Friday, 30 March 2012

Project Object

I'm very pleased to say that I am one of the artists/designer makers that have been invited to take part in the fantastic new 'Project Object'.

Project Object: Product and Furniture Designer, Tim Denton, Creative business Bonkers*ClutterbucksLtd and myself are being commissioned to engage with Blackpool's historic collections and built heritage to design a range of quality products inspired by the seaside resort which will be sold in the Grundy Art Gallery Shop and the Tourist Information Office Shop.

You can find out more at the project object blog, including how you could get involved.


Thursday, 29 March 2012

memory 1st

My husband often comments ‘I’m worried about your memory’ I get things confused, I forget things... the other day as I was trying to get my sleepy son out of his bed in the morning, I tried to convince him that it was Friday; the last day of the week he had to get up… my son looked at me with confusion, as it was explained to me it was in fact Tuesday. I was in my own version of Ground Hog day, I was about to repeat the diary activities of the previous week. So what’s happening to me? I suspect it’s simply that I’ve just got a lot of things going on at themoment, lots of new projects starting, all with different challenges, there are the kids to get sorted, and domestics that are loaded at the bottom.  I find I have to make an effort to stick to one subject, my brain is whizzing round with ideas and questions. I thought it was meant to be the ‘younger generation’ who've no attention span. The trivial and the mundane is quickly consigned to my brain's deleted folder - I live by lists and my diary.

But is there anything else? Is this also about getting older? How does your memory change, as you age? Memory is something we take for granted - until we lose it- or someone close to us loses it.

As part of the project working memories’ I am undertaking some research into art and memory, investigating art as biography, as autobiography, the role of the archive (both paper and synaptic) revisionist memory, absence of memory and art as remembrance.

Working with people diagnosed with dementia encourages new ways to look at memory. You can’t validate their memories; it’s their reality - is one persons wrong is another's right? As artists/writers Phil and I work with the person as they are now, the truths as they see them. We have enough distance to do this comfortably, when it’s your own family - people you love - it’s a harder journey to take. We time travel with our minds, and the past for someone with dementia is often a more comfortable place to be in than the confusion of the now.

My sisters Kim and Nicola and brother Brian

It’s not just people with dementia who adapt memories; am I alone in having siblings who ‘steal’ an autobiographical memory? My big sister Kim is now convinced that she was the one who tied my sister Nicky to a tree and left her to be eaten by the wolves… whereas I ‘know’ it wasactually me who was tied to the tree by Nicky. Memories become stories they are re-told, distorted and edited for dramatic or comic effect and their ownership changes. A vivid memory is no guarantee that it really happened, but is a‘false’ memory a lesser memory? Too many questions not enough time, I've just seen another pile of jobs emerge whilst I have been writing this to distract me..

A younger version of me

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What's in the box?

There are lots of different ways of creating memory boxes, as part of my project working memories’ I am undertaking some research into different approaches.

Memory boxes generally contain a selection of social history objects, photographs and other resources that can be used as memory prompts.

For older people, particularly those with dementia, using memory boxes can bring pleasure, trigger warm memories, stimulate and use of them has the potential to lift depression and improve communication.

A clear guide to memory boxes can be found at

A different more creative approach comes from ‘Making Memories Matter’, from The European Reminiscence Network, started in 2004 “has involved artists from 7 countries working with individual older people to create ‘Life Portraits’ or ‘Memory Boxes’ around their life experience. Over 100 boxes have been created, recycling ammunition cases and giving them a peaceful and creative use. Each box has an accompanying text explaining the contents, putting the display in the wider context of the older participants life and giving the artist’s perspective.” Some revealing ‘Making Memories Matter’ videos can be found on YouTube And 
General information about Making Memories Matter is found at

My plan is an Artist Residency spread over 6 months in Day Care Centres and a hospital for older people including those diagnosed with dementia, in rural Peak District. During my residency I will create illustrated reminiscence boxes for use in the host venues, and digital versions for care settings throughout the region. I aim to sit and draw the memories of older people directly as they speak them, forming a unique collaboration. It can be a interesting experience for someone watching an artist drawing/creating artwork- breaking down the boundaries between the artist and the audience, demystifying the process of making art.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A bloody belter

arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces are interviews, others creative work.  This project is in partnership with Age Concern Salford and Salford PCT. 


