Objects containing Stories

Objects containing Stories

We are interested in the stories people tell about objects. The technologies we are developing via two of our projects allow people to listen to and record their own stories. TaleTap lets you listen to stories contained in objects and record your own. ButtonTuner uses the TaleTap to tune into music contained in our interactive cushion with a different song contained in each button.

Quilting: Cradle to Grave

Last week Helen presented at a seminar at the University of Bristol organised by the fantastic Ann Rippin who collaborated with us as a member of Bristol quilters in organising interactive cushion production at our conference. Ann is an academic in Management Studies who works closely with the Bristol Quilters on a number of projects. Ann has Mary Beth Stalp  visiting as a Benjamin Meaker Fellow who has worked extensively with quilters  in the US.  The seminar last week was a great opportunity to talk about Tangible Memories to a different audience and the other presentations really gave us food for thought, especially in relation to taking the project forward using textiles and quilting.

Ann blogged about the event so for those interested do read below – and if you’re really interested do visit Ann’s blog in which she talks about all kinds of fascinating events.

Ann’s blog post: Quilting Cradle to Grave

The day started with a great presentation from Tom Keating who is a PhD student in Geographical Studies at the University of Bristol.  He was talking about the work of Josh Barnes, who is working on putting together technology and textiles for children in hospital.  The technology will enable children to get video messages from their parents while they are in the ward so that they can keep in touch.  They do this by scanning a code on the quilt and seeing the message on an iPad or iPhone (other smart technologies are available).  I thought, as he was talking, that this links with academic writings on portraiture, that they allow the absent other to be present – so a monarch can be present in 2D form in any part of the kingdom or empire, and this helps to maintain presence and thus control over the subjects.  Hence, as Simon Sharma was telling us on tv last week, there are so many standardised and ritualised portraits of Elizabeth I.

This departure was interesting because it allows children to play and move around, and gives them the comfort of the quilted textile.  It is active because children are playing with it, and passive because it remains a watching and listening activity.  What was so great was that Tom was dealing with high-end, difficult theoretical work but adapted it really well to an audience of non-specialists on Deleuze and Guattari.  I think he also loved meeting quilters who gave him the kind of fearless critique of his work that only women of a certain age can give, but which was constructive and positive and helped him think through some of his ideas on making.

Next up was our very own Val Dixon from Bristol Quilters who talked about the work that the group does providing quilts for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  We make tiny, light and bright quilts for premature babies and fabric covers for the incubators.  Val said that we had made 200 a year for ten years, and as we saw at the group’s AGM later on in the day, there are still plenty more to come.  Every baby gets a quilt and regardless of whether they survive or not, parents get to keep the quilt.  I was interested with my academic hat on about the uses that the incubator covers have.  They are backed with dark fabric to protect prem babies’ eyes, and they make the room much less stressful for the mothers, but they also have what is described as user-determined uses.  They are used as playmats when the babies go home, and also as physiotherapy mats as some of the babies require so much care.  What came across to me from Val’s excellent presentation was that the quilts are as much a gift to the mothers as to the babies, and, to use the academic jargon, that are very tangible actors in an economy of care.  These are the very first possessions of these tiny babies, and although they are sometimes buried with them, the quilts are always theirs.

Marybeth came next and talked about quilts as life bookmarks.  They keep the pages on our special life events and memories.  Although most quilt scholarship is about the objects themselves and their histories, Marybeth is interested in the living, talking makers and the circumstances which we think are special enough to make quilts to mark.  She is sometimes controversial in her claim that ‘Quilting causes tension in the home’, but she has found that when older women take up quilting or when a woman has plenty of domestic obligations and duties, the time and space the hobby requires can cause tension.  This is along the lines of, ‘I know you are making a family heirloom which will last generations, but where’s my dinner?’  She showed us something of the shadowy side of quilting with a fundraiser quilt for the KluKluxKlan, and some break-up and divorce quilts.  We also had a look at the cartoony ‘The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue’ which is a piece in which in every panel poor old Sue is killed in another fiendish way.  Marybeth showed pieces from her own history and career, and introduced me to a new idea: a Solomon’s quilt, which is where when someone in the family dies one of their quilts is cut up and made into another set of smaller quilts and given as a keepsake to their relatives.

I then showed some examples of ersatz memorial quilts that I have made to demonstrate my latest talk, oh, and my wedding quilt, made for me and the Medieval Historian by my mother.

