Right from Part 1 when my tutor suggested looking at memory boxes in relation to dementia, I wanted to explore the use of boxes to represent the loss of memory in people suffering from this degenerative disease.
During the succeeding exercises, I have picked up other ideas which could add to this, in particular the poignant weathered photographs of Kris Vervaeke http://www.krisvervaeke.com/gallery/ad-infinitum/ .
In my father’s nursing home, the majority of the residents were suffering from dementia. The activities and event days run by the home were always colourful and reminiscent of pre-school open days with simple drawings pinned to notice boards and an “Easter Bonnet” activity where the residents would be wearing ridiculous hand-made hats painted in bright colours with tissue paper stuck on them. While the intentions of the staff were good, I always felt that there was a lack of dignity for who the residents had once been.
For my final assignment I want to explore this conflict by assembling a number of boxes – maybe 20 – with lids. Each box will be painted, and maybe embellished, in simple block colours with the first name of the individual on the outside. Inside the box there will be printed, faded photographs of the person with maybe a later image overlaying one of their younger self – this needs working through.
I thought I could contact a dementia society and friends to request input from relatives of dementia sufferers. This will be a dignified piece reminding the viewer that the exterior of the person is not necessarily representative of who they once were – an independent person with a history and character.
My tutor suggested that I keep an open mind when researching this piece and follow where the journey takes me rather than being bound by having a pre-determined goal in mind.
This proved to be good advice as the final video, although made use of the box format, were not as originally envisaged.
The boxes of Joseph Cornell sparked my imagination and I liked the idea of a box representing a life.
This piece was about loss, dementia and, on a personal level, my father who passed away a year ago after spending over four years in a home suffering from dementia.
I quickly realised that to include the experiences of others and replicating the work was not going to be feasible within the time frame, so I concentrated instead on my own personal experience.
After completing the previous section and producing the three-dimensional diorama charting the life of the Victoria Infirmary, I thought the layering of images was an effective way of expressing a voyage back through time.
One of the suggested artists for researching on me last tutor report was Valerie Hegarty http://valeriehegarty.com/artwork/1874049_Niagara_Falls.html. The image of something that was once complete but now partially destroyed by fire was a powerful one and I thought I would use that analogy in my final piece. The act of burning something has always been highly symbolic across all cultures. Fire destroys, fire cleanses, there is a finality to something which has been burnt to ashes (ashes to ashes…). It speaks of death but also re-birth (phoenix from the flames). Fire is also a feature in many “Vanitas” paintings like George de la Tour’s “Magdalen with the smoking Flame” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:La_Madeleine_%C3%A0_la_veilleuse,_Georges_de_La_Tour_(Louvre_RF_1949-11) reminding us of the temporary nature of life which will fade and burn out in the end.
The weathered photographs of Kris Vervaeke http://www.krisvervaeke.com/gallery/ad-infinitum/ were poignant and I experimented with “weathering” printed photographs of my father. Sanding the surface and applying some gloss medium seemed to give the desired effect.
Still in the experimental stage I collated some family photographs and tried out different means of incorporating the images in layers within a box using an image of a ship’s engine room as the backdrop.
I struggled a bit with getting enough light into the piece and I wasn’t entirely happy with the resolution of each of the images where they overlapped.
Part of the original remit was to acknowledge the person behind the façade. I attended an OCA study visit in Glasgow which was mainly for photographers but I was fortunate enough to see a presentation of the work of fellow OCA student Neil Gallacher https://neilgallacher.wordpress.com/. His knowledge of dementia patients from a personal and professional stance mirrored some of what I was trying to achieve. In particular, he had printed out a poem written in 1966 by nurse Phyllis McCormack called “Look Closer Nurse”, a moving account of an old lady looking out of an aging, unresponsive shell and reminiscing about her long and fulfilling life.
What do you see nurse? What do you see?
