© Pam Baldacchino

From the series, 'The Desire for Infinite Extension' (2014)


This project is a 10 month, interdisciplinary process that serves to create an audio-visual language that can be used within a hospital or clinical context. This language will be shown, through digital means, within places of constraint, such as hospitals and within places of exchange such as museums.

The project aims to integrate artistic research with research carried out in the context it is being shown in. The artwork will be shown to two types of audiences – the target audience, who will consist of nurses and therapists (the CARE PROVIDERS), patients or clients (the USERS) within a hospital or clinical setting and the second audience, who will be the people visiting a museum space or centre for creativity (the VIEWERS).

This will serve to expose art to new audiences so as to expand and increase society’s engagement with art content.

© Pam Baldacchino

Pam Baldacchino, 'Heartbeat', Sanctuary, St. James Capua, Sliema (2014)

Photographed by Anna Runefelt


Within the hospital and clinical setting, this language can be used in two distinct scenarios:

  • as a way of triggering an empathic response within the patient/client so as to sustain empathic dialogue with the healthcare professional or therapist, and
  • as a way of reducing the patient/client’s anxiety, fear and pain.

Ulrich and Zimring's (2004) research team revealed that exposure to nature and art was found to divert from pain and distress. These include a reduction in anxiety and stress levels, as well as, negative emotions such as fear, anger and pain levels.

The digital art work, once created, will be exhibited in St. James Cavalier, Valletta and the auditorium at Mater Dei Hospital. The project will thus run on parallel tracks and will show how the context can affect the artwork:

  • hospital/clinical site: necessitates a mobile space, a portable tool that creates a space of shelter and empathy
  • exhibitory site: necessitates a grounded, aesthetized experience that creates an interrogative space that places the individual in a kind of posture that contemplates presence and temporality.

One needs to consider that illness has figuratively speaking already ‘tilled the land’ so one can proceed to sow the seeds of possibility. These can be presented through the visual art narrative. However, in the exhibitory setting, people visiting the space need to be reminded of the raw nature of the illness experience. In order to do so an installation will be designed to capture a level of abjection and pain that resides with illness.

© Pam Baldacchino

From the series, 'The desire for infinite extension' (2014)

Artistic Research

Artistic Research is being carried out on the nature of digital artwork an ill person can be exposed to. 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. The circadian rhythm as the basic structure of the day from morning to night and the interplay of elements are part of the symbolic language chosen.

Nature is ideally positioned to be used as a metaphor of the self and of one’s journey through life. One can analyse how elements encounter other elements leading to boundaries that collide, flow, merge and evaporate.

If one had to look at the sea, its nature is quantifiable (its elemental materiality is the measure of space that clarifies the basic ratios of the world, Ratzel, 2010), it is also contemporarily ageless, timeless and endless. Its pervasiveness (surrounds the globality of the world) and silent qualities give it an immanent nature (has transcendental value). This makes it encompass within it “the sum of all diversities” (Tillmann, 2012) and is thus a language understood by all, whatever the social, religious or cultural practices of the individual.

The creative process will look at particular qualities such as immanence, pervasiveness, timelessness, silence and endlessness (all unquantifiable quota). “Endlessness is invisible, but it can be felt, heard…” (Michelet, 1987, p.23 quoted in Tillmann, 2012). The continuous and permanent cyclical changes of nature allow the viewer to note that “this endless and elementary event of coming into being and passing away raises the question of the relationship between being thrown into time and timelessness” (p.9).

© Pam Baldacchino

From the series, 'The contemplation of Presence' (2014)

Aims and Objectives

Dr. Pam Meecham, Professor of Education and Museum Studies at the University of London, pointed out during the VIVA’s Curatorial School (summer 2014) that major museums are today experiencing a shift towards providing platforms of access that are mainly directed towards health and wellbeing followed closely by spirituality. This is because a museum needs to be a place where people feel at home – it is for the people.

Art work created from this perspective, that is, work to provide a space of empathy, wellbeing and regeneration is thus a valid point of departure in today’s contemporary need for art to be accessible, not only to the academic but also to any random person in a street. The art created will not be about abstract, unreachable concepts but will form from a need, a felt need that seeks to understand our common condition of being, of presence and absence, of life and death, through the cycles of nature.