I don't like cards. We used to talk alot in the past. Not talk, converse. You sit there and chat: "We used to go here and there." One of them bloody things. Chat to that old fella over there, he's alright, he's bang on. I like to converse rather than silly bloody games. We're not bloody stupid, we know why we're here. What they've done to us!

I don't play cards. But I like it here, I've no qualms. I've still got me marbles, some of em. My darling looks after me, she thinks I'm bloody going daft I think. But I'm alright really, I understand the situation. Well what else can I do? I'm telling you as it is.

Born Anky Park, I've been all over. Did work for the milling people. Knocked about with people, I look around. I like to converse, tell you things, listen. I'm curious about the world. I loved the Mexicans best, but they got too Americanised. We was building a flour mill in Mexico. Went there 19 times I think. Went to Ireland 11 times. Stayed in digs, they wouldn't let us stay in the hotel cos the IRA kept blowing it up.

D'you know what a 'dingler' is? A derogatory term for someone who's really going down. Stupid. It's a word you would never use in this place. Even me and you've got a baddun here: I'm from Anky Park, Ankinson Street. "Stupid? You would have to talk about that." People treat you different here. But I'm alright. We're all getting older, what're you gonna do?

Lucky? Yes I am, the only thing wrong with me is Alzheimers. I can converse, but I've had some bad knocks. So what? I've got to bloody carry on, I wouldn't want to roll up and bloody die. I like to talk, but not rubbish. I'm glad things like this - you and me talking - are coming into here.

My wife gets uptight sometimes with me. I swear a lot, "For Chrissake!" But without her I'd be gone. She's a bloody belter that girl, honestly. She is the best, the best. We used to go out to the dancing, I really loved it. I really did. A good life, a good laugh.

Early days I can remember. Bellevue when I was eight, we'd go there on our own, with the other boys, the other kids. It wasn't a big deal, the freedom. For 2 and 6 you'd see the show. When I used to go there it was marvellous. There was two Bachelors I went with. Not THE Bachelors, they were arseholes. Have you played 'Alleys'? Marbles, flicking them? I was good at "flirting" the marbles. It's nice to remember sometimes, they're good memories.

Work, I was in charge. It was my bag. The work, it was up to me to do it, to make it go. I had to do it. Alot of people in the business went down cos of drinking too much, chasing girls. I'm not a big drinker. I like a drink but I won't be a piss artist. I was in charge.

I don't let people take me where they want to go. I'm still in charge. I couldn't put my coat on this morning and it upset me. We're all getting bloody older. I wish me head was better. You know I've got this Alzheimers?

I'll tell you a story, I thought it was funny. Posh pub. I was going in this pub, rushing to get me keks down cos I was bursting for a pee. Got hold of a roll of toilet paper, bloody thing fell down and I was trying to get me pants down and I got confused. Got out of the gents and I was trying to get out of this bloody big, big pub, lost. And she was going on, calling me. Couldn't find me way. And then I looked down. Embarrassing but what are you going to do? One of them things. You just can't get your underpants up some days.

Interview with Philip Davenport
February 2012

Friday, 23 March 2012


A Winter Garden is a text/art project with people in Blackpool dealing with depression and isolation. The project is led by writer Philip Davenport (from arthur+martha) and book artist Emily Speed.

Philip writes:

22 February 2012

Session 7

“I love to look at old photos. They compel you to look, they're so beautiful. But there's something eerie too. The people look back out at you, straight into your eyes. You wonder what they were thinking at that moment when the camera clicked.” (D)

The morning and afternoon sessions were a trawl through the photograph collection at Blackpool local history archive, with the guidance of librarian and inspiration Tony Sharp.

We were looking for accidental findings that sparked an emotion, a thought, a forgotten face or gesture. Little illuminations, in other words.

People looked at these eccentric traces of other humans and found shards of their own lives reflected. The process of hunting through the images brought great delight. We were smiling as we searched the bric-a-brac. Once images had been selected they were photocopied and people wrote their responses over the top of them, threading words through the shape of the image.

