Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, St. James's, London SW1Y 5AH
The ICA Reading Room presents the collaborative and socially-engaged work of Peter Dunn and Dr Loraine Leeson (pictured) produced between 1977 and 1980, which focused on health issues of the time: the Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign (1977-78) and the East London Health Project (1978- 1980).
By the mid-1970s, the National Health Service suffered severe cuts which were implemented by the James Callaghan government (1974-1979) as a result of funding restrictions from the International Monetary Fund. This led to the closure of a number of smaller hospitals across the country and the overall diminishing of the service’s reach.
The Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign and the East London Health Project both sought to tackle these issues through a process of close collaboration and engagement with the local community and local councils in East London.
This resulted in a series of posters as well as a video and exhibition to raise awareness around health issues in the UK at the time: from hospital closures and mental health to abortion, contraception and women’s role more broadly in society. While the posters were informational and functional by nature, they also used some of the aesthetic tropes of appropriation and collage found in the politically-engaged work of early 20th century German artist John Heartfield and Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko.
The Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign marked the start of a long period of collaboration between Dunn and Leeson. Following the announcement of the hospital’s closure, its medical staff decided to occupy the site and continue to care for its patients.
Dunn and Leeson were approached to make a video about the campaign. Entitled Emergency, it was followed by a series of posters and an exhibition in the hospital foyer to advise visitors as to why it was in occupation. The hospital was initially saved as a result of the campaign, though later closed under the Thatcher government and has now been converted into private homes.
Following the Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign, Dunn and Leeson were invited to join a steering committee involving representatives of health workers’ unions, a local trades council and health campaign, to produce visual materials that would inform the public on the potential effects of the increasing cuts in health services.
These addressed both general concerns, such as cuts to the NHS, but also issues pertaining specifically to women such as abortion, contraception and the impact of wider social issues on women’s health.
The conditions that gave rise to the Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign and East London Health Project are echoed today with the funding crisis and increasing privatisation of the NHS, together with marches against public spending cuts and for women’s rights. Through their aesthetic and collaborative qualities, the visual work for both projects is testament to art’s capacity as a tool for social and political action and the role of the artist as an agent for social change.
She is also Visual Artist and Director of the arts charity cSPACE, specialising in community-based practice.
Recent focus has been on issues of renewable energy in the urban environment and the role that older people can play in the development of new technologies.
Loraine is particularly known for her visual work in support of the campaigning communities of London's Docklands in the 1980's, and her later use of digital media and the Internet to explore collective creativity.
A retrospective exhibition celebrating thirty years of her practice toured Berlin, London, Toronto and Dublin 2005-08, while The Catch public artwork involving three hundred local children was voted a London 2012 Landmark.
Other recent work involving communities has been recognised by a Media Trust Inspiring Voices award and an Olympic Inspire Mark.
This event is free and open to the public