Beyond Memories is an exhibition shaped by the experiences of people living with dementia, their families and researchers in the field of dementia. In May 2017 we hosted a workshop where these groups worked together with artists to explore further the conversations around dementia and make artwork around the subject. The conversations were diverse and eye-opening. Beyond Memories exhibition is the culmination of ideas and artworks made at the workshop, expressed by participants and brought together by London Brain Project.
Here on this page you can explore the artworks, science and events from Beyond Memories.
As part of the project we produced a newspaper which you can experience below:
Julia Vogl, London Brain Project Art Director
Like all of London Brain Project’s work, Beyond Memories focuses on breaking stereotypes surrounding a neurological condition. In terms of curating and designing the exhibition about dementia it meant reviewing what has been done before around the condition, and using this to aid the creation of a new forum.
During the workshop in May, Artist Kim- Leigh Pontin brought a Virtual Reality activity for David who has Alzheimer's and his partner Rachel. I was delighted to discover they were united through the use of this new experience.
While so much language surrounding dementia is about nostalgia, and looking back and recalling what was known, much dementia research is focused on looking forward and understanding what is not known. This uncertainty and discovery; in particular the idea of learning through sensory communication, is explored in the output of a collaboration between artist Sophie Michael and King’s College London researcher Ingelin Testad, which can be seen in the gallery window
Feelings of isolation, increasing time spent at home and decreased activity are very common in different types of dementia, but there are an increasing number of innovative groups and societies across the UK who are working to create communities and actives that can connect people. One example is the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association who run a Grow Well group- a gardening project for people with dementia that encourages activity and socialising. They have kindly donated the herbs in the interactive garden in the gallery.
Considering all these factors I wanted the exhibition to have a sense of both domesticity and community action. With the in-kind donation of furniture from Republic of Fritz Hansen, I wanted to create a modern new look, so that everyone who came could experience something new together. We have collated a playlist of songs that is playing in the exhibition to honour the importance of nostalgia and its ability to connect people. All the music has been memorable to those with dementia and their family members, as well as other participants in our workshop. Feel free to suggest a song and we will add it to the list.
We really want to share with society more about the complexity and nuances of this group of conditions- and hope the exhibition will inspire a new understanding in all who view them.
To hear the spotify playlist click here
Sophie Micheal in collaboration with Dr. Ingelin Testad
Georgia Pitts & Julia Vogl, London Brain Project Directors
London Brain Project invited artist Sophie Michael to collaborate with researcher Dr Ingelin Testad from King’s College London to develop a special arts commission for the exhibition on dementia. Ingelin is particularly interested in psychological interventions in dementia and leads the Care Home Research Network at King’s, supporting care homes to get involved in dementia research, and Sophie works with the moving image and installation. This collaboration was sponsored by King’s College London.
Ingelin and Sophie set about meeting and discussing their individual approaches and practices. Sophie said she’s always been interested in collaboration in art and science, but didn’t want the result to illustrate a certain predefined point. She wanted the collaboration to be organic, and having a preconceived idea would result in the work being linear and non-exploratory, which would mitigate the collaborative outcome of the project. After seeing some of Sophie’s work, Ingelin shared with Sophie the concept of Snoezelin, a Danish word for a sensory chamber, which resemble soft covered discos and are often found in care homes. They are used to relax people and calm nerves. Sophie herself uses colour as a material in much of her work and was very intrigued by the aesthetics of these Snoezelins. From this point forward their collaborative venture started to take shape. After their first conversation, Ingelin said ”we both learned something new… talking with Sophie made me value sensory input much more significantly for an area of future research.”
After discussing their practices Sophie and Ingelin were surprised to find a striking similarity between their lines of work- the theme of ‘not knowing’. The key to unlocking the collaboration was this shared nature of trusting intuition, and having to venture into the unknown with your bag of tricks. Sophie said, “I have spent many years as an artist learning how to have confidence in not knowing and practicing the art of trusting my gut. That allows the art to take on a life of its own and will often lead me somewhere new - and I think that is true about working with someone with dementia – sometimes you have to trust your intuition, body and feelings of knowing someone - because often normal forms of communication will fail you.” Ingelin also talked about the importance of supporting people with dementia to trust themselves.
