Art dealing with Dementia
“Soon, I will become unknown, to him“
The below charts a college project I carried out while on Erasmus in Cardiff. The title of the project was called ‘jcejbO:Object’ which involved taking a piece of art, my piece ‘Soon, I will become unknown, to him’ and considering how best to present it.
Within my practise it is often the case that the meaning of a piece is based heavily on the process of making. Despite always working with a context or an idea in mind, it is in the making that a piece grows, evolves and takes its shape. In the making, something or someone takes over. You return, day after day, to simply allow the making to take place. Its flows until it is done, feeling completed. Yet at no stage in this process are you thinking ahead. What has often struck me so often throughout this process is not so much the question ‘how will this end?’ but rather ‘How do I tell the story of the making’? Despite being caught up in the process of making, I can’t stop asking what it means, what is it trying to say and how can I help it say it better? I think this is partially why I chose to focus on a Field topic that was so concerned with the object, and how this object presented itself in space.
I made the piece “Soon, I will become unknown, to him” (hereafter known as ‘the piece’) in the Autumn of 2016. I knotted Japanese paper yarn in on itself, and then proceeded to knot beige wool over and around the paper yarn. It began as a continuous linear piece and the enfolded on itself, becoming a rough rectangular shape. I was drawn to the fact that the Japanese yarn exposed the making process in its structure. How I knotted, what I was thinking and how quickly I worked, was all shown back to me in the way the yarn sat.
The piece was primarily concerned with making. The continuous knotting provided comfort and focus when my mind was struggling to keep up with the reality of my current situation. I was gradually being erased from my father’s mind, as he slipped into the vacant world of dementia. The knotting represented many things; the relationship between my father and I and the interconnectivity of our lives, the memories we shared over the years, my desperate attempts to maintain those memories as I realised they now remained only in my mind. Partly the intention of the piece was about recording our life, yet partly it is about the sense of loss as those memories faded and eroded gradually over time.
It was with this sentiment that I carried the piece (literally) into my Field module. How would I take a process, a stream of consciousness, a feeling, and present it in a way that represented this meaning. Initially, there was nothing to present only a mound of yarn. It meant nothing to anyone, anyone except me. Was that ok? Was it enough that I had made a piece that was about a part of my life, was that enough in itself? What was the point of art? To simply express? Surely the creative process was about communication. An artist’s ability to communicate a message or an intention and through this to connect, inspire, affect, translate? If I simply wanted to let it be, I would have left it alone in the cupboard, yet I brought it with me into Field.
What impressed me initially about Field was the level of exposure. We all slowly expanded our thinking and our awareness about objects and how they met the world. We looked at Object display strategies and were exposed to many concepts and ideas about how presentation could convey the meaning behind the making of the piece. We unravelled how objects met the world, how we met objects, how we relate to each other. Despite working in a more abstract and conceptual way, I could see emerging an ability to express. The way I presented and displayed the object could, in fact, tell the story of the making. It could tell the story of the piece. It could convey the meaning of an object, an object that contained the sentiment of loss, tinged with confusion and sadness.
Things were starting to unfold.
Firstly, I examined the issue of space. Part of me had a vision of the piece outside, moving in the wind with the natural sunlight. I explored outside spaces and weather conditions, along with a range of spaces on campus and within the building.
My attempts to find the space stopped suddenly when I walked up the steps into the heart space one afternoon. Straight in front of my was one of the glass boxes.
I settled on one of the glass box rooms, B2.04 located on the second floor of the B block. I primarily chose this as, when you are in the space, there is a stillness, a dead silence that permeates you while you stand there. Yet, the glass wall exposes you to the outside world, not allowing any sense of privacy. As you walk up the main stairway of the building, into the heart space, you see the room clearly. There is no where to hide.
The space also contained an complete concrete wall, steely grey and barely marked. I imagined how shadows would fall on this wall, its colours merging with the charcoals and dark greys of a shadow.
As part of the project, we went on a trip up to London. In addition, I sought out a few other galleries with the intention of evaluating their presentation techniques. I attended the Design Museum, Saatchi Museum, V and A, The Hunterian Museum and John Sloane Museum to assess how other artists and curators had presented objects, with a particular focus on paper and shadow.
Focus on Paper
I really enjoyed seeing how other artists used paper in a variety of different ways. There were some direct connections to my knotted piece but also it allowed me to push some boundaries in terms of how I could use paper in the future. For some reason, throughout the last few years I have been drawn to paper as a ‘textile’ material. I often treat it like material, but love its fragility and texture.
