Sunday, 10 June 2018

Catherine Lamont-Robinson, artist-educator

At the recent consultation event in Cardiff (8th of February, 2018) with people living with dementia, carers and family members I led a workshop using arts based enquiry through word and materials.

My practice in the medical humanities as an artist/researcher has mostly grown from collaborative work and workshops with patient participants in Arts and Heath contexts. Because I am aware of the challenges for those new to artistic expression, I shared some individual and collaborative creative pieces from my ongoing work with a Bristol medical student arts website Out Of Our Heads, to demonstrate the rich and diverse ‘non-professional’ engagements with visual and tactile materials that can be achieved. Overall, I was profoundly impressed and moved by the engagement with the materials and the powerful images produced by everyone. There were a number of themes from the day which struck a chord with me:

The desire to maintain familial bonds, and the challenges of providing continuity and reassurance through ensuring familiar presences during hospitalization were voiced early in the consultation process. In the subsequent arts workshop, this strong sense of isolation and disorientation was represented by the paper horn ‘Shouting in the Wind’, and the plea to ‘tune in’ to individual’s needs was echoed in many pieces around unlocking the patient’s anxiety-induced state during their hospital admission. A landscape collage triggered dialogue around the impact of the immediate environment in terms of flourishing. This joyful image highlighted a partner’s multi-sensory observations shortly after their hospital discharge – in stark contrast to his ‘switched off’ persona on the ward. The value of multi-sensory engagement was echoed by a participant who flagged up the role of non-verbal communication and initiatives to develop hospital staff’s confidence in reading and interpret diverse body language. My feeling is that the workshop contributions naturally mirrored the rich range of communications available to us: spatial sense, tactile forms, kinetic pieces, sound, word, construction, collage, photography.

Finding ways to maintain a holistic awareness of each person living with dementia is clearly hard-won within a hospital context. David spoke of the initiative to share ‘All About Me’ as a ready-to-hand resource for hospital staff to become familiar with their patients as individuals from admission. He felt that too often, these very unique documents would then languish unseen in filing cabinets. This observation inspired me to seek amongst my materials a tiny gift box carefully constructed out of hand-folded papers as-yet lacking content.

Linda referred to the initial impact of her condition as feeling ‘drained like an empty cup’. It later struck me that her son, who had been close to his mother throughout the day and is her main carer, providing his loving presence and practical support, was the companion piece, the ‘saucer’, who supported his mother’s sustained, positive progress.

Vaso made the analogy between tending roses and the powerful impact of care on people living with dementia ‘A flower which is precious, the essence of life, if not nourished, you loose it…this is the same with people who are being put in boxes and not being looked after, like they should be’. I informally shared this insight with a medical humanities group during a later arts workshop and in response, Vaso’s words were made tangible in clay with the utmost care and attention by Iovana, a first-year medical student.

One of the group noted that not only did the workshop draw contributors into deeper dialogue and collaborative ventures but also that the group sharing, where everyone presented their work and described the inspiration for its creation, led to further connections and enquiries that they could explore together. It is my belief that the vision of Katie Featherstone and Sonia V to include visual/tactual methodologies will lead to the creation of a unique showcase, which reflects their authentic commitment to inclusive practices and multi-layered communication.
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