Research will also be carried out to analyse ‘how and in what ways?’ the art created can help 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.

Project Location

The whole process of artistic creation, exhibition and research will take place in Malta with some filming being done in Sweden. This is because the filming process will be linked to the concept of home by the artists themselves, Pam Baldacchino (Maltese) and Anna Runefelt (Swedish). Health is in fact explained by Heidegger in Being and Time (1962) as a ‘homelike being-in-the-world’, a ‘non-apparent attunement, a rhythmic, balancing mood that supports our understanding in a homelike way without calling for our attention’. In this way, the artistic research searches to investigate ways of ‘Being at home’ as analogous to ‘being healthy’ with the aim of stimulating rhythm, balance and flow.

The developing work will be shown to clients attending the private clinics of psychotherapist Melissa Agius and homeopath Alda Anastasi and St. James Hospital, Sliema.

Exposure to the work will be held during an exhibition within St. James Cavalier, Valletta as well as the auditorium at Mater Dei Hospital. In this way the exhibition will be held within a museum context and also shown at Mater Dei Hospital as an extension of the project’s primary site.

© Pam Baldacchino

Digital artwork being viewed within the hospital ward in St. James Hospital, Sliema, Malta (2014)

Photographed by Anna Runefelt

Art Form

My work falls under the title 'New genre public art' (Kwon, 2004). Kwon sums up practice as being a way of:

  • creating an experience or process within the audience that provokes a reaction that is analytical in nature
  • or a way of 'pleading the case' of suffering endured by individuals or groups
The first goal of such practice will thus be satisfied during the art exposure research to be carried out with therapists and health care professionals and their clients/patients in private clinics and St. James Capua Hospital, Sliema. The second goal will be the scope of the exhibition where people will interact with the digital work produced. The project will thus be designed to be 'consumed' anywhere, making its primary site as elastic as its discursive one.

The expansion of art into culture and the social arena has led to it being less dependent on the actuality of its location and more on the discursive origin of its conceptual background. So even though one needs to consider that the site of ‘intervention’ (physical) is bound in a way to its locational and institutional circumstance, the site of effects or reception (discursive) is distinct from it.

The project also challenges the nature of artistic authorship, being designed so as to do away with the need for the artist to be an essential part of the process of its dissemination. The therapists and nurses in this case are given autonomy to handle the artwork themselves. However it still highlights the role of the artist as a promoter or narrator. In this way, the role as artist is not only a physical one, such as filming or writing, but develops into a set of activities that include the ability “to negotiate, to coordinate, to compromise, to research, to promote, to organise, to interview” (Kwon, 2004, p.51).

Anticipated Project Outcome

Throughout Deep Shelter project, one seeks to find a means to reveal the illness narrative, to encourage the individual to unearth the memories and feelings that reside within.
The viewers will be occupying two different contexts – the hospital/clinical context that aims to create a safe space of empathic discourse and understanding whereas the exhibitory context aims to engage the viewer in an empathic dialogue with the self and with others so as to create social awareness of the illness experience.

An appraisal of the artistic object and aesthetic experience gives way to an experience or process that provokes within the viewer a reaction that is analytical in nature. The relationship between the art and the site is no longer permanent but fleeting and unrepeatable, being directed towards a more social and cultural critique that focuses on everyday life and related issues rather than its exclusivity.

A recent shift from site-specificity to community-specificity pushes the artist to engage the audience, particularly marginalized ones, in the artistic process. Chronic and serious illness does in fact push the individual into a sort of exile, both socially and physically (as embodied experience). Work in this area is centred around a humanitarian plight. Such work focuses on ‘pleading the case’ so as to create awareness of suffering endured by individuals within specific communities. My work, humanitarian in essence, is thus concerned with social awareness, as will be the exhibitory setting for the project. However, Deep Shelter tries to go beyond this boundary by aiming to create understanding primarily for its user, the marginalised themselves.

Art will thus be created as a symbolic language that in its nature allows individuals to open up their horizons and, in breaking this boundary, gives them the space and the ability to transcend the raw presence of pain. It allows one to “condense the intensity of pain in the present, the possible explanations for it in the past, and the potential transformation for the future” (Marxen, 2011).