Tag Archives: objects

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.

Exploring identity through objects and images

At a recent conference, I was intrigued to hear about a form entitled This Is Me, which aims to ‘help health and social care professionals build a better understanding of who the person really is’, when a person is suffering from dementia and about to enter a new care home. I decided to download a copy from the Alzheimer’s Society’s website, and try responding to it myself:

This is Me form edited

It was very difficult to summarise my identity and life history in four lines or less and I am only 38. I can only imagine how much more challenging and upsetting this task becomes when you are over 70, 80 or 90 years old, and are perhaps struggling to recall some of the more significant moments or events. Personally, even for me, it was a strangely emotive experience to try and reduce myself to a sentence or two, or a list of points at best. I felt frustrated and humiliated that a single piece of paper should represent the complexity of any human being, and be handed over to care staff with the title of the form declaring ‘This Is Me’. This is not me – I am not a printed sheet of A4. I was also at a loss to know how I should respond (despite the lengthy Guidance Notes provided) to such open-ended statements like ‘I would like you to know…’ (4 lines) and worried about providing the ‘correct’ information under each section. The idea of completing this form, even with a trusted friend or family member to assist, must be very distressing for new residents on the move at a confusing and challenging stage of life.

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Building Memories: The Art of Remembering

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.

Building memories

‘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.’        

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