To break new ground and develop an alternative form of arts and health participatory practice in dementia care contexts.
To build on the collaboration between visual artist Marie Brett and musician Kevin O’Shanahan with a dementia care community of interest. Marie and Kevin had worked with this community of interest as part of the ‘Converging Lives’ project in 2012.
To produce new ambitious, collaborative audio-visual artwork and exhibit as an installation in two gallery settings: The West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen, Co. Cork and The Crawford Art Gallery, Cork city
A key artistic goal was to creatively explore, through the making of an artwork, how Ambiguous Loss Theory and the concept of ‘absence/presence’ relates to the condition and experience of Alzheimer’s.
The project was regional and multi-sited, based in Cork city and county and involved working creatively within a dementia care community of interest. Participatory work was 1:1 or in small groups and took place in family’s homes, Alzheimer Society of Ireland daycare settings and a specialist residential nursing home.
The audio-visual filmic artwork, E.gress. A trailer for this artwork will be available to view shortly at http://www.mariebrett.ie/egress.html
E.gress was exhibited at The Crawford Art Gallery and at the West Cork Arts Centre in 2013. An accompanying catalogue was published including photographic images and four contextual essays. The essays were written by: Sean O’ Sullivan, writer and curator; Sheelagh Broderick, PhD artist researcher and Julie Murphy, community worker at HSE South. This catalogue also contains a written piece by the artists comprising of reflections, questions and inspirations during the making of E.gress.
Two videos were produced that document each contextual event accompanying the artwork’s exhibition/screening.
The artists maintained reflective journals, outlining the artistic process as the work developed over the time frame of the project. A selection of their thoughts in regard to the successes and challenges in creating the artwork were distilled into an essay that appears in the catalogue accompanying the artwork.
Commissioned essays from the perspective of curator, participant and health professional also evaluate the work from a variety of perspectives.
In addition, there are two written responses to viewing the artwork by Julie Murphy, community worker at HSE South, and a written final report based on the responses of the advisory group to the artwork.
The principal findings of the final report indicated that:
- E.gress did break new ground, in terms of the ambition, risk and vision of the project
‘In the course of our discussions I did wonder how the participative work might be transformed into the artwork for showing in the gallery – I was delighted and impressed at how well E.gress achieved this transformation.’ – Mel Mercier, composer and peer critique for E.gress
- For the artists, the collaboration consolidated their respective practices and approach to participatory work, with a trust and ambition to push the work and their ideas, and to challenge and attune their motives and priorities to safeguard the artwork amid numerous ethical concerns inherent in the participatory process.
- Ethical dilemmas in relation to how to possibly present someone in a work, when the person lacks the full capacity to consent to participation, emerged as a key challenge throughout the project. An important finding of the evaluation suggested that there are no simple definitive answers to such a complex ethical question. A feature of E.gress is the taking of risks in good faith, where the dignity of those involved was respected, while honoring the responsibility of ensuring the artwork spoke from a place of honesty.
One family member commented: ‘Thank you, as a carer it is so helpful, and good to see it from the inside out. Your work is so professional and so moving. Humanity oozes from the screen.’
Other comments of family members included:
‘Very powerful and good insight into the Alzheimer’s life.’ (Denise)
‘Excellent but maybe perspective of artists too dominant for widely showing to those seeking more information on Alzheimer’s.’ (Mary)
This last comment on perspectives and questions of power within the collaborative relationship also impacted on the artists’ practice during and subsequent to the project.
Another key learning for the artists is reflected in the following excerpt from the final report:
‘We were interested in how our approach to participatory practice differs, and E.gress allowed time to fuse our practices and approach, each stepping out of our comfort zone. We spoke of the ‘hair on the back of the neck’ and intangible moments when the fusion of two disciplines gave way to the notion of 1+1=3. The time needed within this process, and mechanism for on-going reflection, is learning we will bring to each of our respective future work.’
Finally some comments from healthcare staff on completion of the project included:
‘The artwork opens up questions – like silence and how we use it, how we relate to silence. There needed to be reflective silence within the work, a companionable silence and this has been achieved.’ – Jon Hinchliffe, Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Manager Bessboro Daycare Care Centre
‘A wonderful piece of work. I feel in a short clip of eleven odd minutes, E.gress manages to capture some of the essences, challenges and losses associated with Dementia.’ – Mark Tyrell, Nursing lecturer and researcher, School of Nursing, University College Cork
‘From my perspective E.gress opened doors for individuals irrespective of their health status and it allowed clients to connect with the artists, which was beneficial in terms of social connection. Meaningful collaboration with the artists facilitated a move beyond a preoccupation with the symptoms of dementia by reaching into the subjective reality of the person who remains behind the disease.’ – Jo Calnan, Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Outreach Day Care Manager
Documentation and Dissemination
A contextual event took place at each exhibiting venue, with up to six guest speakers, reflecting on the artwork and project’s methodology from a variety of arts, curatorial, healthcare and academic perspectives. These events were filmed and form part of the project’s documentary archive. The contextual events were open to the public and drew a large national audience of artists, arts and health professionals, students and academics.
Documentary videos of the exhibition openings and discussion events:
Video 1: Launch at West Cork Arts Centre
Documents the exhibition launch by poet Thomas McCarthy at WCAC and includes reflections by artist Marie Brett and musician Kevin O’Shanahan. Produced by Shoot to Kill and supported by Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts in social and community contexts. This video is now available to view on the Create Vimeo channel: http://vimeo.com/103696934
Video 2: Crawford Screening
Documents the panel discussion event at Crawford Art Gallery, produced by Epic Productions. This video is now available to view at: http://www.mariebrett.ie/egress%20video%202.html
Written ‘witness’ responses
There were two written ‘witness’ responses to each discussion event by Julie Murphy, community worker at HSE South. These are available at the following links:
Catalogue available for purchase: contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland