In 2010 Vong and Claire were approached by Belinda Harward, Arts Director St. George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, to create a site specific light installation for the Special care Neo-natal baby unit at St. Geoges Hospital. They were given the following brief:
Brief Special Care Baby Unit (S C) – art commission for light work
Development of a stand-alone unit for 14 infants still in need of medical observation and specialist care. Most of these infants are pre-term and some have undergone complex surgery soon after birth. Having experienced the trauma of intensive care and/or high dependency S C in most cases is the last step before home. Here, infants learn to feed and put on weight in preparation to being taken home. There are no visiting restrictions and for the first time parents can care for and get close to their baby.
Care is a balance between quiet and stimulation. There are quiet hours in the afternoon when lights are dimmed and infants are not handled. Stimulation is touch, listening and looking at things. Infants will mostly be in their cots placed on their back or held by a parent. Infants in S C take anything from a few days to a few months before they are well enough to go home.
Ideally, all cots would have daylight and in this Unit only five, possibly six benefit from daylight. The opportunity for art lighting is the ceiling area, the single elevation of windows and the central storage units which may act a ‘hub’ for exchange.
Audiences (ranked for importance)
Parents – “petrified”, but now with their child/children in S C there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. Parents see their child progress and visually from incubator to cot in S C. But the reduction in medical equipment, alarms and staff numbers in S C initially scares parents. After a couple of days they see their baby is OK, relax and get more involved with their baby.
Infants – their eyes move erratically and in the first few days after birth they see objects in outline and in black and white. As they grow they see more colours but sharply contrasting colours next to each other are more visible to them.
Staff – a team of 6-8 nurses whose primary role is to support parents and ensure the family goes home together well and confident.
The art work needs to contrast with the highly technical dialogue and instrumentation of intensive care.
An important indicator of infant health is skin colour. Pink is good and blue, grey, yellow is bad. Therefore it is important that reflective colour does not impede our ability to register swift changes in infant skin colour.
Constant noise, say from equipment and voices provokes stress and hinders infant recovery and development.
All wall surfaces carry medical equipment and are not suitable for an artistic intervention.
‘Light of Day’
Commissioned work for the Special Care Neo-natal Baby Unit at St. George’s Hospital, London.
As part of the process of developing this work Vong and Claire invited Mr Zahid Mukhtar (consultant specialising in general paediatric and neonatal surgery at St. Georges and head of the unit) to their studio for an exploratory interdisciplinary session. The resulting exchange of ideas was both poignant and thought provoking and led to the following points of departure for the concept:
Vong and Claire produced this work on a not for profit basis as a mark of respect and support for their local NHS hospital