“I love to do this; the creativity makes me alive. Drawing, writing, painting. It's been uplifting.” (Anon)

Tony talked us through a selection of the images and brochures. The photos in this particular collection are remarkable because they document the razzmatazz of old showbiz and the human quirkiness that Blackpool is a monument to. A great deal of money, care and pride has gone into these artefacts. The brochures from the 1920s and 1930s are wonderfully elegant designs. And then there are the 'freakshow' photos that seem barbarous now. The pictures of long-gone celebrities are artfully posed black and whites, often touched up to make their sitters appear uber-perfect.

Yet somehow they are poignant in all their finery. It is this delicacy that touches most deeply, because ultimately photos are encounters with time.

This piece of writing was a response to an old back and white photograph of a fan dancer in an old variety show.


I've been told I've a vivid imagination, a way with words:

pink christmas snowflakes, a complete fairytale - have you heard of an epiphany? - every bit of whirlwind is coming through my mind - not searching, as it were, like no tomorrow – it's a fairytale giant-ly elated – I picture glitter and angelic sparklings in waves that stand still – all the truth of the world coming through all of the pain – you name it, moon, stars and everything else

(did I tell you I have a lot of phobias?)


Afternoon session

“I was really worried about this afternoon. I nearly didn't come, I thought I might just hang about in the library. But I managed it. And it was good, you know. More than good.” (O)

We've been planning a walking excursion over to the legendary Winter Gardens from the get-go, as part of our project. Moving locale often brings creative stimulus. And the subtext is that folk who might habitually exist in very limited boundaries (for example, shut up in the house for years) are encouraged to sample a little of the outside.

We went into this expedition very cautiously, expecting few takers. In the event, we'd a large and rumbustious gaggle, who eagerly set off down the High Street. I noticed that people put on their social 'masks', as expected, which meant that this was not the occasion for sensitive or self-revealing work. But actually I wanted them to push in the opposite direction this time, to become Barbarians.

For visitors like myself who have no particular knowledge of Blackpool, the Winter Gardens is a gleeful discovery - an art deco palace, dedicated to entertainment in the long-gone style. Dancing, theatre, cafes, an indoor hanging-garden – all soaked alcohol and wrapped up in rather exquisite architecture. It's got something of the Crystal Palace about it and a little bit of Butlins.

We settled in a bar that had been built in timbers to impersonate the interior of a pirate ship. I invited our party to work into some pages of Mallarme's Coup de Des that I'd brought along, the tale of a shipwreck. They were encouraged to this this with utter disrespect for their source material, to STEAL and to be generally piratical on paper.

The resulting hilarity, chit-chat and creative bustle was a pleasure to witness. I felt a tremendous pride for this little band and this moment of victory, won in the middle of other more difficult moments.

“It's helped me to be here. I've had a terrible week, really terrible. I can't believe that I've managed to laugh today.” (D)

“It's great to get all this down on paper. It's great to be heard.” (M)

magic flowers buzz

A Winter Garden is a text/art project with people in Blackpool dealing with depression and isolation. The project is led by writer Philip Davenport (from arthur+martha) and book artist Emily Speed.

Day 5 - February 2012

“It was really good, imagining... I can't find the words. It touched me. Bringing back old memories, old happiness. I find it hard putting it all down on paper. Didn't think I could do it, but I did. Interesting, the old photos. Thinking of other times and other lives. I've started writing again because of this. Getting poems going, I'm always scribbling in my book.” D

“It opened your mind, to think of the good times. Put the bad to one side for awhile.” G

This was a light-filled little day. It’s often the best way for good things to happen creatively, when people are feeling relaxed and open to possibility. We tried out a whisper game with a couple of poems; wrote childhood memories onto vintage photos from the local history archive and devised some self-portraits in words.

I often envy musicians because their work is to ‘play’, with all the connotations of that word. Play is a childish act and can bring the freshness of childish experience. The looseness and humour of play is a good way to be in the world. It's my responsibility to move people in and out of the creative space without hurting anyone and play is an excellent means to do just that. But mostly, play is fun.

I'm writing this on the train on the way back from Blackpool, in between reading through the pieces people have written. I'm struck by the poignancy of the writing. There's much subtlety and sly humour. Beautifully effective writing too, not a word wasted. It's as if sidestepping 'seriousness' has in fact put us right into the middle of it.