Are you thinking when you’re looking at me
A crabbbit old woman, not very wise
Uncertain of habbit, with faraway eyes
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see
Then open your eyes nurse, for you’re looking at me
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still
As I use at you biddings, as I eat at your will
I am a small child of ten with a father and mother
Brothers and sisters who love one another
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet
Dreaming of soon her lover she’ll meet
A bride soon at twenty my heart gives a leap
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep
At twenty five now I have young of my own
A woman of thirty, my young growing fast
Bound to each other with ties that will last
At forty my young sons will now grow and be gone
At fifty, once more babies play around my knee
Again we know children my loved one and me
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead
I look to the future, I shudder with dread
For my young are all busy, rearing young of their own
And I think of the years, and the love I have known
I’m now an old woman and nature is cruel
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart
There is now a stone where I once had a heart
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells
And now and again my battered heart swells
I remember the joys, I remember the pain
And I’m loving and living life all over again
I think of the years all too few – gone, so fast
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last
So, open your eyes nurse, open and see
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer, see ME
With the idea of having an image of my father as an old man affixed to the front of the box which would then be burned away revealing the layers of a life lived underneath, I experimented with various weights and types of paper – butcher’s paper, rice paper, copier paper before deciding on a very light weight cartridge paper. This burned quickly without setting fire to the box. Unfortunately it did warp the acetate sheets with the other images below.
I abandoned this and simplified the work to only two images; that of my father as an old man and one of him in his prime wearing his Merchant Navy uniform which I “weathered” as before.
The video of the uncovering of the earlier image with a voice-over of the first line from the “Look Closer Nurse” poem worked much better for its simplicity.
It was interesting that I received a shocked reaction from someone close to me due to the fact that I had set fire to an image of my father. He felt as if I was desecrating my father’s memory which couldn’t be further from the intention. For me it was a freeing of the person who had been trapped within the body ravaged by dementia and a remembering of the vigorous younger man of his youth.
Cornell, J (1903-1972): http://www.theartstory.org/artist-cornell-joseph.htm
Hegarty, V (b. 1967) : http://valeriehegarty.com/artwork/1874049_Niagara_Falls.html
Vervaeke, K: http://www.krisvervaeke.com/gallery/ad-infinitum/
Gallacher, N: OCA Photography Student – https://neilgallacher.wordpress.com/
As I reached the end of Part Five, I really felt that I had come as far as I wanted to in the exploration of mixed media techniques. This course has widened my appreciation of the almost limitless scope of things to draw on to express my vision.
At the outset, I wanted to investigate glitch and disruption in all its aspects but due to the death of my father, I found myself heading in a more reflective direction, looking at memory and nostalgia. I felt compelled to follow this path and in doing so, I felt I produced work with a strong personal connection and I’m glad I did this. I’m sure I will return to examining glitches in future work but for now this body of work reflects a catharsis of sorts.
Looking at the Part 5 coursework and my assignment piece against Assessment criteria, I have made the following observations:
- Demonstration of technical and visual skills:
- This was a much more “physical“ section with lots of construction and 3D work so, while my skills of visualising a concept and taking it through to a three dimensional work were stretched, my visual skills – drawing, painting and observation – took a bit of a back seat this time.
- Quality of outcome:
- With the exception of the “Objects and combines” project which I didn’t really connect with, I felt that the other outcomes had an emotional impact and that the work was successful in conveying the message and the mood which I had intended.
- Demonstration of creativity:
- I am satisfied that I have adequately explored a range of techniques to tell my stories. For me it is the message or concept which takes priority and technique should be chosen to best express the narrative and be sympathetic to the overall work. As I am on the Painting pathway, I view paint and drawing materials as the primary media I will use with an extensive range of mixed media tools at my disposal to bring something additional and experimental to the works.
- I really felt this coming together with the research into “Real and illusory spaces” and my assignment piece. I took something from each of the researched artists in my “Non-art” spaces pieces and I was particularly enthralled by the Andy Goldsworthy video which gave a real insight into his work methods and thought processes. After a shaky start my assignment piece coalesced, largely after the Glasgow Study visit and my introduction to the work of fellow student Neil Gallacher.
