Fiona McTaggart was one of three Student Creatives in the academic year 2018 / 2019. The aim of the initiative was to offer all students at the AUB an opportunity to create work inspired by the MoDiP collection. This could be in any discipline with any creative outcome from physical art work to film or acting production. The MoDiP collection and / or the museum's practices had to be at the heart of the project and the work needed to be displayed either physically or digitally after a period of 20 weeks. A small bursary was provided to assist with material costs during the project and the remainder was paid on completion.
The resident was expected to keep the MoDiP team updated with progress reports on a regular basis either through email or face-to-face. They were also expected to write three blog posts during the process which follow below. The project not only helped MoDiP work closely with an AUB student, it gave the student a live brief and an opportunity to demonstrate their professional practice beyond their academic requirements.
Fiona's first blog post
I am a part time student in my first year of the MA Illustration course at AUB. I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to promote the Museum of Design in Plastics. I seek to do this through the exploration of plastics in paediatric cardiac treatment and care, as well as their use in the manufacture of toys. I hope to design and make a small figurine that encapsulates the necessity of plastics in this field as well as symbolising hope and strength for young people enduring cardiac treatment.
My choice of subject matter is very personal as my son has a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (the enlargement of the left ventricle, making the muscle stretch and become weak, impairing function). On his diagnosis at 8 months old, we were faced with the possibility of death, heart transplantation and/or life-long medication. The shock of this news sent me into overdrive, researching medical improvements, pioneering treatments and alternative therapies. This coincided with the meeting of families enduring similar situations, with varying treatment plans and outcomes. In one case, a boy required heart transplantation and spent many months attached to a mechanical heart as he waited for a donor heart to become available. In this case and with my son, the necessity for plastics was crucial in the administration of oxygen and life-supporting medications. Plastic tubing offers a sterile, versatile and flexible means of administering blood, fluids and medication. Plastic syringes allow for sterile, oral delivery of daily medications – easily washed and re-used and also recyclable in the home environment. My son spent some time being fed through a naso-gastric tube and it is difficult to imagine the level of discomfort he would have endured had he required rubber tubing which was thicker and less malleable. Historically stiffer materials were used such as metal and leather (Cresci, Gail & Mellinger, John. (2006). The History of Nonsurgical Enteral Tube Feeding Access. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. 21. 522-8.). Plastic ventilator tubing and oxygen masks enabled sterile delivery of oxygen at a time when further infection could have proved fatal. Other uses of plastic involved the equipment used for conducting an echocardiogram or ECG (electrocardiogram) – two crucial procedures that our son undergoes on his outpatient visits to the heart failure clinic. These indicate any changes with his heart – improvements or deterioration. In turn, this determines his medication dosages that work to keep his heart functioning well enough for him to lead a near to normal life.
So far, we have been lucky in that my son has not required heart transplantation. However, for those that require open heart surgery or transplantation, there is the new hope of more successful treatment and surgery resulting from the use of 3D printed images of their heart. This enables surgeons to assess more accurately their patient’s needs before opening their chest. It is even hoped that with this advancing technology, artificial hearts might replace the need for donor hearts. Without the printing in plastics, the development of this technology would be hindered, if not prevented. Scientists and engineers are now replacing 3D printing in plastic with more natural polymers such as silicone and even ‘Bio-printing’, where the digital image is 3D printed using materials that incorporate viable living cells:
Bioprinters work in almost the exact same way as 3D printers, with one key difference. Instead of delivering materials such as plastic, ceramic, metal or food, they deposit layers of biomaterial, that may include living cells, to build complex structures like blood vessels or skin tissue.
So, how do I use this information for this bursary?
I would like to produce a figurine that celebrates the use of plastics in cardiac care and also provides a child undergoing treatment with a toy that represents hope and strength – a sort of talisman.
We spent six weeks in hospital and in this time, reassurance came from the sophistication of medical treatment as well as the love and support from friends, family and relevant charities. I took comfort in the little things – symbols of love, luck and hope. Photographs of our son when he was well and happy gave me strength. Additionally, certain books struck a chord. One particular book was an illustration of the E.E Cummings poem, entitled ‘I Carry Your Heart with Me’ illustrated by Mati McDonough. The British Heart Foundation gave my son a teddy bear and friends with faith sent candles, a Rosary bracelet made by a Polish Nun and placed our son’s name on Buddhist and Catholic prayer lists. Although I am not religious, these objects gave me something tangible to clutch, when feeling a sense of hopelessness.
Hospitals can be boring places, especially when you have to spend long periods of time there. NHS staff are tremendous in their methods of engaging and entertaining patients and their carers. I would like to contribute to this with a small offering that is this figurine. I take inspiration from my son’s journey, the toys he plays with and the medical equipment available and in the process of being developed. I will base my character design on my son, however draw on the simplistic and effective Playmobil characters, also made from plastic. These resilient toy figures are small enough to cherish, mobile enough to engage in play with and able to illustrate an idea without too much personal detail.
