TopoTiles paper accepted for CHI 2015

Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’
Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’

The Tangible Memories team was delighted to hear news today that our work-in-progress paper ‘TopoTiles: Storytelling in Care Homes with Topographic Tangibles’ has been accepted into CHI 2015, the Human Computer Interaction conference, to be held in Seoul later this year.

Here’s more about this international HCI event, which is on the theme of ‘Crossings’, appropriate to our interdisciplinary project: http://chi2015.acm.org

Read more about the development of the TopoTiles in this previous blog post: http://tangible-memories.com/topotiles-and-other-tales-of-topographic-tangibles/

‘TopoTiles’ and other tales of topographic tangibles

Over the past few months, we have been seeking to develop the group making sessions in another of the care homes, working alongside residents to co-produce proxy objects and ‘objects of exchange’ as design prototypes that capture and represent personal and collective stories.

Evolving from the creative workshops where residents produced ‘tokens of value’ – inscribing wax tablets with a representation of significant memories that were later cast into bronze – we initially offered the same materials and making-based approach to residents of the second care home. We suggested that these tokens could then be exchanged amongst the group with the stories they represented (with or without embedded technologies), thus sharing residents’ experiences with each other and strengthening the home’s community in the process, using these unique personalised objects as a focus.

To begin with, we proposed a theme of ‘favourite walks’ as a topic and trigger for creative making. Participants were asked to recall a memorable route in advance of the sessions, giving them time to reflect on any walk they chose to remember. The aim was then to find the location on the iPad using Google Street View for a virtual visit, and identify it using OS maps online, before tracing over the route, and inscribing a line drawing of the walk onto one of the prepared wax hexagons, ready for casting:

Hexagonal walking route_edited
An example of a wax hexagon ready for casting. The surface has been inscribed with the route of a favourite or significant walk, traced from Ordnance Survey maps online. Google Street View was used to revisit the locations virtually.

The reaction to this activity was mixed. The theme proved successful and generated one of the most animated and dynamic discussions that had taken place during the project. However, this success came at the cost of participants not engaging with the tools, materials or other creative processes on offer.

These sessions were subsequently adapted in order to introduce a more curatorial method into the process of co-production. One outcome of the favourite walks theme was some lively story-swopping between the residents, about local Bristol landmarks and historic places of interest. Rather than the residents inscribing the wax hexagons with these walking routes by hand, they gave us permission instead, to transform the subjects of their conversations into miniature topographies of the various locations discussed. We used Autodesk Fusion modelling software and a milling machine to achieve a more tactile, 3D topographic hexagon, and laser etching to transpose detailed photographic images of the landmarks into 2D. These hexagonal tiles representing miniature topographies became known as ‘TopoTiles’:

3D modelling the TopoTiles ready for the milling machine
3D modelling the TopoTiles ready for the milling machine
Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’
Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’

The series of TopoTiles has been shared with small groups of residents, and tested as narrative prompts, tangible user interfaces designed to aid reminiscence and storytelling. Some of our research questions around these manufactured artefacts include:

How can landscape tangibles be used as proxy objects, standing in for landscape and objects unavailable to the storyteller?

Can miniature landscapes aid recollection and storytelling through embodied interaction?

Are ambiguous depictions conducive to more diverse use in storytelling, and can topographic tangibles encourage inclusivity in group sharing situations?

While the TopoTiles represent places of personal significance to the residents, (either specific or ambiguous), the tessellation of these miniature topographies seems to symbolise the network of shared histories across the care home, connecting the individual’s experience with their immediate community, united by a common encounter in the landscape.

 

3D Scanning Objects

Have been playing around in the lab for the last few days with scanning objects with the new Matter & Form 3D scanner. The resulting scans can be used for both representing the object digitally (for instance on an iPad) and for potentially recreating the object with a 3D printer or mill. Initial results are promising, more updates to follow!

dogscan matterandform

Objects: value and exchange

The first series of art workshops, where we have been working with residents from a care home to create new images and objects, each capturing a significant memory, seem to have been very much enjoyed by the participants.

Mantlepiece of paintings
Paintings from one of the art workshops, displayed on the care home mantelpiece

Some of the paintings from the early sessions have been framed and shown at the recent Connected Communities conference in Cardiff.

Picture frame photo Daphne painting
Framed photograph of D painting periwinkles in watercolour
D's watercolour painting of periwinkle flowers
D’s watercolour painting of periwinkle flowers

One resident has a fond and vivid memory of periwinkle flowers which grew profusely in her childhood garden, and so it was this enduring image that she chose to reproduce in both watercolour (above) and scribe into the surface of casting wax (below). The wax was a wholly new material to her, but she was keen to experiment and interested to hear that it could be cast into bronze, by making a rubber mould from her original work.

D’s memory of periwinkle flowers scribed into green casting wax by hand, produced as a rubber mould and then cast into bronze.
D’s memory of periwinkle flowers scribed into green casting wax by hand, produced as a rubber mould and then cast into bronze.
D’s original artwork in wax and cast into bronze
D’s original artwork in wax and cast into bronze

When I showed D the resulting bronze cast of her artwork, she was visibly delighted, and amazed that she could have produced something that looked, in her words, ‘so expensive’. In bronze, the cherished memory now has a permanence that will last beyond the fleeting moment of remembering. As I was leaving, D made a comment that seemed to support the purpose of the entire project:

‘It’s a good idea this [project], you tell them that. It’s really got me thinking. The trouble is you get so old and you think you’ve forgotten everything, all these things – but you haven’t. The memories just need fishing out.’

