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Constellation // A Watch of Nightingales

About the project

Constellation // A Watch of Nightingales is a work of art by Kate Keara Pelen.

It is made up of over 100 badges from the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital, which Florence Nightingale founded. The Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care is descended from the Training School.

The creation of Constellation // A Watch of Nightingales and the finished artwork is a gift to the Faculty from the Perseverance Trust.

Close-up of medals from the artwork 'Constellation'

About Constellation

Kate's approach to the project stems from the definition of constellation - 'a group of stars forming a recognisable pattern’ – along with a fortuitous dictionary entry accompanying the definition, stating that ‘no two patients ever show exactly the same constellation of symptoms.'

The artwork is made up of over 100 badges in the form of eight-pointed stars. These were bequeathed to the Faculty by the Nightingale Fellowship, the alumni association of nurses who trained in the Nightingale Training School of St Thomas' Hospital.

Constellation is intended to have symbolic resonance for all nurses. The badges are displayed systematically, according to alphabetical and chronological order. They are plotted on a grid as though on a sky map, recalling the methodical and rigorous approach of Florence Nightingale herself.

Each individual badge has been ‘tended to’ - decorated with fragments of decommissioned uniforms, suture thread and other materials. The resulting network of badges celebrates each individual’s contribution to nursing, while representing the nursing community as watchful, steadfast and interconnected.

Audio interviews also accompany the display, creating an impressionistic spoken soundtrack that brings the badges to life. Contributions from students, nurses and academics weave together complementary viewpoints and oral histories. The themes explored include discussions on vocation, Florence Nightingale herself, paths to and perceptions of the profession, qualities and characteristics of the nurse through history and today, and the highs and lows. These can be listened to as a whole or in sections.

We hope that students and staff will explore these stories and feel proud to be part of such a significant legacy of nursing, which continues in our Faculty today, as the direct descendant of the original Nightingale training school.

About the artist

Artist Kate Keara Pelen has a background in both the history and making of art, as well as museum learning and interpretation. Kate has a keen interest in collections and archives, as well as the aesthetics of display and the relationship of historic artefacts to contemporary objects. She is interested in the role of artworks as potential conduits for offering new perspectives and awakening curiosity in those engaging with them – both in the making and the seeing.

Kate is drawn to creating and showing work outside of the gallery context, in collaboration with institutions and communities – especially within the sphere of healthcare, and in particular mental health. Her work tends to be shown in sacred spaces or places designated for contemplation, reflection and therapeutic purposes.

Kate is currently curator of the gallery and public events at Central Saint Martins art and design college at the University of the Arts London.


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