In any case, the best things happen without forcing them – so this week was one for play. Doing it and writing about it too.

“I'm still there in the past, in my happy moment. That's the point isn't it, to bring me out of myself into something good.” L

Day 6 - February 2012

“First music? Sitting cross-legged in primary school singing Morning Has Broken and He's Got the Whole World in His Hand. Innocence.” Neil

Emily led the sessions today, focussed around drawing to music. We talked about what music means to us, devising personal playlists and the memories they trigger. In my mind's ear I heard Bing Crosby singing the story of the three little fish who swam over the dam. The memories that came first to people were child memories, suffused with affection. Bees in summer - magic flowers buzz. But the same person who'd sung hymns at school also recollected a harsher period of his life as he made his his drawings: “The pictures are angry. This flower looks like a poppy, like blood from the sky. It's how I want it to be. It's what I'm seeing as I follow the paint.” N

Another person remembered: “The school I was at, they wouldn't let us listen to music or watch television. I didn't discover music til I was 16. I hated that school, I ran away as often as I could. When they caught you, you had to stand outside in the cold with your PE kit on. But I kept running.” E

It was a delight to see people come alive in the music, dancing as they worked. The pieces danced too, embracing rhythm as part of themselves, along with line and colour. Emily made some little movies with her phone, catching the moment. The more adventurous artists gave others courage to go further; the contemplative people gave others incentive to go deeper. At the end of the session, someone said to me: “Thanks for the chance to do this, for the freedom. I can't make things like this at home.” N

But in fact, it was the group that freed each other.

We have a regular little conflab late morning in the cafe. It's an informal time, and people are starting to use it to say what's on their mind after the creative work. G remarked: “It's opening me up, this writing. I've been on medication for a long time and I forget things. But they're coming back now, with the writing and drawing. I'm letting them come to the surface. It's like having something packed away in the attic and letting it into the light. At first it was the bad memories, but now it's the good ones too.” G

Or to put it another way: “The first record you bought. The first song you bought for your girlfriend. What it means. School holidays in the summer. Walking down railway lines, or river jumping. Good times, a good life.” N

Extraordinary moments come unbidden

A Winter Garden is a text/art project with people in Blackpool dealing with depression and isolation. The project is led by writer Philip Davenport (from arthur+martha) and book artist Emily Speed.

Session 3 January 2012

Extraordinary moments come unbidden. We were sitting in the cafe after the latest session in Blackpool Library when the moment arrived. O started talking about the problem with writing – the great dilemma of when to plunge in, when to hold back. “Its hard to write like this because its opening something up. And I don't know whether to go down there. Maybe it'll hurt. Maybe it'll make me feel better. I don't s'pose anyone else feels like this...?”

And of course other people did feel exactly like that. There were nods around the table.

D had shed a few tears as she wrote during the session.

G began to talk: “When I was a kid, my parents didn't talk about feelings. It wasn't spoken. The one time I saw them even hold hands was when there was a family death. It's not what I'm used to doing.”

How do we articulate distance or isolation? We've chosen to theme our work around stars. We're also using Rimbaud's remarkable, elusive collection of poems 'Illuminations' as a touchstone.

The stars are infinitely far, but they are present in all human thinking. Their distance has become a symbol of the thing that's beyond us, be it heaven, or aloofness, or preciousness, or fame, fate. Stars are also metaphors for coldness and isolation. And they are magical – we make wishes on them.

The constellations are a powerful symbol to conjure with, which is why we're using them in the sessions – they evoke such deep feelings. The burning light that's come millions of miles to visit our eyes has lost its warmth when it comes to us. Our own sun is a whole vocabulary for heat and our moon is its ghost, bringing it's connotations of lunar-cy. Nonetheless, we wish on stars hopefully, even if they are cold families or untouchable people.

Session 4 February 2012

Today's work was a breakthrough. We've been tweaking the way we organise the workshop and the group has been getting used to one another too; the combination clicked this week and they came together not only as a collection of writers, but as a group of people too, aiding and abetting each other, coming out of their shells.

The thing that sticks is not the session itself but the little after-gathering in the cafe. (Anon) told us that he'd got through a big emotional barrier. He'd started to talk a little about his family's lack of emotional openess in last week's meet up. It was the way he spoke that hooked my attention, his eyes were tearing up with the intensity of these little words. He said he'd taken up the thread of last week's conversation and by following it, came through the labyrinth.

“Since the last group meeting we had, I've started talking about stuff to my counsellor. Things I've not spoke about before. Not for thirty years. There's been some big things come up for me and some other issues underneath that. The weight's starting to come off me. I feel like I'm finally coming out of a tunnel. It's been a relief, a HUGE relief, to talk and this group is what started it.”

His face, his whole demeanour was visibly changed. A weight had gone from him.

I don't buy the idea that creativity is automatically 'good'. I think that these things are processes that run deep and unbeknownst, like dream-life stringing out on the ocean floor. I also think that the act of making can foster delusion, selfishness, and a certain forensic distance from our own hearts. But it also offers connection and catharsis – and maybe one downside is the price of the other side's up.

I'm delighted that he could take something from our little creative expedition and use it to make changes in his own life. However, the aftershock of these big conversations can be unsettling. I told him to be kind to himself this week, if he possibly could. I told him that he deserved a medal. It seemed such a banal comment, though I meant it. Some of the biggest acts of courage I've witnessed are almost invisible to the greater world. These gestures and grunts we make that feel so big, that come at such cost. They vanish in a trice.

Participant comment:

"I'm finding this two hour session is a welcome respite from my own head, my own thoughts. I wish it could go on for longer than two hours. It takes a while for my thoughts to subside and for me to start being creative. I never thought I'd got an ability for writing 'til I did this – and I didn't expect the good reaction people have given it. The wordy stuff, as my son calls it.

“There's a lot of talent in this group but people's issues hold them back. Mental health issues aren't always obvious, actually they're often well hidden. You can't tell from the outside of someone what's going on inside. What sufferings they're going through and what gifts they can offer other people.” M

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Its lovely to get good feedback on a project, so I was delighted to get the following message from Gary Conley, Cultural Co-ordinator for St Helens about our current pilot project 'text from grandma'.....

Lois. It looks brilliant.

So pleased with the work what you are doing and with what you have already achieved.

I love the stories, the videos, the postcards and the quotes, it brings it home the human aspect of the project.

I feel so proud in what you are doing and I got quite emotional seeing the words that they associated with their mother.   It was very powerful.

Please carry on with the great work.


Friday, 16 March 2012

get up and dance

Yesterday afternoon was spent at Parr Care Home, St Helens working on the project 'text from grandma' using the same themes and techniques from the morning. The atmosphere was different from the morning, we had a larger group and much younger care assistants. I found it interesting to observe the way the two generations responded to each other. 

Amy, (17) came with great energy and really got stuck in with the drawing and printmaking. Jamie had a really natural, instinctive and caring approach, genuinely wanting to help. Warren was called out of the group, as his services were required elsewhere in the home as 'the only care assistant who would get up and dance' It was great to see him back at the end of the session. As he left he commented: "I got upset hearing them all talk about their mums, knowing they've all lost theirs. I'm going home to give mine a hug!" 

Jane's 12 word poem describing her mum and printed postcard

Some of the group really didn't want to draw at the beginning, no matter how I sold it. Thankfully that changed once they saw their contemporaries having a go. They where often critical of their own beautiful drawings, but were all supportive of everyone else. Barbara seemed rather sleepy, but still produced a lovely profile portrait print, they remind me of Marc Chagall's paintings.

Barbara and her postcard

Alice's daughter sat in with us most of the session and was enthusiastic about the project and the idea of having reminiscence shared via the internet and text. She is the first recipient of one of the postcards.

Alice and her postcard

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Mothers day postcards

Today's sessions were fantastic. I've been in St Helen's again, working on Text from Grandma.  This morning I was based at Mayfield Care Home, with the group from last week and the addition of Edwin.  We mixed formal assessment of the groups 'well being' with, reminiscing, drawing and printing.

