Arts and Health

Cocooning: Catch a Breath

Cocooning: Catch a Breath
Alice in her cocoon - The Womb Space. photographed by Séan Daly

Catarina Araújo and Mental Health Professionals

Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme

Cocooning: Catch a Breath (2021-2023) was a participatory-led, collaborative, and socially engaged art project co-created by visual artist Catarina Araújo and a group of mental health professionals. It aimed to understand the impacts of Covid-19 on the professional’s lives. The project evolved through an ethos of trust, addressing overlooked needs and fostering a sense of community, connection, and solidarity from a humanistic perspective.

The project was divided into three phases:

  1. Research, reaching out and starting conversations with mental health professionals, and mentorship.
    • Catarina was mentored by Dr Johnny Goodwin, a lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at University College Cork, and Dr Eve Olney, a socially engaged artist, activist, curator, educator, and practice-based researcher.
    • During this phase, the artist connected with and engaged in discussions with a number of mental health professionals. They discussed their experiences during the pandemic, uncovering emotions like guilt, anxiety, and isolation, but also the loss of space in different contexts. Despite the challenges, they also identified positive impacts such as career opportunities and a greater appreciation for relationships. The group explored reclaiming words associated with the pandemic, such as “cocoon” and “vaccines,” aiming to shift narratives and foster understanding.
  1. Designing and delivering creative and imaginative workshops to respond to the group’s needs;
    • Building on the theme of space and the word “cocoon,” the group redefined it as a transitional space in life:

A cocoon became a space of transition to the next level, the next chapter. It is not a positive or negative thing but simply a transition moment in our lives to move forward.

    • During the workshops, collaborators were challenged to envision and design their cocoon models using various materials, drawing inspiration from the artist’s paper sculpture background. After each workshop, collaborators were asked to reflect on their creations, examining elements such as how they felt while creating, what changes they would like to make (or not), and the vision for the inside of their cocoon.
  1. Creating a unique collaborative and immersive art installation, led by and for the participants.
    • The artist guided and followed each collaborator’s unique voice, and enlarged the cocoon models, with support from the National Sculpture Factory and carpenter/artist Michael Healy. The cocoons were enlarged to provide enough physical space for humans.
    • The project was selected by Sample-Studios for their 2023 exhibition program. The exhibition was held between the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion and Cork Public Museum, offering an immersive experience. Audience members were able to enter each cocoon, offering them a moment to pause and reflect. Throughout the exhibition, workshops and tours were conducted to engage the community and promote dialogue around mental health.

 

Participants

Catarina Araújo collaborated with mental health professionals for over 2 years. The participants were two Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) nurses based in Cork, one psychologist based in Dublin – unable to continue her participation after phase 1 finished -, and a former MA psychologist student based in Cork. Later, Dr Johnny Goodwin became a participant as well while mentoring Catarina.

What brought them together was the need to share their experience with others, to be heard, to connect with people and to have the opportunity to be creative.

 

Aims

At the core of the project, there were different aims. From the artist’s perspective, there was an intent to give something to the group as a ‘thank you’ for their work. From the group’s viewpoint, they wanted to be creative, share experiences, feel connected to others, and be creative with no expectations of having to show anything to anyone, but be part of it. With the project evolving and the funding coming in the group decided it would be incredible to create massive sculptures that could be used for a moment to pause.

The ‘Cocooning: Catch a Breath’, as a collaborative participatory-led art project, aimed to:

  • build a community of mental health professionals
  • encourage a shared sense of solidarity between professionals
  • use the Productive Encounters methodology as a tool to find a common language and to design creative workshops
  • create safe spaces where the participants could take any action they wanted
    • freedom to do anything (rest, climb it, lay down, paint, scream, play, modify and even destroy)
    • act and react, take a break from the world outside, self-regulate and catch a breath
  • have a collaborative exhibition to showcase the work.

‘Cocooning: Catch a Breath’ was presented to the public as a collaborative and interactive art installation, consisting of four cocoons created by and for the participants that invited the audience to experience them.

 

Methods

The artist and collaborators developed a strong relationship based on mutual respect, trust, and community. They used various methods in their encounters, including:

  • a cup of coffee or tea and biscuits to start the conversations
  • productive encounters
  • flexible meetings to suit everyone’s schedule, they could be group-based or 1:1 with the artist
  • cultures of care, deep listening, and non-violent communication to create a comfortable space to self-express
  • the use of feedback forms after each encounter ensured how to proceed and manage expectations.

 

Artistic Outputs

The outputs of the project included:

  • 14 encounters (meetings and workshops) between the artist and the group
  • Creation of small-scale cocoon
  • Enlargement of the cocoons to a human scale
  • Documentation of all work made
  • Public exhibition (March 16th to April 22nd)
  • Book exchange throughout the exhibition

Domal Lair. Photographed by Séan Daly

Evaluation Methodology

The project was evaluated through various methods such as open dialogue, participation observations, verbal feedback, and feedback forms sent after each session. Based on the collected feedback, it was observed that the project had a positive impact on the group. The participants enjoyed participating in an art project and expressed their willingness to collaborate with artists in the future. They also appreciated the reflective aspect of the project and the opportunity to be creative in a dedicated space and time.

 

Outcomes

The artistic outcome of the project was a collaborative, immersive and interactive art installation that was in exhibition between March and April 2023, at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion and the Public Museum in Cork City.

Visit the artist’s Instagram Page: @catarinaaraujoart for cufther documenttation of the project.

related programme
Artist in the Community Scheme