Tag Archives: Memory

Memories and Museums

Recently, we held a group session with residents that focused on the theme of favourite walks. For some of the older people we are working with, access to the outdoors represents a physical challenge or a rare treat, while the residents of this particular assisted living location generally enjoy a much greater level of independence and freedom to go outside.

The participants in this lively group discussion came prepared with a significant walk in mind from any point in their lives, and seemed to relish sharing their experiences about a walk, or pattern of walks, that had memorable meaning. One gentleman remembered the familiarity of his walk to infant school, made suddenly dramatic one day in 1927, when a bi-plane landed in a field next to the primary school. This was the first aeroplane he had ever seen. One lady took the opportunity to advertise a sponsored walk she had planned for the very next day, to raise money in aid of the resident’s activity fund. She was hoping to make two circuits around the building where the group live, but promised that if she could get a skateboard, she would be able to make it three! There were reminiscences about walks in Blaise Castle and the Hamlet, that seemed ‘like walking in a fairyland’, while others fondly recalled walks with a husband or wife amongst snowdrops or bluebells in the Springtime. For another lady, walking on land was significant in itself, as she and her family had lived on board a boat and her daughter had learnt to walk while they were at sea.

One of the outcomes of this session, exploring favourite walks and nearby locations, was the desire to revisit some of these places in real life, in order to re-experience them and have the chance of uncovering more distant memories. Adopting the more curatorial approach on offer (see post re TopoTiles), the group decided that they would enjoy visiting the MShed, a local museum about Bristol, its places, people and their stories, which effectively seemed to represent several of the locations that they had been discussing.

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014

As a result, one blustery cold morning, we gathered into a minibus and travelled to Bristol’s harbourside to explore the MShed, and the many intriguing objects on display there.

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014
View from inside the MShed over Bristol’s harbourside

In addition to the curated exhibitions that stretched across three floors of the museum and were complemented by wintery harbourside views, the residents particularly enjoyed a guided tour of the museum’s stores, known as the LShed.

Behind-the-scenes, in a dimly-lit warehouse, these uncurated and large-scale artefacts seemed all the more enticing somehow, stacked on shelving, without labels or glass cases, or peeking out from underneath plastic sheeting and behind cupboard doors.

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014

In this unordered space, it felt as if there was more to discover in a serendipitous way, and this led to a greater number of memories being evoked for the residents, in response to the historic objects they observed among the aisles of storage.

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014

The spontaneous discovery and revelation of items within the LShed collections seemed to vividly reflect the way in which we store our memories, as well as the manner in which we tend to recall them. Jumbled and disorderly, sometimes hidden from view, our past is usually recollected in a non-linear fashion, leaping from one event to another, bounding across years and back again.

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014
A dentist’s chair with its foot-pedal drill evoked some teeth-clenching memories for the residents. (Museum visit photos: Jonathan Rowley)

The visit to the MShed and LShed, and the stories which the day evoked, were captured through a series of photographic images and sound recordings. Initially, the residents have chosen to use this material in a temporary exhibition in one of the communal living areas at their home:

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An audio-visual exhibition of the residents’ visit to MShed, currently on display in the foyer.

Five images were selected from the museum visit, with accompanying sound recordings that related to the objects in the photos.

Using three push-button sound systems already available in the foyer, we recorded short excerpts of narrative, into each of the three units:

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The mechanics of the sound system available for playing back and sharing stories from the MShed visit.

Here is an example, featuring one of the LShed mangles:

Tangible memories visit to M-Shed at Bristol docks. 7 Nov 2014

The residents now have further plans to share different aspects of their museum visit, including a slideshow for friends and neighbours (to be held later this month) and the suggestion of a ‘virtual museum’ to be installed at the home. This would involve using some of the images of the objects in store, within the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, so that those residents who are physically unable to travel to the museum itself, might be able to enjoy a similar, serendipitous discovery of the LShed and reminisce around the artefacts for themselves.

‘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:

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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.

 

Book 2 – progress report

We are in the process of creating our second interactive book, this time with one of the residents at Blaise Weston Court. It will be a collection of memories, photos and stories from her life. As before, the finished book will contain AR triggers, which allow you to listen to her recalling memories of her mother, the music she loved during the war, and lots of other audio clips and films to add depth to the text and images.

We have been visiting for the past six weeks to build up material that will make up her book. Each session has had a particular focus, such as food, music or clothing. From our conversations each week we have compiled a series of pages, taking text from things she has written and transcriptions of her words to show snippets and memories from her life.

The next stage will be to work with her to decide on which order she wants the pages. As with our first book, The Eye of the Hare, we are interested in juxtaposing memories from different times in her life, rather than displaying them in chronological order, to reflect the fragmented nature of memory. This process of ordering will also allow her to highlight any gaps or significant events/times that she would like to include.

Co-designing is helping us to develop a blueprint of tasks that we hope eventually can be followed by other older people and their carers/relatives who want to create their own books.

We were also pleased today when she said how much she was enjoying the process. She said it has helped her to remember all kinds of things that were buried, going right back to her childhood.

This is a photo of her that she sent to her husband in 1944, when he was stationed in Holland during WWII.

 

 

Future Memorial Artist Workshop

A few of the Tangible Memories team attended the “Art, Death & Candy” event at the Arnos Vale cemetery  yesterday evening. A discussion was led by artist Julia Vogl and Dr Jon Troyer about the possibilities of future memorials and their role within society. During the process gumballs were used to cast a vote on the factors the participants found to be most important. Continue reading

What Are You To Me?

A few of us went and visited the installation “What Are You to Me?” in the Centrespace Gallery yesterday afternoon. In their own words:

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.

View through an old handheld slide viewer:
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The smell library:
smell

Tags and photos:
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