Use of shadow
I was continually looking at how artists and curators used shadow to create an effect, a feeling, a point. The starkness and the singularity of focus really appealed to me and reflected the way I worked when creating this piece.
Presentation gone Wrong
These were immaculate 3D printed forms of a persons last breath. They were laced in meaning and connotations. Yet, they were placed 4 in a row in a glassed off container, on a long plinth. There were 3 or 4 of them in a row. Being bundled together, 4 placed in the same glass container, meant the sculptures were crowded, their individual specific moments dissolving. The message was lost, all for the sake of what? Limited space? Uniformity? It was so disappointing to see the meaning being diluted to such an extent.
Deconstructing the Object
A Field topic I really enjoyed was the work with Natasha Mayo. She got us to think about how we interpreted objects, their meaning and significance in our lives. She delved into theories about hermeneutics and perception and gave us a project where we had to completely recreate the meaning of an existing object. This is the results of a fun days work:
I looked at a vast array of artists that were interested in the themes of hanging textiles pieces, use of shadow and blurred imagery, threads in space, light and darkness. Artists included Bill Lowe photographer, John Garrett, Mona Hatoum, Caroline Broadhead, as well as the artists with images shown below:
I then stripped the piece back to its barest state, the simplicity of paper yarn and wool, and proceeded to view it in as many ways as possible. I wanted it to hang, to be suspended, to lay on the ground. I wanted it to be supported, but not in a way that held it too firm and distorted its shape too much.
In the end, I hung it from a piece of mesh, a bridal veil.
I created a number of wire frames, considering it hanging in various ways.
While making the piece, generally under the morning sun or artificial light from above, I became intrigued by the shadows of the piece. I became fascinated in how the shadows moved in and out through the space. Where the piece was close to the surface, the shadows were intense and definite, where the shadows moved away, the became blurred and obscured.
I quickly realised that shadow of the piece, what is cast out from the lighting around it, took the meaning of the piece.
Initially I placed my object in the photography studio and took a variety of shots with a number of different lights and effects. I settled on the piece, hanging on mesh, being lit by the red head light.
THE SHADOW, THE PIECE, THE SPACE
I then took my piece into the space, and photographed it a number of ways, until it as complete.
I was surprised the find that the piece moved continually when one corner, the movement was beautiful and added another dimension to the piece.
I moved the piece in the space, continually challenging my ideas about how it should fit and where it should go. I brought the piece close to the wall, using it almost as a mirror of itself, yet a faded, blurred one. Reminding me a little of Bill Lowe’s blurred image.
I set up the piece for Mal, but as I was doing so we realised there was a double booking on the room I had chosen. So we had to do the photoshoot at lunchtime, with people coming and going and a general air of chaos.
I didn’t feel at all comfortable about the photo shoot. I had spent so much time and effort creating the atmosphere and reflecting the meaning that I felt this all went out the window on the day of the shoot.
Mal took a few shots and then sent them on. I was so surprised with what I got! In his shots, he just seemed to capture the essence of the feeling of the piece. He dissolved so much of the outside world, and focused on the piece, the shadow and the wall. He drained much of the colour from some shots, or did them in black and white. The stark reality of the piece hung in the air.
So I started questioning a number of assumptions. Did everything have to be perfect in order to take the correct shot? How did photography, a 2D medium, manage to capture the feeling so well? How much did I impact on the taking of the shots? I followed up with Mal afterwards about his use of particular programmes after taking the shots. He used Adobe Lightroom to enhance the shadows. Again, how much did this alter the feeling – enhance it artificially or capture it correctly?
THE FINAL SHOT
Over the last 5 weeks I have tried to unravel how I can display the intention of a piece in its presentation, location and shooting. This could only be done by unravelling the meaning of the piece and ensuring I was clear about the sentiment I wanted to achieve.
Once I was clear, I simply pushed and pushed. I did not know how a piece could look or feel until I felt it, positioned it, sculptured it and photographed it. It continually spoke back to me, reacted to different scenarios and positioned itself in particular ways.
In the end, I was left with this shot, it seemed to capture the most accurately the making. The knotting can be clearly seen, and interestingly there are shadows on the mesh, reinforcing the confusion and relationship between pieces.
The shadow hangs mid air, and is not complete. It is fading in parts, more defined in others. Just as the memories fade,the shadow slips in and out of defintion. Eventually they will disappears forever, but will the piece remain?