Hopefully as a team, through these art workshops and the many other creative approaches, we can continue to assist the residents in ‘fishing out’ their memories, which may otherwise have drifted away.

In the book, Art as Therapy, the authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, go some way to echoing D’s comment:

We’re bad at remembering things. Our minds are troublingly liable to lose important information, of both a factual and a sensory kind. […] Art helps us to accomplish a task that is of central importance in our lives: to hold on to things we love when they are gone.’

Art as Therapy book

The writers also point out that: ‘Art can be a tool, and we need to focus more clearly on what kind of tool it is – and what good it can do for us’.

The collection of fragmented objects (below) have proved extremely useful and fascinating as a set of tools for evoking memories and stories, functioning as a kind of 3D collage, where each artefact recalls something different for each individual:

This series of fragmented objects, has triggered stories about many memories including school, sibling rivalry, holidays and childhood collections.
This series of fragmented objects, has triggered stories about many memories including school, sibling rivalry, holidays and childhood collections.

In the image above, there are two RFID tags, on either side of the group of objects, and as a team, we are considering methods by which these ‘art tools’ or objects, could be augmented using near-field communication technology, in order to add a layer of story content to each item.

By exploring these digital technology options, we are, to a certain extent, seeking to ‘add value’ to some of the objects with which we are working. This has inevitably led to broader discussions about value, both the inherent and tangible value of collectable family heirlooms for example, as well as the sentimental value often attached to more personal possessions and the memories associated with them.

While prevailing concepts of the word value tend to centre around money and finance, I began to think about the significant absence of currency in the care home environment. Cash is not usually required, as the residents have nothing to spend it on in their immediate everyday surroundings, and cannot easily go out into the community without prior arrangement and support. The lack of monetary exchanges that are so integral to our daily social encounters for the greater part of our lives, are suddenly missing. Paradoxically however, the high and rising cost of care provision needs an increasing volume of financial investment to sustain it.

With money comes agency and choice, and a level of empowerment and confidence widely recognized as important for any individual. Equally, art has been identified as having a capacity for agency in a book called Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age, producedby the London Art in Health Forum and the Baring Foundation:

‘Children and young people want to be thought older than they are because with adulthood comes agency – the ability to act autonomously in the world, to make our own decisions, to pursue our desires, to write our own story. And it is the loss of agency, above all through mental incapacity, that is most feared as old age advances…..

But a capacity to create…is in all human beings, including those who do nothing to develop it after primary school. Art is a capacity for agency that….can flourish, indeed, in old age and help preserve individuality and autonomy to the very end.’

As a result of both art and money being identified means of increasing autonomy, this week I will be facilitating a type of coin-making workshop with the residents from another of the care homes, before we begin to experiment with these unique objects of value in some system of exchange, a kind of micro-currency within the care home environment.

Much like D’s wax cast into bronze, the residents can start by drawing a significant memory or symbol of something important to them, into the surface of a wax hexagonal shape. The smallest ‘coin blank’ starts at similar size to the 5 pence piece, while a much larger hexagon is available for more short-sighted participants or those with dexterity issues.

Blank hexagonal shapes in blue casting wax, ready to be personalized in the next art workshop.
Blank hexagonal shapes in blue casting wax, ready to be personalized in the next art workshop.

Next month, in a care home where the majority of residents are suffering from the advanced stages of dementia, we will also begin experimenting with pre-decimal money, in the form of the ‘thrupenny bit’ or threepenny coin. Tim Lloyd-Yeates, Director of Alive! Activities reminded the team that in the midst of memory-loss, the strongest recurring memories are those which we have experienced between the ages of 10 and 30 years old. For most of the care home residents, this would mean vivid recollections of using pre-decimal money.

Threepenny coins
Threepenny coins

Alongside these ideas of introducing a micro-currency into the care home environment, this Radio 4 programme explored a really interesting form of alternative currency, applied to care of the elderly in Japan:

Japan: cashless community care for the elderly
Japan: cashless community care for the elderly

The programme summary raises some crucial questions:

The UK, like many countries, faces the problems of an increasingly ageing society. The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by 23% from 10.3 million in 2010 to 16.9 million by 2035. How can we provide and pay for their care?

Japan is at the forefront of the ageing crisis, with the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world. By 2030, almost a third of the population will be 65 or older. At the same time the overall population is shrinking, leaving fewer young working people to shoulder the burden of paying for care for the elderly.

One creative response to this challenge at local level has been a cash-less system of time-banking. Under the fureai kippu system, individuals donate time to looking after the elderly, and earn credits which they can – in theory at least – “cash in” later for their own care, or transfer to elderly relatives in other parts of the country.

Could something similar work here, or do we have very different attitudes to community and volunteering? Who would benefit from such a cash-less scheme, and who might lose out? Could it be scaled up to meet the escalating needs of a growing elderly population?

Ultimately, whether it is time or money, art objects or memories that we will be exchanging in the care home of the future, new ways of thinking about ageing are vital now, in addition to providing a sustainable and personalised means of support for everyone.

Making Our First Book

We had never made a print on demand book before, so wanted to test it out before we start working with people in the care homes to create their own reminiscence books.

Barney and I are brother and sister, but we also work regularly with other members of our family, including our parents, Pip and Ali Heywood. We developed a show with our Dad Pip last year, called The Eye of the Hare, which is an autobiographical piece about aspects of his life. It’s a one-man show with him on stage reading extracts and stories from a book he has been writing combined with film and audio clips.

As we have all the material and multimedia for The Eye of the Hare already, we decided to use that to create our initial prototype book. So, the three of us got together with the script and media from the show and tried to figure out how to turn it into an interactive book. Continue reading