Southmead Hospital's public art film

A new film by Josh Gaunt explores the role that art plays in the new Brunel building at Southmead Hospital Bristol. Interviews with members of the project team and artists commissioned to create artworks for the new hospital address questions of why art should be integrated into the fabric of the building, what role it plays, and why the artists have responded in the way that they have.

The public art programme was led by Willis Newson. Underpinning the project is a close collaboration between North Bristol NHS Trust, architects Building Design Partnership (BDP), the commissioned artists, Carillion and Willis Newson.

“It’s been a journey that started in 2005,” says North Bristol NHS Trust Head of Capital Planning, Tricia Down. “So, 9 years ago we started putting pen to paper as to what we wanted to achieve. We had 6 key design criteria and, within that, was the idea that if we could create interest and distraction and put in some really high quality art that it was really going to benefit patients and the environment,” she explained.

“For me, that’s all a part of defusing stress and anxiety and I think that can only be done with artwork, and with landscape and greenery,” she added.

The theme of ‘function’ was a common one addressed by the artists interviewed for the film.

“I want the appearance to be serving a function,” said Jacqueline Poncelet, who created a series of decorative garden screens and seating.

The screens are sited between carefully chosen seating to create beautiful spaces in which patients and staff may sit, engage with nature, be private or take a breath of fresh air. The screens use a pattern of leaves from the Ginkgo tree which is known for its medicinal properties and has a beautiful, butterfly-like shape. They cast shadows making patches of dappled light through the day and night. The softly polished surfaces reflect ambient colour, subtly changing as the light moves over them.

Ally Wallace’s sculpture, Coloured Discs, is a series of 9 coloured metal discs, mounted onto aluminium posts in a deep welled courtyard. The discs are viewed from above and appear as floating circles above the planting.

 “You might just look out the window and do a double take and smile to yourself. That might be enough” said Ally Wallace, describing the intended impact of his work.

Patient Patients a series of 5 bronze sculptures of injured animals by Laura Ford landmark the key zones of the hospital, connecting them and drawing people across the hospital site. A bear with a sore back, a hyena with an injured neck and an elephant with a lump in his trunk will be seen in the Lime Tree Park approach leading to the main entrance of the new hospital. On the Square, outside the main entrance, will be a lion with a bandaged paw and three monkeys sit near the entrance to the Emergency Department, nursing their injured limbs.

“I remember when my son was ill,” said Laura Ford explaining the idea behind her work. “The thing that helped him with his ailments was to go round and look at these posters of other illnesses and somehow his empathy with them took his mind off what was wrong with him.”

The work of Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayón, the first he has made for a hospital, consists of a series of sculpture groupings for each of the 3 courtyards, which open off the main hospital atriums.

“For the works for the hospital, it was important to give a positive message and to bring hope in one way or another to people,” said Hayon.

Other works in the hospital include Peter Randall-Page’s sculpted stone water feature for the Medical Day Garden, which is made from a naturally eroded granite boulder from Dartmoor which he has carved in low relief in a rippling pattern. Water emerges from the top of the sculpture to flow gently over its entire surface, creating a calming and meditative space for waiting patients and visitors.

Tobias Rehberger has created a series of hanging neon sculptures for the three main atria of the hospital. They also function as binary clocks. Each of the 78 neon light elements work in sequence to tell the time and draw attention to the passing of time, connecting patients and staff to the wider world around them.

These integrated art commissions sit alongside works in public areas made in collaboration with hospital staff and with local schools; pictures in all patient bedrooms; as well as changing exhibition and performance spaces and a community arts room.

Andrea Young, North Bristol NHS Chief Executive said: “The art at Southmead Hospital Bristol helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, which is important for people’s sense of wellbeing. There are special places where people can have a quiet moment for reflection, there are things to help you feel more cheerful and things to comfort you. The art is helping to make Southmead Hospital a better place to be for patients, visitors and staff.”

Willis Newson was advised by Theresa Bergne of Field Art Projects on the selection of three of the artists, resulting in the appointment of Laura Ford, Jaime Hayon and Tobias Rehberger.