I’ve been pondering which slide from the Visual Resources Centre I’d adopt for some time, fully aware of the enormity of the task – both in terms of the precious nature of the material and the infinite possibilities. I recently had the dubious pleasure of sitting with my pallid, fellow patients in the waiting rooms of both my GP and the local hospital, where we were subjected to the psychological battery of some dim-witted middle managers idea of entertainment; the local radio station, 96.9 The Bay. Force fed sound – local adverts, inane chatter and music I’d not subscribe to. But it was the walls of the rooms that drove me to despair, peppered with nastily framed monstrosities that are the feverish delusion of local ‘artist’, Chas Jacobs, (no link offered…do your own google search).
Imagine some bilious flattened-out, artless rendition of purgatory, dressed up with figments of your own home town – a fifth-hand rendition of an opiate addict’s directions from one tourist hell-hole to the next. L.S. Lowry’s simpering, punch-drunk offspring perhaps? If some arts/health researcher had taken bloods, saliva, heart rate etc, they would have found my mind and body grievously assaulted by this deficit of imagination, in its bargain-bucket approach to aesthetics. Unnecessary harm was inflicted on me by our dear NHS. Too many people make assumptions as to what arts/health is about, and I guess this just sums up that misapprehension. Contemporary arts/health is more interested in the social determinants of health and when I think of our health being political, I’m fully aware the the arts are political too. The inequalities that act as barriers to health equality play a part in the way culture is understood, propagated and accessed.
So my choice from this archive of material wasn’t going to be some half-cocked choice, but something that resonates to the area I work in – in popular culture and some small liberation. The most thrilling part of a journey across England recently was the emergence of the eight water-cooling towers of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. In the early morning sun, these sentinels thrilled me to the core. Give me the Kalgoorlie Super Pit over any divinely created Arizonan land gash. Intelligent design? No. Imagined and created by human minds and hands. Quite thrilling. Weren’t Bernd and Hilla Becher tapping into this, through their meticulous documentation of our industrial landscapes? It’s natural then, that I’m drawn to this sumptuous little slide of the Agecroft Power Station taken by John Davies in 1983. In the shadows of those giant cooling towers, people play football and live their full and rich lives. The blink of an eye. Those aggregated urban fantasies of our latter-day Fauvist, Chas Jacobs, are all cloying nostalgia and sentimental gibberish, pedaled to the masses as lowest common denominator ‘art’. Waiting for invasive and unpleasant treatment in hospital, works wonders on the imagination and my tendency to anxiety. This gibberish pap increases those levels of irritation and adrenaline.
For my part at least, the countryside can indeed be enhanced by a carefully positioned smelting unit, giant wind turbine, or sentinel pylon. Derek Jarman’s little shack is only what it is because it hitches a ride on the shadow of Dungeness’s advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactor. No potted plants can detract from the beauty of this, the ultimate provider of all our consumer needs! So, yes, I’d rip down the tat from my hospitals walls and replace them with the melancholic beauty of Agecroft Power Station. Something to think about, not some spoonfed cultural sedative.
Clive Parkinson, Arts for Health