My Dad, Paddy, had polio when he was a child, at age approximately 7 he was hospitalised for 5 years without familial contact. The experience affected him both physically and emotionally for the rest of his life. Researching this work, I found many people, now elderly, that had similar experiences to my father. Some were even sent abroad to hospitals for extensive treatment, it affected all of them to this day. The primary reasons for no familial contact were medical, as polio is a contagious virus and the children needed to be isolated, secondly, in Ireland in the 1940’s not many people had phones or indeed cars, so contact was difficult.
This project grew organically from a small video I shot on repetition, I videoed myself wrapping my foot, this action was one my father did twice a day, every day so that his withered, child sized foot would fit into a normal shoe. So, the spark started and I kept researching, this resulted in drawings, paintings, crutch sculptures, a light box of photographs, video and poetry.
Part of my research: a newspaper clipping of a Progress Chart on the children’s condition – each child was assigned a number and family members would search these listings for an insight into how their child was progressing. How terribly sad the last entry for 1696 is.
My dad as a child with his sibling (only pic I have) – this is part of a collection of photos kindly given by people I contacted who had the polio virus as children. I pinpricked each child who had suffered polio and when the lightbox I designed is turned, on each child is highlighted, representing that they were there – yet not there – for part of their childhood.
I designed these little wire beds and they were made for me by friends John and Philly Smith. I then made a paper ‘sheet’ for each bed which was pinpricked with the number of each child.
I made child sized crutches, One was covered in a supersaturated sugar solution – children were often given the polio vaccination on a sugar lump.
This crutch was covered with all the numbers I could find in newspaper clippings, I wanted to honour each child’s memory on the piece.