As an interdisciplinary artist my practice and research interests have been more concerned with ‘narrative’ than ‘storytelling’, so at the start of this extraordinary conference I felt a little out of my comfort zone. But it soon became apparent that storytelling takes many forms and has multiple methods, philosophies, and voices, literal and metaphorical. The sheer range of presenters, over 200 from all corners of the world, congregating in Swansea to share their research and build networks, was inspiring. I presented in the Stories for Mental Health stream along with Jess Wilson, whose experience of using storytelling in prisons and hospitals clearly touched many of the attendees and proved to be a real catalyst for debate.
I also found the Patient Stories session interesting as it relates to a personal research interest of mine, the lost voices of patients post mortem, as explored in ‘Narrative Remains’, one of the projects I discussed. My present research, ‘Virtual Embodiments’, with collaborator Prof. Ann John from Swansea Medical School, focuses on using ‘affective objects’ and virtual reality to help young people with depression and related mental health issues. This presentation generated intriguing debate around generational language differences for narratives and how physical and virtual objects can be used as abstract forms of language for mental health. I found strong synergies with many of my fellow presenters and audience members and hopefully new discussions and potential collaborations will grow from this.
This was a mammoth undertaking for the ABMU Arts in Health team, especially for Prue Thimbleby and Emily Underwood-Lee, who ensured that every aspect of the event went smoothly, including providing amazing catering and world class performative elements, such as ‘Stolen’ performed by Daniel Morden and the Devil’s Violin, a highlight of the conference. The team should be congratulated and following the success of this first conference it would be a positive outcome if this could set the tone for this to perhaps become a bi-annual event.