THE emergency department of a hospital is a place where few people want to be, but for three Warrnambool artists it has become a source of inspiration.
As part of an innovative program based on the old idea of artists being embedded with the military, Gareth Colliton, Andrea Radley and Karen Richards spent many hours over a three-month period observing the drama of the Warrnambool Base Hospital’s emergency department (ED).
The resulting exhibition is EmbedED, which not only puts an artistic spin on the ED but also highlights the different ways artists can interpret similar situations.
Not that the artists had the same experiences during their time in the ED, Colliton said.
“Karen and I had very opposite experiences,” he explained. “Karen saw someone die, she saw trauma, she saw lots of blood and lots of distress.
“My experience is very quiet.
“I saw a lot of people waiting for test results.
“I saw people who were lonely or avoiding the GP fees because they were poor.
“I saw the elderly, the frail, the inebriated people who got in trouble in some way or another.”
Richards’ experiences manifested in a range of artworks, some of which are small tapestries bearing mottos or oft-repeated catchphrases heard in the ED, and Radley focused on the stories of the people who came to the ED and how they ended up there.
But Colliton’s time in the department made him reflect on “the idea we’re not looking after people socially” and that some people just needed a bit of attention, even in the form of a placebo, to feel better about themselves.
The creation of his art piece co-incided with new studies being undertaken into the power of placebos, leading to him building his own “placebo machine” — an arcane and intriguing device that features “historical medicines and remedies that have been debunked or are dubious throughout history”.
Featuring everything from Chinese bezoars to Christian prayerbooks, from voodoo to vibrators, Colliton’s bizarrely decked-out dentist chair is a world away from the works created by Radley and Richards.
Yet all have been inspired by effectively the same thing.
“That’s the beauty of it — we all noticed different things,” Colliton said.
The EmbedED project was the brainchild of Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine (CREM) director Tim Baker. The exhibition will be officially opened on Saturday from 6pm at SCOPE Galleries in Kelp Street, Warrnambool, by Perth-based artist and researcher Guy Ben-Ary.
It runs until December 21.