Finally, the wonderful Helen Manchester talked to us about her work at the other extreme from the babies, the very elderly and end of life people in care homes.  This is part of a project to look at enhancing their experiences and helping them to capture their memories and it includes textiles as they can be such a source of comfort.  So the lovely thing about this is that it might finally prove a way into inter-generational work as young people are very familiar (usually) with the technology such as smart phones and the older generations have an existing creative repertoire of quilting, stitching, knitting and so on, which can come together to form talking cushions and so on.  Helen described her project as thinking about moving from physical care into relational care through textiles, and building a community through stories about coping with loss.  I love Helen’s project because it is so imaginative and helps me to feel a bit less terrified of a lonely and isolated old age.  It is full of optimism and I love the fact that the quilts are part of that.

 

An Intern’s Insight into Tangible Memories from Immy Davies

As a Third Year University of Bristol Drama and Film Student coming to the end of my degree, I believed I possessed a certain level of comprehension with regards to the variety of ways Theatre and Film exists in and aids the community. Perhaps this assumption subsequently forced me to search for something more diverse and distinctive in my placement opportunity, attracting me to Stand and Stare and specifically their Tangible Memories project. This enticement stems from my desire to broaden my knowledge about theatre before I complete my time at university.

I have been working with Stand and Stare for eight weeks now and have been fortunate enough to observe how far the project has progressed even in this short amount of time, this is testament to the passionate team working enthusiastically and consistently to achieve their aims.

A key creative progression that has taken place over the past eight weeks is the inception and the execution of creating distinctive illustrations to act in the same way QR codes use image recognition. These illustrations will trigger the audio in the books. They needed to be universal enough so they could encapsulate any story but distinctive enough to be observed as separate images. Thematically, a collection of shells were ideal as they represent the activity of listening and the image itself triggers a fond memory of playing on the beach as a child; using shells to listen to the sea.

I truly appreciate that I have been lucky enough to be utilised in all areas of Tangible Memories. Undeniably the most enlightening aspects of assisting with this project are the visits to Blaise Weston Court and Stokeleigh Lodge. Meeting the residents, discussing their stories and observing the effect the Tangible Memories books have on these two care homes is a rewarding experience. A person’s memory is undeniably unique, being able to listen to a diary of their life and being trusted enough by the person that they are willing to share these tales with you, is truly an engaging activity. My comprehension of the project in the early stages was assisted significantly by meeting a variety of people from both homes who were all contributing to the project in a diversity of ways. All were at different stages in terms of starting out, completing or editing either individual books or books for the home consisting of memories recorded by a selection of residents.  After multiple trips you begin to devise a routine to capture the most intriguing and fascinating memories shared by the residents; I found that using photos either from their possessions or sourcing them on the internet lead to stimulating conversations.  Whether it is an account of the life of a Lancaster Bomber Pilot Engineer, how they first met their spouse, the preparation and upkeep that goes into being a beekeeper, a fond story about their children or the crude conditions of the boys school toilets in the 1920s, I have truly learnt a lot from being privileged enough to listen to and record these fascinating memoirs.

Currently I am half way into my placement and although these eight weeks seemed to have flown by, the amount I have learnt already is innumerable. I have come to understand that there are many strands of theatrical practice that exist outside of the boundaries of a theatre and my work with Stand and Stare has fortified this view. My role in this project so far has only made me more excited for what is to come. Hearing the ways in which the books have been used already (as stated by one resident who reported that her book initiated a communal reading on Christmas afternoon by the whole family), emphasises that the book isn’t just a product, it is an experience that is evidently having a positive effect on all involved.

From Conch to Code

As the augmented reality develops for the interactive books and app, Stand + Stare have been working with talented illustrator Hugh Cowling, to produce a series of beautiful shell drawings that trigger audio stories when they are scanned, functioning in a similar way to a QR code.

Here are some of Hugh’s wonderful illustrations, much more aesthetically appealing and poetic than a typical QR code:

A4 15 Shells_01

Alongside the application of these drawings to the book/app prototypes, we are also exploring their potential for use on fabrics and textiles, while textured surfaces and soft objects such as cushions are considered to have some therapeutic uses for those living with dementia. Here are some examples of early tests using hand printed methods on cotton:

Shell cushions

and a digitally printed version,  on a tactile faux suede:

Shell digital print. Tangible Memories.

