My Father Is The Wise Man Of The Village

By Ruth Macpherson, 28 November 2002

My Father is the Wise Man of the Village is a catalogue and DVD of work produced by Artlink’s Fusion programme. Artlink has existed for about 14 years, bringing artists into the hospital environment. This programme, took place over two years in hospitals in Lothian, Scotland Fusion had two elements, one dealing with patient/artist collaboration and the other with the commissioning of artwork for the hospital environment. Fusion is an intelligently constructed project which has taken into consideration the many possible problems of such contextual practice, engaging with both patients and hospital workers.

Initially, within the collaborative programme, recreational workshops were set up within the hospitals to enable the establishment of contact with potential participants and also identify individuals who may wish to develop their work further.

The collaborative work operates on many levels, from enabling participants to realise their ideas in a different medium or a larger scale (e.g. Viscount by Patrick Hoey/Paul Barham) to work that addresses the issues of collaboration (e.g. K448, Dougie Lawrence/Robert Bridges and Michelle Naismith). There is nothing prescriptive within these collaborative relationships which have obviously benefited from long-term engagement over two years.

The commissioning programme featured the work of eight artists and it’s in relation to this side of the programme that the DVD is particularly strong. Video interviews with hospital workers who observed or were involved in the production of the works reveal a shift in understanding; one that gradually abandons the notion that art is a painting hung on the wall in order to ‘brighten up’ the environment.

Both strands of the programme offered a platform for the development of participants’ understanding. The presentation of the collaborative work is also low-key and avoids exploiting the condition of the patient-collaborators as an element of the work. The DVD and book compliment one another and give a holistic view of the work that was undertaken. If I were to pick any bones I would only argue that some of the camera work within the video sections of the DVD was a little too dark.

The question that remains of a project that displays this kind of good practice is ‘What next?’. With Lottery arts funding increasingly focusing on the idea of sustainability, are projects like these simply one-offs? My Father is the Wise Man of the village: Explorations in Collaborative Practice // Artlink and The Fruitmarket Gallery // 2002 // ISBN 0947912185

Ruth McPherson <ruth macph AT> is an artist and writer working in various 'community arts' roles, most recently running a digital video and photography project from Skypoint in Faifley