The concept of the St Ann’s mural was to harvest or ‘garner’ the language of people’s experience of the hospice. With that very special language I have not produced prose or poetry, but rather have let the list of single words ‘speak’ for themselves. Many people will discover resonances and connections that are personal to them when they see the words.
At the centre of the work is the considerable time I spent in conversations at St Ann’s (and at their Wythenshawe Neil Cliffe Centre) with in-patients, day-care patients, nurses, doctors, volunteers, managerial staff, social workers, receptionists, families and fund raisers. My list soon became a long one and from it I have selected the words included, not in a scientific way but in a way that seems to happen when language is ‘made visible’ in my personal, non-typographic, style. Many words chose themselves because they often came up in those interviews. Other words struck me as ‘offerings to the future’ in the sense that we do not know how those words might communicate to others in circumstances impossible to second guess.
Only two words are specifically placed: ‘connect’ is in the top left corner of the picture inviting the viewer to do just that. The other word deliberately placed is at the bottom right corner: ‘courage’. In between, among an explosion of words, is ‘love’ inside of which hides ‘fear’ which might start a different sort of conversation, maybe even a debate. There are other four-letter words: care, calm, hope and – yes, this is not an exercise in word-avoidance – pain. Obviously I do not see this as a definitive list; how could it be? Rather, it is more a hint as to this very ‘site-specific’, particular context of language.
There are places on journeys where spoken and written language cannot go, but somehow we seem to continue to struggle with it all. As the novelist Penelope Lively writes: “Language tethers us to the world, without it we spin like atoms”.
The word ‘strength’ is included as, soon after I started on the enterprise, the founder of the hospice movement, Dame Cecily Saunders died. In her obituary I read about her discovery that ‘as the body become weaker, so the spirit becomes stronger’. The word ’strength’ was often mentioned in my conversations and became the first word I chose to include. I will be interested to hear from staff and others how the piece is seen and even ‘used’ over the coming months and years. Perhaps this is only a beginning. . .