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Leeds General Infirmary

Kate Mellor Response

I was asked to submit a proposal for this commission because the co-ordinator of the project - Gail Bolland, had previously seen "Wasteland" a commission from the Untitled Gallery, (now Site) Sheffield. This was photographic work made around an area of lowland peatbog that was under threat, and the images I made were very much about the unique physicality of the landscape - its completely organic nature.

The project in the cardiology unit at the LGI was a huge challenge as although landscape was asked for (almost my sole area of work) the requirements for "non-threatening landscapes" were very specific and based on a particular piece of research. Usually my work would develop from varying and disparate sources of research and even while images made use of an aesthetic of beauty the statement made within the work was critical. So I was not so sure how I would deal with making work which needed to be positive in content and effect.

While working on this commission I came to find that there were differing opinions on a cultural basis as to what constituted a non-threatening image and which qualities within my images tended to be related to and by whom. There was a definite gender difference, for example, with women responding to softness and shelter, and men responding to space and graphic clarity. In Hobart, I even met someone who disliked and distrusted nature and who had, while staying in hospital, asked for some landscape photographs to be removed. None of this contributed to my acquiring a sense of assurance about the photographs' ability to fulfill the requirements.

Water, however, seemed to be one element responded to by everyone with the exception of some more abstract images of gold coloured water. These had a negative response from viewers (independent of the committee of the charity Take Heart and hospital representatives) as they were reminded "of bile" and used adjectives like "nauseous" and "bilious" to describe the way they were affected. Burnt, blackened and regenerating eucalypts were also controversial as they could be viewed from a European cultural perspective of black being associated with death. These were accepted by the organisers of the project - the regrowth of the extremely beautiful leaves and shoots interpreted positively.

As regards the individual photographs, I determined to make these accessible, relating to those who had interests separate from art but also not to exclude anyone who had spent half a lifetime looking at obscure art photography like myself. I had decided on an approach that emulated the way we perceived and related to our environment, making series of images echoing the way we look around in order to grasp the particular location and acquire a sense of place, grounding ourselves.

Initially I had proposed that these images, in their lightboxes, should be arranged in irregular groups of varying numbers of photographs but eventually they came to be installed in triptychs because of limitations due to the way the room lighting and false ceilings were designed and installed. I was unsure about this arrangement of triptychs as it seemed to me to be latching into a specific and historic form of presentation which I felt might lessen the concept of the physical relatedness to the environment and put it more into the context of "the artwork".

I also had concerns that the landscape in which I had found myself, though undeniably beautiful and much of it quite "pure", was very dynamic, one of visual extremes, and perhaps too vivid to function in a gentle role. Ultimately, though the final effect of the work, now that there are people in the ward and the images are actually being used and related to, is incredibly upbeat and expansive, bringing the outside world into the ward without being dominating or threatening and given the average age range of those using this unit entirely appropriate.

© Copyright Kate Mellor 2000