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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Here is an example, featuring one of the LShed mangles:
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.
The AHRC funded us to create an immersive installation in which we recreated a care home setting in order to showcase our prototype technologies, discuss and publicise the project with others and ask people to think about community, object based story telling and tangible technologies in care home settings.
Following a comment from a resident in one of our research sites, ‘If you want them to come provide tea and cake,’ we did just that – tea cosies, a cake stand always full of traditional and homemade delicacies, and a kettle were key elements in the installation.
We also invited older people from the care settings we are working in to come along to the festival. These visits were incredibly significant for the whole team and we put a lot of energy into ensuring that the people who visited were treated to a great day out in which they were able to understand better the part that they play in the project in a wider context and outside of the care settings in which they live.
Several things struck us as important about the process of involving the older residents in the festival:
1. It was initially difficult to persuade one of the care homes that their residents would benefit from the trip as concerns about their physical welfare were seen to outweigh the other benefits of their involvement. It was worth reiterating out commitment to residents’ physical and social and cultural welfare, our belief that they would benefit from their involvement in the day and their importance to the project as whole, as well as our support for the position of the care home manager in this case. After her initial reaction the manager soon realised the need for them to engage in (her words) practices of ‘managed risk’ for the benefit of older people.
2. It is unusual to see very old adults and/or disabled people in public spaces – our residents increased the number of people in wheel chairs at the festival x8 at least. This visibility felt important to us and is something that we want to continue to do throughout the project – working up to our end of project conference which we intend to be co-designed with older people and the care staff that we have been working with.
3. Seeing the residents out of the care setting shed different light on them as individuals – processes of institutionalisation effect people in different ways- being out of the home settings bought about different reactions and interactions that we can now build on as a project team.