Reflecting on ‘b-side Assemblies No 2: Embracing Change, Embracing Dementia’ by Rachel Dunford

A new initiative b-side have started is called ‘b-side assemblies’ where people can book a place for a day of conversation, featuring contributions from artists, producers and curators. The discussion is usually linked with the exhibition currently on at Outpost (Outpost is b-side’s office and gallery space).

The event I attended was called ‘b-side Assemblies No 2: Embracing Change, Embracing Dementia’. The event featured contributions from Chair Alex Murdin – Arts Manager Arts In Hospital, Raina Summerson – CEO Agincare Group, Marc Yeats – composer and artist, Jenni Dutton – artist and Jordi Robert – film maker. Below you will find my reflection and review of Jordi Robert’s piece ‘Memory Palace’. I have also written about Jenni Dutton’s work & Marc Yeats work too (b-side will post them soon)

Jordi Robert, Memory Palace, 2017

“My mother hasn’t lost her identity, she has a new one I have to accept”. 

Jordi Robert is a Catalan visual artist resident in the UK. He has a particular interest in finding new ways to tell stories, often using his camera as the catalyst. He responds to everyday experiences and current social issues, using these as a starting point. He adopts both a documentary and conceptual approach to his work.

“Complex human relationships and basic emotions fascinate me”

The work was split between three screens. One screen featured photographs that Roberts’ had taken during the project, these were very intimate and quite cinematic, documenting his mother’s possessions and close ups of her lose, frail skin. Roberts’ had photographed his mother’s skin in extreme detail leaving only glimpses in focus, while still leaving the audience to be able to identify what was being shown. The images were almost like a painting due to the abstract way they were taken. Age is a topic most people are afraid of talking about and here it has been clearly displayed allowing us to explore the textures, curves and bumps of Robert’s mother’s skin. The photographs of the details of the care home are captured in a very matter of fact way and I believe any viewer with elderly relatives will be able to relate to this.

The second screen showed old home videos of Robert’s mother and family. Caught in a moment in time when this woman knew who she was and is full of life. She is shown laughing and smiling at the camera, surrounded by her family. These videos are easy to watch and often make the viewer feel nostalgic, allowing them to reflect on their own family videos and memories of loved ones. By placing this video in the middle of the screen I wonder if Robert’s has used that as a central focal point due to it being the way he wishes to rememberhis mother. By placing videos either side of this, it’s like stray thoughts of the reality which is happening to his family now. Although placed in the middle of the screen, I rarely looked at it and instead was  intrigued by the third video.

The third video was possibly the saddest and showed a true depiction of Robert’s mother and her condition. Roberts’ had static cameras placed around the care home that his mother now lived in and we were told she called her ‘home’. The cameras had been strategically placed to only show parts of his mother’s body. For example her hands moving across her lap, her feet shuffling across the screen, sitting quietly at a table eating soup. All of these moments felt very routine and devoid of life compared to the middle screen. The soundtrack of this video was the actual sounds that could be heard in the care home. Occasionally another resident can be heard calling out, or nurses shuffling in the background and quite humorously, a 30 second clip of Robert’s mother moving across the screen and dragging her walking frame in front of her with a loud squeak. This screen did make me feel quite sad and uncomfortable due to my memories of a relative in a care home.

I found Robert’s piece emotional and visually engaging, the photographs he had taken were beautiful and the topic he was documenting is particularly interesting to me and my practice. I left with very mixed emotions due to the vibrant videos showing his mother full of life in her youth contrasting with the sad scenes within the care home. I think Robert’s did this intentionally to show what it is like having a family member with the condition, both the highs and the lows that he has gone through. I didn’t feel it educated me any further on Dementia as a condition or could be read solely as being about Dementia but instead about growing old and the emotions we must all go through as loved ones slip away from who we knew them as because of ageing.​

Written by Rachel Dunford.