It is my intention to design my character through drawing, then sculpt my final designs with polymer clay. From this I aim to cast my character in resin and hope to add either a 3D printed element or visually refer to this developing technology in my sculpture. I am a Fine Art painting graduate, however have been teaching in secondary schools for over a decade. I hope that my multi-disciplinary skills will support my research and practical developments, whilst also working with new processes that will complement my current studies in Illustration.
Fiona's second blog post
The last couple of months have taken me on a journey of discovery, in pursuit of making my heroic doll for paediatric cardiac patients. Recently this has seemed even more pertinent as February has been ‘heart month’ with social media flooded with stories from those waiting on the transplant list or having come through it, all emphasising the importance of organ donation. Moreover, ‘Max & Keira’s Law’ has been granted and will come into effect in England next year. An ‘opt-out’ policy for donor donation will replace the current ‘opt-in’, with the hope that there will be an increase in organ donation, as has already been seen in Wales (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47359682). For those unfamiliar with the background of this law, Max received his life-saving heart transplant from a young girl, Keira, who died tragically in a car crash. The brave and selfless act of her parents at such a difficult time meant that Keira was able to save four lives through organ donation, including that of Max.
Although my overall intention is to provide an educational and positive doll for children suffering with heart conditions, time constraints have meant that I have focused specifically on creating a doll that will have an interchangeable heart that illustrates heart transplantation or heart improvement through medical management. Practically, I have been very fortunate to have had the help of Ben Diamond, AUB Technician Demonstrator. Without him, I think I would have struggled to get to the place that I am currently. So, what have I achieved so far? I designed my first doll, based on some heroic poses of my son.
Once baked and hardened in the oven, I made my silicone mould (another rubberlike plastic medium) and utilised the expertise and resources of the model-making workshop to cast my model in resin. This is quite technical, and I hadn’t anticipated this being the most difficult aspect of the project.
My first attempt resulted in a resin figure filled with bubbles and unevenly dispersed colour resin powder. The heart was ok but still contained some bubbles. On Ben’s advice, I decided to use a slower setting resin that would allow time for the bubbles to rise and disappear. This did work much better although, with the bubbles disappearing, the resin sunk, and the feet of the figure were not filled fully. Despite this, the quality of the resin was much better, and I now feel confident to create a new design and figure. I might simplify the design and also refrain from using an iridescent resin powder, preferring the clarity of a colour tint instead. I also intend to simplify the facial features as the detail was not so effective in resin. I hope that the translucent figure will complement the more opaque heart/s and intend to use magnets to make these interchangeable. My intention would be for this doll to be placed by a child’s bedside, perhaps with a table lamp lighting up the figure and projecting a sense of hope at a time of uncertainty.
Fiona's final blog post
With time constraints and personal circumstances posing difficulties, this latter stage of the project has proved challenging. However, I have managed to produce a doll that I am relatively happy with. To improve the product I have:
- Simplified the design
- Varnished the model before setting it in silicone
- Used a slower setting resin
- Added colour with acrylic paint and then finally drawing inks
In making these adjustments I have managed to create a smoother finish with increased clarity and translucency. The simplification of the doll meant that any residual bubbles did not interfere with the texture of the doll and the varnished model allowed for the resin to set without leaving an opaque, matt surface quality. The slower setting resin also meant that there were less bubbles and the final choice of incorporating drawing inks instead of resin powder or acrylic paint, allowed for a subtle colour stain to the resin. If I had more time to refine this further, I would work on the design as I am still not entirely happy with the character design.
In terms of the interchangeable heart, I decided to use the original model in polymer clay rather than the resin cast. My reasons for this were that I felt the contrast between a delicately painted heart and the translucent figure brought the attention to the subtle differences in the healthy and diseased heart. I also really enjoyed painting the finer details. To make the doll functional, I inserted magnets into both hearts and the doll so that they were fixed securely, yet able to be interchanged.
With some further improvements with the character design, I hope to eventually introduce the doll to children with my son’s condition – Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It is my intention to approach Cardiomyopathy UK and Great Ormond Street charities to discuss the possibilities of its use. In the meantime, I have deliberated over whether to show my son, however feel that he is currently experiencing a period of very good health and I feel it is inappropriate to remind him of his condition. He is 4 and I believe is blissfully unaware that he has this threat. Long may this situation continue!
It has been a pleasure to engage with this brief and it has supported my studies in Illustration. Initially I was uncertain how to approach Illustration coming from a Fine Art background. I struggled to place myself within commercial practice. In doing this project, I now feel my place may reside within editorial illustration, creating art with conscience that informs and supports educational purpose. I would also like to make work in relation to my son’s condition. Working with 3D modelling processes was very interesting and I feel I learned a lot in a short space of time. There are still many considerations to be had before I could elevate my work to a professional level, however this is something I would like to explore in my ongoing studies.
Cardiomyopathy UK is a charity that has supported my family since my son’s diagnosis and moving forward I would like to contribute to their efforts. Through artistic practice I wish to support, comfort and educate young people about their heart condition. You can find out more about the charity on their website: https://www.cardiomyopathy.org