So this week I finally finished my piece for the touring dementia exhibition and also the first piece of my MA collection. Yes, rather than one amazingly, orgasmic piece de resistance I decided to produce a body for my MA all linked to the sensation and concept of anxiety.
These Are Not My Memories: Dementia Bookcase draws heavily from the work of Dr Gemma Jones, as told to me first by Jane Ward (a dementia champion). I created a sheet for visitors to the dementia friendly exhibition (this is a cause very important to me as my maternal Nana died with vascular dementia) that fully explains the piece and I have pasted it below in case it is of any interest to anyone:
THESE ARE NOT MY MEMORIES
A Visual Journey Through The Dementia Bookcase
Artist: Beth Davis-Hofbauer
Dr Gemma Jones used the excellent analogy of a dementia bookcase to explain how memory becomes fractured when experiencing dementia.
There are various interpretations of this idea. Two variations were told to me by Jane Ward a Dementia Champion and whose mother died of vascular dementia.
She suggested two bookcases: a strong, beautiful mahogany bookcase that stores emotional memory. This stays mostly intact during the disease’s progression.
The other is the dementia (memory) bookcase. This bookcase is cheap, flat pack furniture. Every shelf is a different time period, each holding memories for that time. The bottom shelf is childhood (and possibly very young adulthood).
As time moves on the bookcase gets moved many times. As it is flimsy and gets moved around constantly the selves begin to weaken over time; it gets dusty and mixed up; things start to fall off the shelves and get put back wrong.
Often the only shelf to remain intact is that bottom shelf. That first period of life. This is why we often seem at odds with those we know suffering from dementia and why they seem to not know who we are for the best part.
These Are Not My Memories is the visual encapsulation of this idea.
The top of the bookcase is crumpled photos of my dementia ridden Grandmother’s last year, stained with dust and wax. There is paint haphazardly dribbled everywhere to demonstrate the chaotic nature of these memories and there are holes everywhere (these are to symbolise the literal and metaphorical holes in the memory). From the inside of the bookcase their roughness resembles that of an exit wound after a bullet has torn through; this is illustrative of how dementia rips through our memories.
The next shelf refers to memories relating to the period 1980s and 1990s. The back of the bookcase is covered in embossed wallpaper that is typical of the era. However to demonstrate how the mind has deteriorated it is ripped and burnt at the edges.
There are books from the period; a photo of me as a child but my face has been scratched out to represent the lack of complete understanding of who I am (as the disease progresses). The photo is on its side and covered in stains where tea cups have been mindlessly placed upon it; this is to show the lack of value placed on this item as the young child in it is a stranger to the advanced dementia sufferer.
The wax from the top shelf has dropped through and stained items. The paraphernalia is in a state of disarray, looking as if it has just been squashed back on the shelf and is in danger of falling out.
Like with the top shelf there are holes drilled at random, although there are fewer. The holes can be seen at the sides too.
The shelves are placed at random angles to demonstrate how memories get moved around and dislocated in their positioning.
The next shelf refers to the 1950s-70s. As with the shelf above there is wallpaper symbolic of the era. It is torn and in need of repair, although it is not burnt and as badly damaged. Again books from the era are used to illustrate this and the random paint splats that are represented on the above shelves. There are fewer holes on the side at this level as there are fewer holes in the memory.
A knickknack from the 1970s is also included. This is to link to the importance we place on objects but how this is ultimately lost when we lose our memory.
Two photos are used of the young family and children. Like the photo of the granddaughter they are scratched and the glass is broken as memories over who they are have begun to fade.
The bottom and strongest shelf is the most pristine. There is little paint and the wallpaper, typical of the era is in perfect condition.
The books from 1926-1952 are stacked neatly. A handmade felted toy is stood atop a large book, indicative of a toy that may have been played with in the era. There is a handwoven little mat that could have been made by young person from the era. However it is loosely fraying at the edge, this is the one hint we having that something is amiss and close to unravelling. On top of this is a photo in perfect condition, in a perfect frame of the lady with dementia as a young girl playing with a dog. She in this state is something we can relate to.
Through the bookcase we follow her journey from young girl entering womanhood to starting a family, grandchildren and then the final months. It humanises this cruel condition that works as a type of mental Benjamin Button, robbing us of our loved ones.
Although this lady is my Grandmother, these are not her things, it is a symbolic journey through memories and how the dementia bookcase can rob us all of those we hold dear.
As you can imagine, getting this piece to the venue was a nightmare, this was made worse by our car being in the garage and so my husband had to take it to someone’s house. The packaging cost a fortune and I am extremely worried about the piece becoming damaged for a number of reasons:
1) When I saw the piece it was not in a secure environment, in fact I felt a little lied to.
2) I had taken it for granted as I was allowing them use of this work for free that they would make sure the exhibition was insured. I only found out it wasn’t two days before the work was to be taken to them…… this I feel is an awful way to treat artists, even if you are a charity it is wrong and unfair. I am at present not insured for it…. I am so worried
3) My worry was compounded when I discovered they did not include the information with it and nor did they put it away from sticky fingers.. strange that the 2D pieces were out of reach but something far more delicate was in touching distance. They also did not even put a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign next to it.
The problem is you see that the piece look very tactile and also haphazard, apart from the bottom shelf. But it is not. It is very exact with everything in a very specific place but made to look like it is there by chance, just pushed on and dishevelled. It is very delicate.
I did go a bit mental at a couple of ladies and even tapped their hands (as if they were small children and I an Edwardian governess). This was because they started pulling at it; trying to open the very old books and pull bits off of it….. I have never wanted to remove a piece of my work from somewhere so much. The excuse of them and the staff “it’s just so inviting and tactile”… not good enough.
I also, while I am on my tirade was really annoyed when they begged me to travel 55 miles (each way) to the launch. I get there, it is awful and then they pretty much ignored me and just introduced me to a couple of locals….. yes I admire what they’re trying to do but this I am afraid is not good enough.
The final thing that made me laugh was when the woman spearheading this said to my husband when he took the piece to her that she was so happy as they could now say they’d “commissioned an artist”. My husband was polite and didn’t say anything and I don’t mind doing something for free for a good cause but to commission me they would have to pay me and instead I feel they have abused my trust and not even insured the exhibition.