Sophie went away and worked on the ideas they had come up with together, and the pair presented the artistic proposal to a Patient Public Involvement group. Presenting to this group reaffirmed the importance of the arts and the role that they can play in everyone involved in dementia – from carers to researchers. Ingelin said “Collaboration across disciplines helps you to see things differently”.
During the workshop individuals drew a cross-section of their family home past or present. This ranged in time from the home somebody grew up in, to the home they raised their children in or even live in now. We then transferred sections of each persons drawing to a lino to make one combined family home. This was then carved out to become a lino print. Afterwards we discussed how the home connected to our bodies. Conversations steered around questions such as, where is the heart in your house? Which way does the blood flow? Where in the house is the most sensitive? Where are your memories stored? Where in the house would you locate pain? The work in the show is a reconfiguration of the original collective print.
Kim Leigh Pontin -
Kim-Leigh Pontin is an artist working at the intersection of reality, fiction and technology. She is interested in the relationship between memory and identity, and ways we use technology — whether this be photography, a written diary, or 3D, multi-sensory capture of our daily lives — to augment our “natural” experience of memory. In the workshop all participants played with virtual reality painting for the first time. It was a shared experience that brought out lots of philosophical conversations. The participants, David who has dementia and his partner Rachel, as well as neuroscientist Francesca Cacucci, collaborated with Kim-Leigh further to create the final piece ‘Extended Realities’, which allows participants of the exhibition to explore the experience of Alzheimer’s through virtual reality.
Tash’s workshop was set up like a lounge. The participants were encouraged to sew, embroider, knot threads and stitch on felt as a practice to prompt conversations about living with dementia. Eventually these individual contributions were strung together in a wall hanging comprising of many facets. Throughout the workshop three main features stood out from conversations with participants; one was the ‘Bling line ‘, the other the ‘Tranquility line’ and the third, a big knot. The Bling line refers to the trigger line, or the strong sensory impulse that brings a memory to the surface. The Tranquility line refers to the peace that can occur when experiencing and revisiting the memory. The giant knot became a symbol of the connections and challenges of living with dementia - that despite the road blocks, life continues through connecting with others and the present moment. The threads coming out of the giant knot represent this. For this exhibition the aesthetic structures, symbols and the richly layered conversations that took place throughout the process have been used to create a piece inspired by a dream catcher with a knotted centre, including the luggage labels and the sewn felt symbols made in the workshop. Like any dream catcher (designed to protect you whilst in a journey of sleep) this work aims to illustrate that although memories can feel like dreams as they shift and change with time we still carry on, always embracing and capturing the now.
Sophie began her workshop by taking her participants outdoors to experiment with cyanotypes. These were made by laying out whatever objects the participants had in their pockets and to hand – coins, jewellery, pens, leaves – as well as inked up fingerprint, onto the blue light sensitive paper. After a few minutes of exposure in the sun the objects were removed and the image fixed in water, leaving behind a memory of the objects on the paper. The participants were asked to think about how their skin might also bear similar material memories or traces, such as tan lines from a wedding ring or watch, scars, creases. Turning to the palms of their hands, the group then worked in pairs to trace their head, heart and life lines onto a sheet of acetate. Then Sophie turned to the photographs she had asked each person to bring with them to the workshop three photos of locations that have meant something to them at some point in their lives. Specifically, she asked for a place they had been on holiday, a place they had worked, and a place they have lived. The participants were asked to ‘plot’ each place on the lines of their palm drawings. Whilst projecting the drawings using an overhead projector, each person shared with rest of the group the significance of the places plotted on their drawing, and explained why they had chosen to align them with their heart, head or life line.
For the exhibition Sophie has used the process of superimposition to overlay a selection of the personal photographs contributed by the participants with the cyanotypes that they created at the beginning of the workshop. In doing so the scale of the pocket sized objects shifts - a coin becomes a moon, matchsticks become thunderbolts, a pocket mirror becomes a spotlight – in an attempt to double expose and amplify the magic of these memorable places.
We invited the outdoors in during the exhibition when we worked with Hammersmith Community Garden Association. The association runs a Grow Well group- a gardening project for people with dementia that encourages activity and socialising. They kindly donated the herbs in the interactive garden in the gallery. The plants were displayed to represent the diversity of dementia; the varying diagnoses & vast array of symptoms. Visitors were invited to add to the flower boxes their own thoughts, symptoms and experience with dementia.