landscape and who had recently won an award for her work, was invited to undertake the commission in 1995.

Artist’s Brief

The brief was a very specific one. It asked for 20 images based on the findings of the published research on the effect of environment on patient recovery, and required the artist to consult with staff in the Day Care Unit. It indicated that the images would be reprocessed as positive transparencies 540mm x 540mm to be displayed backlit in light boxes which would replace the standard 600mm x 600mm tiles in the suspended ceiling. Kate Mellor was provided with a fee and materials/travel expenses to produce 20 images; the reprocessing and display costs would be paid by Arts in Healthcare. In order to find landscape images which the research indicated would have a positive effect on patient recovery, during the English winter months of January and February, the artist visited the states of Victoria and Tasmania in Australia. Here she produced landscape and coastal photographs for the commission.

Day Case Unit

While the commission was in progress, new medical equipment was introduced into the ceiling above the beds in the Cardiothoracic Unit. This prohibited the installation of images into the ceiling of the Unit. The two Consultants involved in identifying the original location suggested the Day Case Unit as an alternative because it was a cheerless, windowless ward where day patients had to remain still for long periods whilst undergoing unpleasant tests, with little privacy and no distractions. Planning continued for this new location, but before the installation could be made, the DCU was move into the new Jubilee Wing. This again delayed the project but did allow the necessary wiring to be installed in the ceilings of the new DCU, other intensive care wards, and other locations where light boxes might be installed in future, including Accident and Emergency, children’s and adult wards.


Installation was delayed because the light boxes had to be specially manufactured to fit the standard spaces in the suspended ceilings. There were also lengthy negotiations with the architects of the new wing over the number and distribution of light boxes that the ceiling could bear. Eventually, 14 light boxes were installed in the Day Case Unit, four composite images each with three sections and two single images. A handout is available in the Unit telling patients about the images and the project and patients can request that the light boxes are turned off. Patient and staff feedback has been generally extremely positive. A further eight new images and duplicates of the images already used are available for installation in other locations in the hospital.


The evaluation study by Nottingham University took advantage of the relocation of the Day Case Unit to create control data at the old DCU and then to test patients experiencing the art work in the new Jubilee Building Unit. The blood pressure, pulse rate, attention span and stress levels of patients were monitored, and they were also invited to report on how they were feeling. The introduction of the art work was not the only variable which the researcher had to take into account in analysing the data. At the same time as the DCU was relocated, a small rural hospital at Killingbeck was closed and moved into the Leeds General Infirmary. He therefore had to factor for the resentment of staff who were being moved into alien surroundings after been taken over by a large Trust. Some of this resentment attached to the art work as a manifestation of an unfamiliar culture. This negative reaction from staff has disappeared over time.

The research compared data collected in the old Day Case Unit, in the new unit without light boxes and in the new unit with light boxes. It found a significant improvement in patients’ stress levels measured physically, and in their perception of their physical condition in the new ward compared to data from the old DCU. There was no difference in the physical data collected from patients in the new unit without the light boxes and with the light boxes in place.

However there was a significant improvement in mood and perception reported by patients viewing the light boxes compared to data from patients without light boxes.

© Copyright Joanna Morland 2000