Artists flex to Westmead behavioural unit needs

A safe space for patients is integral to Westmead Hospital’s newly-refurbished ​ aged care Behavioural Management Unit (BMU).

So too will be the artwork in the unit’s sensory room. And it’s not lost on those behind the piece, Dianne Turner and Peter Dwyer (pictured above).

Artists-in-residence at the newly opened Arts Lab at Westmead, the pair is busily finalising the artwork to ensure it meets the form and function requirements of its health environment.

“We’re looking for it (the artwork) to provide the interface between art and functionality as it serves the patient,” Peter said.

“Our key objective is for the artwork to be of use to the patient. Artistically, it’s an opportunity to express our need to create.”

Dianne said the combination of generic, safe motifs with functional components had been an absorbing challenge.

“We’re trying to push the boundaries, sensitivities and sub-conscious so the patient is engaged,” Dianne said.

“A patient will go into the room to think, reflect, and touch the artwork.”

The 1.5 metre by 1.2 metre piece made up of tiled tablets uses an eclectic mix of design elements and artistic tools.

A landscape narrative, white stoneware and earthy clays of red and brown combine with functional elements including switches, buckles, slides and barrel bolts. These “everyday” components helped Dianne and Peter meet the critical needs set out by occupational therapists.

“It’s all tactile,” Peter said. “You need to be able to run your fingers over it and feel it.

“And yet in the middle of the piece there’s a very functional element helping the patient interact with doorknobs and switches that relate them back to their domestic environment to help make linkages to home and real-life situations.”

The pair was quick to acknowledge the work and expertise of the project’s “third team member”, Malcolm Cooke.

“We’re blessed with being linked with one of the artists pivotal to the Arts Lab project,” Peter said.

“Malcolm’s working with us and guiding us into how this mural can be best integrated into Westmead.

“Having an artwork in a hospital space is new to us and Malcolm’s experience of working with (Health and Arts Research Centre director) Marily Cintra is guiding us in how this clay project should unfold in its structure and process, and fit with the occupational requirements at the other end.”

Dianne said it was this team approach between arts and health that struck to the core of the project’s success.

“There are site visits, meetings with directors, managers, occupational therapists, infection control… It’s been a new experience with the arts and hospital requirements,” she said.

“Art is integral to the spirituality and emotionality of this hospital.”

  • Dianne Turner is director and founder of Parramatta Clay and Arts; Peter Dwyer is the group’s president.