About a year ago, you did a residency in a hospital where you were able to work with patients. What did you create together?
B: I was approached by Creative Industry Košice about a project in a sphere that artists do not usually get to enter. They knew my previous work and asked me whether I’d be interested in a residency at the Physiotherapy department of the University Hospital in Košice. Naturally, I accepted and it turned out to be a very interesting experience. The beginning was a bit challenging, because the hospital staff had no idea how an artist could make a contribution in a field that required specialised knowledge. I didn’t know what to expect either and had no idea what kind of patients I was about to work with. It took us about a month to discuss these issues, determine what was possible, to select a target group of patients and the movements they needed to practice. Doctor Dziaková and her staff provided me with information that enabled me to start thinking about a visual interface. As an artist, I could create something audio-visual and interactive, which is what I’m interested in and what I really wanted to do.
The longer I was there the more I became aware of the apathy of the patients, especially the older ones. They’d never used a computer and their experience with electronic devices was limited to push-button mobiles. Aware of these emotions and my own limitations, I was able to determine my priorities. I wanted to create something interesting that would draw the patients out of their apathy. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to suffer a stroke and practically overnight lose control of an arm of a leg. The challenge that this project presented took on a social, rather than artistic significance for me. I began looking for logical connections. There were some movements for which there’d been no other rehabilitation possibilities and I decided to focus on those, on what was missing and needed. For each movement that the patients were required to do, I was looking for something similar and familiar that would give them a chance to interact with a visual or acoustic interface.
There were many complications along the way, both with hardware and the code. All the data needs to be recorded in the database so that it can be processed and presented to doctors in a comprehensive way. Patting a patient on their back wouldn’t be enough, what they need is to see the progress. I ended up creating sensors that not only show the patient’s progress on the devices that I’ve created but track their overall improvement. What matters is that the patients get well or at least better than before. It may all seem very playful.
The hospital staff got data about their patients’ progress and the patients, at the very least, some variety in their monotonous physiotherapy routine. What did you as an artist get out of this project?
B: Respect for physiotherapists and their work. It’s neither easy nor pleasant and I don’t think I’d be able to step into their shoes. All of a sudden, living a normal life seemed like a luxury to me. It was also very rewarding to see the patients play, which completely changed their mood, they were no longer cranky but started to smile. What could possibly be better than making a paralyzed person smile?