We’re delighted that some of our work will feature at the V & A Digital Design weekend at the end of this month. It should be a great weekend as the V & A suggest:
‘Now in it’s fifth year, the V&A Digital Design Weekend brings together artists, designers, engineers and scientists celebrating the intersections of art, design and technology. Designers and artists will take over the Museum with pop up installations, open workshops, labs and family-friendly activities taking place around the building, exploring themes of civic design, sustainability and collaborative making.’
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:
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:
and a digitally printed version, on a tactile faux suede:
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.
I have just attended the 2014 International Autobiography Conference in Stockholm, where I presented a paper on the life storytelling and life writing strategies of 3 of our elder co-researchers in the project, focusing on the interplay between orality and writing and their different conceptions of time and truth, particularly where play challenges conventional chronology in the creation of stories that remain personally true.
One of our co-researchers uses writing as a means to rehearse or anchor his oral accounts as accurately as he can, departing from the written word when he is confident his memory will yield the essential details in their proper order, allowing him to bring in asides and reflections to enrich his account.
The second narrator deliberately plays with her life’s timeline, taking events that are all true for her and mixing their order in the creation of a new tale that allows her to reflect and comment on her experiences in a new way.
The third co-researcher creates children’s stories, following a tradition she started several years ago writing postscripts from a beloved pet bird to entertain an adult sister in long-term care and, by extension, the other sisters caring for her. Her protagonist, a spider, must learn not only to face, but also actively seek out new challenges and figure out his place in the world. Her stories allow her to reflect and comment on life as she has lived it so far with a view to where she would like to go in the future.
Our group was small because there were 5 simultaneous panels, but discussion was lively and I was pleased that my paper, grounded in our project, featured the work of unpublished authors. Autobiography as life writing (inscribing?) needs to work more closely with oral history in order to appreciate the multiplicity of ways extraordinary everyday stories are told. Likewise, oral history might benefit from some of autobiography’s approaches to literature-as-life-history. As a folklorist, being a child of the issue that — as ballad scholar Tristram P. Coffin is famously credited with saying — ” Anthropology got off English” I keep firm hold of the hands of both my reluctant and slightly abashed parents and see no shame in my intellectual lineage. Textual studies and ethnography can enrich each other.
From the conference In particular, I was struck by Andrew Miller’s (Flinders University, Australia) presentation on autoethnography in digital storytelling and wondered if there was scope in a future direction of the project for Intergenerational work between seniors and youth that could create sites of digital life storytelling, where young people could mediate the technology as needed but also listen to and help put together elders’ stories and perhaps even vice versa, if an interface could be devised that was accessible for people with fine motor problems and sight issues. While young and old alike could also be authors in solitude, the project has clearly shown that stories have their greatest power in shared contexts. Perhaps this is one area where the project’s emphasis on scalable interactive books could really shine, in the development of elder-centred tools for storytelling.
Likewise, a paper by Hertha D. Sweet Wong (Berkeley) on the artist books of Julie Chen, beautiful hand-crafted and deliberately non-digitally interactive books that compel the reader to confront narratives about our relationship to the passage of time, got me thinking about whether the technology underpinning the interactive books and whether future iterations could be published combining digital and essentially mechanical interaction (think of the difference between a video or an e book and a fold out pop up book or one with “secrets” that must be physically unlocked in reading). On the face of it, my feeling is yes, since this conference has brought up a question we asked ourselves early in the project: “What about writing as well as audio? What about texts-as-artefacts as well as objects-as-texts?”
Perhaps as with many stories, we will find we end at the beginning, wiser for the journey and ready to go in a new direction.
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.
Some of the paintings from the early sessions have been framed and shown at the recent Connected Communities conference in Cardiff.
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.
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.’
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
While visiting relatives in London, I took the opportunity to pop in to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see this fascinating display about memory techniques.
‘In the age of the internet we rarely rely on the skill of remembering, but systems to assist memory were once essential. One of the oldest is the Memory Palace, which requires picturing a familiar building, then placing vivid images within it. When you imagine walking through the building, the images trigger the facts you want to recall. The technique comes from an ancient Greek story about a banqueting hall that collapsed, crushing the guests beyond recognition. The poet Simonides was able to identify each guest by mentally walking around the table and visualizing them.
Cicero and Quintilian described the Memory Palace in their treatises on rhetoric, which were influential in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, when education involved rote-learning facts and figures, different memorising systems evolved and were promoted through lectures, manuals and children’s card games.
But Simonides’ simple and personal technique still appeals. For a mnemonic setting we might use, rather than a banqueting hall, our home, a place characterized by strong visual, sensual and emotional recollections. This display explores the art of remembering, as well as the idea of home as a Memory Palace.’
What Are You To Me? Is an interactive multimedia installation that explores how we might remember the lives of our grandparents, taking audiences on their own personal journey through the fragmented re-imagining of three culturally diverse families. It is an archive of memories, where sights, sounds and smells become the trigger for audiences to access their own memories, wishes and regrets.
The installation provided a great opportunity for us to think about ways of triggering memories. Some ideas we discussed after the visit included:
The tags only contained a small amount of text but were really good at evoking a whole scene. Keeping stories short, or at least having a synopsis seems like a good idea.
The use of smells/odours/scents was really interesting when combined with the tags.