A Cleft In Time
Science Gallery London
Public engagement commission as part of the 2016 'MOUTHY' Season
Commissioned by the Science Gallery London, the public engagement arm of 'A Cleft In Time' took place in 2016 as part of the 'MOUTHY' Season and in collaboration with CLAPA, Clinical Psychology at the Evelina London, King's College London and the South West Cleft Service. Interactive art workshops incorporating hands-on use of dental materials were led by Simon Hall alongside collaborators across the arts and sciences in order to educate, inspire and challenge young people and the general public regarding the narratives of those growing up with cleft. The public engagement events culminated in the production of a collaborative installation for display in the healthcare setting aiding public education. The collaboration with Science Gallery London builds upon on the project arm with the South West Cleft Service, offering artistic opportunites for young people with cleft to enter creative spaces in which they explore their own journeys and provide feedback on their experiences through sculpture, writing and craft.
Outreach workshops with local schools
With Oasis Academy pupils and K+ widening access participants, the schools workshops specifically explored the potential challenges young people with cleft palate may encounter growing up. Moving away from body image and the visual nature of cleft lip, this rippled, individual and hidden surface at the roof of the mouth is vital for speech and eating. The impact of a cleft palate upon a young person as they grow can be considerable, yet is poorly understood by the general public.
At the centre of the project within the ‘MOUTHY’ season were the voices and opinions of young people. An open and relaxed platform was created for them to discuss and learn about the topic with their peers alongside being able to spark conversation from engaging professional experiences and expertise. With enthusiastic collaborations from Clinical Psychologist Dr Lottie Williams, CLAPA young person’s worker Sally Carpenter, dental researchers including Dr Saoirse O’Toole and assistance from KCL dental students, the young people from local schools filled the sessions with interesting and insightful discussion.
The depth of exploration was enabled through tactile exploration of silicone cleft palate casts, use of dental materials, discussion with professional collaborators and sharing of lived experiences by young people with cleft via video. Together participants explored the wider implications of growing up with cleft palate.
The physical act of playfully making their own hard palate impressions and casting them in coloured plaster helped participants to consider the hidden elements of cleft palate and they left with a greater understanding and appreciation of facial difference.
The participants themselves were also collaborators, with their hard palate silicone casts then re-used as part of the final installation to be exhibited for public display and education.
Teenagers from Oasis South Bank Academy take part in a workshop with the Science Gallery London exploring silicone models of cleft palates and casting their own using dental materials. (All images with permission)
As part of the MOUTHY Season at the Science Gallery London, the general public were also invited to take part in pop-up workshops within the 'Oral Emporium' - an art/science space housing collaborations and events. The Cleft In Time project created a laboratory environment, with dental materials for participants to explore.
The colourful and abstract plaster casts created by participants aided discussion regarding facial difference. The individuality of this important yet hidden part of our body was compared between participants in the hands on use of materials.
In discussion with health professionals and artists, as part of the creative space participants could take part in casting their own hard palates within the laboratory environment in order to open dialogue and challenge preconceptions regarding cleft.
They could also engage with the stories of young people growing up with cleft told in their own words through audio clips collected through a parallel collaborative event with the Cleft Lip and Palate Association (CLAPA) at the National Portrait Gallery.
Participants were encouraged to question and challenge during the workshops, with art and science professionals on hand to aid discussion. By engaging in such a manner, the space allowed participants an opportunity to explore a topic which they may not have considered before in an accessible and creative format.
Audio clips from three young people with cleft discussing their journey are central to the piece. Recorded in collaboration with CLAPA, their narratives highlight the complex and vivid personal journeys they have experienced at home, within school and throughout the healthcare system.
Utilising dental materials as the medium, the sculptural elements highlight the young people in conversation and provide references tailored to their experiences within their treatment pathways physically and psychologically.
Together the piece places the narratives of young people at the centre and educates regarding the wider implications of cleft palate, alongside adding to the multiple voices present along the MOUTHY journey.
As part of the 'A Cleft in Time' commission, an installation for public education was exhibited at King's College London Dental Institute, Guy's Hospital (2016).
The installation provided a culmination of the public engagement collaborations and a snapshot of the explorations into cleft. A spectrum of participants hard palate impressions were recast within the piece and sculpted alongside impressions of young people affected by varying types of cleft palate. The combined impressions blur the spectrum of facial difference and highlight the way in which cleft can be visibly abstract and hidden.
A Cleft In Time
Mixed media audio installation
Guy's Hospital, 2016