Gather a shell from the strewn beach
And listen at its lips: they sigh
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea’s speech.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Sea-Limits, (1919)
After discussing and trying out various possibilities for the illustrations, we decided that sea shells (particularly conch shells) were the perfect visual metaphor for the Tangible Memories project and an ideal vehicle to trigger audio clips within the book, app or any other surface that they may appear on. You hold a shell to your ear and listen to the memory of the sea, just as memories are held within books. The rich visual qualities and the variation of different types of shell are similar to a person’s life and the memories that are collected over time, this idea became more prominent the more I studied the shells and realised just how intricate and complex they were!
Visiting the care homes and meeting the residents and carers was an integral part of this project for me. I was able to experience the fundamental notion of the Tangible Memories project first-hand; communication and the sharing and recording of memories. The process of recording people’s memories and stories, whether it be through writing, taking a photo or audio recording engages both the resident and the listener. Listening to people’s stories and memories was hugely inspirational and being able to preserve these memories in a tangible way is fantastic! I am delighted that I was able to contribute to this project.
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.