Art Place

Lost in language, finding memory: concluding thoughts with Ottawa Stilt Union

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April 20, 2016 

How would you describe your overall experience with Art Place?

This has been a very interesting experience for us: it has expanded our ideas of how we can work. We have thought of ourselves primarily as a physical creation company and we found ourselves, in this situation, with nothing physical to work with. Being able to adapt and create a satisfying experience for ourselves and our community partner was gratifying and opened the doors to new ideas for us to explore in future. Also, we really appreciated having AOE act as interface between us and the community, doing the hard work of administration so that we could do the fun work of art!

What are some of the most significant things you’ve learned through out your project?

We have learned a lot about memory loss; about how to talk to people who have lost their ability to express themselves; about the power of music to engage memory; about the power of nature to trigger memory… We have also learned how important it is for any group of people to have new experiences – this can refer to us as artists and also to the residents of Carleton Lodge: I think it would be fair to say that nobody expects much of them on a day to day basis, so having us come and ask them to participate in our project was good for them: stimulating.

How was your project a success? 

Judging by the response of our contact at Carleton Lodge, this project has been very successful in stimulating and engaging the residents: as the weeks passed they became more open to telling us things, more comfortable with us and our process, and had occasional magical breakthroughs in which they accessed memories long buried. An important part of the success of the project was the fact that we were there with no specific agenda or expectation and thus were able to listen to the residents and let them express themselves without judgement or censorship. Even with the best of intentions it can be difficult for staff and family members who interact with the residents daily to maintain an open mind and a relaxed attitude and to allow the space and time for the residents to express themselves.

What do you intend for audiences to see, experience, and think about when learning about your project?

If/when we make a performance with this material we will want the audience to experience what we experienced in working with these people: curiosity, delight, sorrow, love, frustration, heartbreak, hilarity. We will try to communicate the sense of being lost in language which so many of the residents experience, as well as the sense of being liberated from meaning and existing in a world of associative poetry, which is the case for some. We will also try to communicate the sense of the profound physical constraint that many of the residents live with, which, for some, is deeply frustrating and even enraging.

In what ways did or will the community benefit from your project?

The community of Carleton Lodge has benefited from our presence in various ways: we brought new perspectives and ideas both to the residents and to the staff; we helped people connect to their memories through music and through object association; we gave individual attention to participants and valued their presence and responses to us; we gave pleasure to residents and staff, which we hope may have extended in some part to the families of the residents by association. In the case of a future performance, in so far as we are able to shed light on what it is like to be an older person with profound physical and mental obstacles, we hope to spread empathy and understanding.

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Did the participants feel that arts and culture offerings are physically, financially and/or geographically accessible to them? Did participating in this project change this?

This program’s participants are not in a position to express an opinion on this. I can say from our perspective and from the perspective of our contact person at Carleton Lodge that the elder residential community is underserved in terms of arts and culture since they are really not able to go to see and experience art and culture and few things come to them. In light of that, our presence was a welcome change from routine as well as an influx of new ideas.

Do you have anything else you would like to share about your project or the program?

We are very grateful to have had this opportunity. We haven’t yet processed all that it means to us personally and artistically, but it has been a profound experience for us and will no doubt stimulate us artistically for some time to come.

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Thanks for sharing / Merci d’avoir partagé!

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