Reflection on Tutor Feedback for Part Five
I was pleased that my tutor considered my work for this section to be highly experimental as this was the most challenging module in terms of technique. My discernment is improving as I also felt that my hospital piece and final video were my strongest pieces.
Feedback on assignment:
Generally a successful outcome but the top (aged) picture of my Dad shows a happy person, not one who is suffering from dementia and who is a shell of their former self. I did not take any photographs of my Dad in the later stages of dementia as he would not have wanted to be seen that way and I did not want to capture an image of him like that. We discussed how adding another layer might accomplish this and maybe the image of an empty chair or the outside of a care home would allude to the loss. The logistics of the burning might be a bit tricky and there may be something lost in the meaning of the initial lighting of the candle which is in front of the older image of my Dad.
It was suggested that the red and yellow mesh piece is reminiscent of a nature film by Agnes Martin. I did find a video called “Traces” which may be the one mentioned as there are some flashes of yellow across the trees as the camera moves along the road. https://uk.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=AwrP4k_b.lBbwhcAJ31LBQx.;_ylu=X3oDMTE0amFzb3QwBGNvbG8DaXIyBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjYwNjdfMQRzZWMDcGl2cw–?p=agnes+martin+nature+film&fr2=piv-web&fr=crmas#action=view&id=12&vid=e2c56ff33be7b84b4b883c1bba6fbf95
We discussed where my practice may head in the future. I wish to bring painting more to the fore and I mentioned that I was inspired by Joan Eardley https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/joan-eardley-sense-place , Joan Fullarton https://joanfullerton.com/ and Lars Eje Larsson http://www.larsejelarsson.se/galleri.html#&gid=null&pid=50. We also discussed the work of Adrian Ghenie https://www.pacegallery.com/artists/144/adrian-ghenie whose technique with paint I admire although his subject matter is a bit on the dark side for me and it was suggested that I also look at the work of Barbara Rae http://barbararae.com/ and Pia Fries.
My hospital palimpsest layered work was a successful outcome and we discussed using layering in some format in my critical review.
Process and Material Research
My material research has been fairly extensive and, while not all of it has felt immediately useful, I have developed a more analytical approach and can ascertain the things I don’t like about a piece of work as well as what I do.
Written Research/Critical Essays
As I have changed my topic for the critical essay, I have not yet sorted through my body of research to apply it to the topic.
It was suggested that I look at the Californian light arts movement in relation to my environmental yellow and red piece as there are be material and ideas which relate to my approach with this project.
Learning logs or blogs
With this course being so diverse, my tutor suggested that I now take the time to review and reflect on the research and the work, to consolidate the new learning and apply it to my continuing practice.
Barbara Rae: http://barbararae.com/ – Barbara’s work employs many layering techniques which is very useful moving towards my critical review section where I will be examining layering as a technique to express the passing of time and loss.
Her use of colour is bold and unexpected, with semi-abstract landscapes glazed in red or blue.
Pia Fries: https://vimeo.com/104425551 – Highly original, intriguing work taking inspiration from classical etchings – folds in material, flowers and foliage, plumage etc. The process is very physical with both paint and canvases manipulated to achieve the desired results. Not so much painting as pushing paint around! With the abundance of empty space and the painted segments separated from each other there is a dynamic sense of movement and flow.
Suggested for Critical Review
Hebridean Dementia Project – https://dfclanntair.wordpress.com/about/ Not just art related, this project, or collection of projects, is an arts-based community initiative for people touched by dementia. It encompasses music, dance, textiles and painting to explore means of communication with those whose cognitive functions have become impaired through dementia.
This is very moving series of self portraits drawn by artist, William Utermohlen, over the five years from when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until his death. The portraits mirror his deterioration over this time with the latter ones barely recognisable as the person he once was.