Filling the need created by illness | Pamela Baldacchino

The 10-month, interdisciplinary project Deep Shelter, led by Pamela Baldacchino, will seek to create artistic interfaces that can provide help and comfort for those undergoing cure in hospitals and other clinical contexts. Baldacchino tells us about the project, for which she is collaborating with a number of local artists.

"Illness creates a need, which can then be translated into visuals that aims to fill that original need"
Pamela Baldacchino
Pamela Baldacchino

How did the idea first come about?

The idea emerged from the overlap of two areas of study, namely my degrees in nursing study and digital art. It gives way to the investigation of transdisciplinary art and falls within an art form, defined by Kwon (2004), as ‘New genre public art’. Such art practice is seen as being a way of creating an experience within the audience that provokes an analytical reaction or a way of ‘pleading the case’ of suffering endured by individuals or groups. The experience of personal ill-health also served to direct my work. Illness creates a need, which can then be translated into visuals that aims to fill that original need.

As an artist, I am very much concerned with the process of empathy, and my work can be seen as a sort of empathic attunement, using nature as a mediatory and metaphoric agent. The work will thus aim to let nature be compassionate with its viewer by ‘being there’ for the ill person. Empathy is visually expressed using an art process which aims to undifferentiate distinction. That is, losing the distinction between the sufferer and the empathic listener by visually and symbolically showing states that merge into one another. An example would be the flesh of the artist’s hand as it becomes one with the flesh of the sea or as a loss of boundaries between sea, sky, earth and tree.

What are the initial challenges being faced?

The project is just starting so the initial challenges are those concerned with getting the ball rolling. Artistically speaking, I need to build narratives and research the content for the filming together with the logistics of the actual filming and consequent editing. Anna Runefelt and I are filming aspects of our ‘home’, that is, a southern and northern European context.

The concept of home is in fact important because health can be explained as a ‘homelike being-in-the-world’, a ‘non-apparent attunement, a rhythmic, balancing mood’ (Heidegger, 1962). In this way, the artistic research searches to investigate ways of being at home with the aim of stimulating rhythm, balance and flow. Anna Grima is working with a language of icons, symbols and geometric abstractions, where she strives to create equilibrium by balancing opposing forces. 

However one cannot work in a vacuum, and so social media and promotion become a fundamental aspect of artistic work that needs to be addressed. I am presently working with Enrique Tabone regarding social media strategy and liaising with Matthew Cumbo on the creation of a website for Deep Shelter. Design and branding are in Pawlu Mizzi’s capable hands. This leads to the challenges of negotiation, coordination, compromise and organisation between all involved.

How will the collaborative process happen?

As yet, I am in the process of meeting individually with the different contributors so everybody gets started on their own work. The next step will be to work with Luke Baldacchino who will compose music specifically for some of the visual works together with digital motion graphics artists Luke Galea and Ryan Galea who will also contribute. We aim to get together end of January hopefully with a website available and some visual works. The curator Raphael Vella will also be involved in the process.

Can the project help the ill person?

The process will be looking at a thematic that encompasses narrative, presence and being with. This is done through the exploration of flowing, cyclical and regenerative spaces. Research will be carried out to analyse ‘how and in what ways?’ the art created can help to soothe the patient or client or whether it can help the therapist in the exploration of perception and interpretation, thoughts and emotions through the narrative created by the artist. 

Haworth (2007) explains that the availability of visual art can help bridge any distance between the health care giver and the receiver. It can help foster understanding of self and of others (Edmonds and Hammond, 2012). This will help individuals move toward seeking to create new meaning within their life.

The project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Pamela Baldacchino is based at the TakeOff business incubator at the University of Malta, which helps technology and knowledge-based start-ups and entrepreneurs transform their ideas into investor-ready and market-ready businesses.