Sketchbook of the Making
Read through my thoughts, inspirations and experimentation in my sketchbook:
Over the 5 weeks of the Project I’ve been exposed to a range of ideas and concepts that have pushed my appreciation of just how much presentation affects the telling on an object’s intention. I found it a fascinating journey, and am quite surprised at how ‘limited’ I have been in my thinking to date. In the end, more than anything else, I found a language for my piece that allowed me to tell the story of an object I had created the previous year.
I had approached the topic of object presentation with bemused wonder. I had created a piece that told a story, in a nonlinguistic and process driven way. Because the piece was so heavily focused on the making process, I really wasn’t sure how I could do much more with this piece of knotted textile.
And yet, over the course of the 5 weeks we were exposed to a range of concepts and ideas around objects and their relationship with the world around them. We delved into the objects intention, its message and story, how viewers would experience the piece and how this experience impacted in the space around it.
Slowly, my thinking about this object opened up. Yes, the process of how this object was made was an important part of the story, but what was equally important was how this object was to be viewed. It became less about the making and more about the narrative, scale, context and perception of the piece.
I had been heavily process driven, yet I do not believe that was any type of weakness. I am not sure I will change that in the future. However, what that will change ongoing reflection while making, yet importantly, after the making has taken place. Challenging and questioning my intentions, evolving my concepts so that I can start to learn how to communicate, to create a stronger connection with the viewer.
I thought a lot about the Process Artists of the 1960s and 70’s a lot during this process. Much of Eve Hesse’a work is crumbling and the photographs may be the only thing we have left. I considered Robert Morris’s suggestion was that the work would have be developed entirely from and through the means of its own making. Where did my strongly making focus relate to the presentation and message of a piece?
Travelling through Field did not make the issue of presentation more complex, but it did create layers of experience that needed to be considered. I reflected on the fact that I had grown up with a museum or gallery approach to presentation: hanging on the wall, placing on a plinth. I could no longer consider these types of presentation the only way I could display my objects in the future. I could display them in many ways, and importantly, photography may be a key part of this.
I soon realised the potential. The potential of presentation in expressing the intention and context of a piece. There were so many additional layers that could be added to assist the artist in translating their stories, especially in a world where language was not always the answer. I enjoyed experimenting with my piece, photographing it in many different ways, using all the lights in the photography room and tapping into the talents of the people around me.
In the end, I was able to begin to ask the correct questions for my piece. I had asked plenty of questions before, but the quality of those questions did not match the intention of the piece. Now, I had a new set of questions, ones that spoke directly to both the piece and those who would interact with it in the future. There were so many other tools that could be used to bridge the gap between maker and viewer, and through this Field project, I was able to play and use these perfectly.
Reflection on my Ongoing Work
Having worked through the Field project over the course of 5 weeks, I was surprised at how immediate the effect was on the way that I worked. I had chosen the tcejbO:Object Field project to help me consider the presentation of my work and to unravel the meaning of the word this rather all-encompassing term Object. Yet this immediate effect on my work has continued as I travelled into the world of Subject’s ‘Make your Mark’.
Over the 5 weeks of Field we had been exposed to a variety of concepts and ideas not just on objects and their meaning, but also how objects interrelate to the environment around them. What interested me, more than anything, was how the making and presentation of an object told the story of the objects meaning. I began to ask myself more questions, and started to challenge myself on the decisions that I was making.
I carried this ‘question asking’ approach into ‘Make your Mark’. As I set off, I would continually ask myself: Why am I choosing this material? How is this method helping to convey this message? Is this form fitting into my concept?
There were times when I strayed from this. There were times when I got caught up in the aesthetic appeal and lost the meaning. Yet what I was beginning to learn was the art of bringing myself back. I was able to return again and again, to my concept and ideas. I was learning the art of reflection during the process, not just a consideration that was placed at the end of the project.
Not only was I able to ask myself better questions, I was beginning to understand when I needed to ask them. This is a journey and I am not there yet. However I was beginning to see a set of tools that I could apply in situations in the futures.
I often refer back to a conversation I had with Craig about the creative process. He talked about the ebb and flow that existed when making. The making process is one where you move in and out. There are times when you are deep into the material, the form and the structure, working in an organic way. There are times when you reflective, questioning and deliberate. It has allowed me to start to trial this ‘ebb and flow’ process for myself, yet develop a way of working that applies to me, how I work and how I create.
‘Make your Mark’ allowed me to start to hone in on the types of questions I needed to ask myself. I am beginning to understand more and more about the type of artwork I want to exhibit and the equally important, the type of professional work I want to engage with. In unravelling this connection that I have with art and health, I am beginning to look into the potential of carving out an existence based on meaningful and satisfying work.