Evolving partly from the ButtonTuner musical cushion, we look forward to testing out the tech for these pillow cases and cushion covers, as well as developing the user experience.

Tangible Christmas

 

This week some of us met our group of residents in the extra care home we’re working with. We wanted to talk to them about their experiences of being a part of the project so far and any ideas they had for the remaining 6 months of the project. We wanted to introduce our new tessellating tiles and 3D printed place markers too and ask them to take them away and see how they worked to stimulate stories over the period of a week. We’d also asked them to bring along any christmassy orientated objects to share with the group.

 

Residents took turns to tell stories that helped to explain their different motivations and some unintended outcomes for them in the work we’ve been doing with them to remember and share stories. We were treated to tales of one resident’s address to a South Wales mining community debating society supporting gay rights, to another’s memories of his parents break up when he was very young. Motivations included wanting to leave stories for grandchildren and to record aspects of social and political history for prosperity. They also told us about unintended or unexpected outcomes such as becoming closer to each other, sharing moments of fun and laughter with these new friends and becoming closer to family members who they were able to share their memories with. One resident told us it had kept him awake at night thinking and reflecting on his past life!

 

Before showing the group our new ‘objects’ one resident was keen to share some Christmassy objects with us. She had bought along a hand written recipe book from her school days in which she had her Christmas cake recipe. The well thumbed pages themselves, covered in marzipan marks and evoking memories of school days and family life were placed on the table and discussed by the group. She also had a tin from which she drew cake decorations. She told us that one year she had stopped using the hunters on the Christmas cake as her son disliked hunting and reflected on her ‘hoarding’ instincts and the problems of storage when moving into smaller flats or care home rooms.

this one!

We then introduced our prototype proxy objects (see below) – a set of tessellating tiles and proxy objects designed as a result of several place based sessions and experiences with residents. Mixed reactions, especially when we tried to explain the use of RfiD tags to embed stories into the objects but all agreed to take an object and corresponding tile away with them. Looking forward to seeing whether they use them during the week and how effective they were in sparking story sharing with others.

IMG_7380

Tangible tea parties

The Tangible Memories team recently had the pleasure of hosting a tea party in each of the three care homes where we are currently working.

This was a great opportunity to celebrate the project so far and to share some of the design prototypes that we have been developing with the residents over the past few months. Alongside the wonderful live music, tea, cakes, flowers and bunting, there were technology demonstrations, and lots of play testing with the project’s design objects and ideas.

For example, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset was a novelty for virtual travel experiences, such as the aerial views provided by a virtual hot-air balloon ride:

Trying out the virtual experience

Another popular object was ‘ButtonTuner’, the musical cushion, which triggered an animated session of singing along to ‘Singing in the Rain’:

The music playing cushion was popular

All the residents and the care staff too, enjoyed the series of co-produced interactive books, and were able to read the stories and hear the tales of different people’s life experiences, even those from other care homes:

The interactive books being read and enjoyed

Blaise Weston_staff enjoying books2

Exploring the use of pre-decimal currency in one of the homes caring for people with dementia was successful too. After giving out purses full of threepenny coins to the residents, we explained that just for fun, the ‘thrupenny bits’ could be exchanged for a drink and cake of their choice:

Money exchange 3

On the party menus, tea and cake cost 6d, the same price as in 1942. There was some mental arithmetic recalled in the counting, and whole Battenbergs were even exchanged for pooled sums of money!

Money exchange 2

Alongside the reminiscing of tea and cakes shared in the past and the stories evoked,  it was very poignant to observe the residents’ responses to the coins, for a group of people who no longer have access to, or need to use cash in their current circumstances. Some said they were so pleased to have something to give to their grandchildren when the family next visited, comments perhaps linked to years of giving coins as pocket money. Others were fascinated by the thrupenny pieces themselves, holding them, playing with them, seeming to dwell on the tactile experience of the familiar weight, feel and sound of the coins in their hands, secured with the satisfying snap of the purse clip. It seemed as if the purses and the pre-decimal tokens became a new acquisition, all the more coveted and treasured in an environment where people have few possessions, with little practical need for material objects. The game of exchanging old money for tea party treats (while residents were able to keep both at the end of the afternoon) was, in the words of one humorous resident: ‘not devious, just crafty’!

 

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