Barbara's and Edwin's drawings and prints 

I haven't done any drawing with groups for a while, so it was a reassuring to find everyone willing 'to have a go'. It's nerve racking for many people being faced with a blank piece of paper and asked to draw, especially a portrait, so as ever I approached it like a game. The resulting beautiful drawings participants then adapted on the polystyrene sheet, which I used to print the postcards with. 

The postcards will be sent to participants relatives inviting them to view their work on-line, or to receive their memories via text. The postcard also asks the question 'what is your first memory of Grandma/Granddad? I eagerly wait to see if this will inspire a new conversation between generations. 

Edwin's postcard, and postcard back

With mothers day around the corner, I used the theme of mom, to inspire reminiscence. Group conversations were written down and used as source material for gathering 12 word descriptions. Such as the following from Barbara:


Norman's prints

Barbara said of the session: 'It was interesting and educational, learning things we've forgotten about. You don't stop to think about these things till you sit down and the question comes up.'

Edwin explained: 'I enjoyed someone talking with me, and to me, instead of ignoring me.'

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A roll of the dice

'Not only does God play dice, but... he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen' Stephen Hawkins'

Last Thursday at the Buddy Cafe in Salford, (working with people diagnosed with dementia and their carers) I brought in a set of blank dice to use as art materials. The idea was on the surface a straight forward one, for people in the group to write their date of birth on a side of the dice, in this way they would mark their existence, and simply make a record of who is in the group. As we are discussing dementia in this project, you can also read the idea as the condition of our health being a 'roll of the dice'.

Some of the participants had instant and easy recall of their D.O.B for others it was a real struggle, with care and humour we would find the year of birth, or an approximate year.  It felt like some of the participants where recalling the numbers by rote, a test like asking someone their mobile phone number, 7 times table, or postcode. 

I discussed the issue with Dr Caroline Swarbrick, who had been with us during the session. She explained: "you can't validate dates, if they get it wrong that's their reality. People often remember their D.O.B easier than their age, the short term memory goes first. Life events, years mean something. Alice, if she forgets something halfway through- for example her address, she will have to start again from the beginning, then she will get it. Memories are programmed in.

As miniature works of art, I am very pleased with them, there is a beauty in the shakiness of writing, some letters are un-readable, for me there is great poignancy in the attempts at recalling and forming these numbers, something most of us take for granted.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Respite for carers

arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces are interviews, others creative work.  This project is in partnership with Age Concern Salford and Salford PCT. In this blog, Betty a carer I met at the Buddy Cafe in Salford, talks about the importance of respite for carers.


He's clinging a lot more to me these days, clinging more than he used to. He's got his mind off it being here with the other men. It means a lot for me to come here, but not Norman. We were going to another session, and there were tears in his eyes, 'I don't want to come here' he was saying in the car. I said there are people trying to help, their there to help. He got over it all right, within 20 minutes it's all forgotten. I feel like he's taking me for a ride sometimes.

But he'll do anything for me though. He'll do the hoovering or the dishes, always offering his help.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

the unknowns

arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces are interviews, others creative work.  This project is in partnership with Age Concern Salford and Salford PCT. Here Shirley a carer for her husband who has dementia, talks about euthanasia.

This is what I find, it's all the unknowns, you don't know what's going to happen, it doesn't progress in the same way with each patient.


(Betty asks us) 'Do you believe in euthanasia?'

It's worse than cancer, people get better from cancer- but nobody gets better from dementia. I have a friend whose mother was 104 when she died, she didn't know anyone at the end. She'd had dementia for 20 years. She admitted 'why can't they just give her a pill'...

You get to meet nice people here (the Buddy Cafe) you get to see what your likely to face later on, so it gives you insight. The carers meeting, the one we go to once a month is great because patients can't go in! It's surprising how much you learn what your coming to, and you think oh my God.

With cancer you can identify it as terminal or they've got 20 years to go, but they can't do that with Lewy Body Dementia as it can't get better. It's worse than cancer. Whether I would have the courage to let him have the tablet or let the hospital... its all the unknowns. It's emotional that you they will never get better, but its how far you will go with it. Whether I could give them a tablet? because then you've got to live with it.

You don't know how long its going to last and how its going to progress, and the more it progresses, the more you're a prisoner with them. When Ray goes out I'm worried sick till he comes back.

Sometimes you love them to bits, somedays you could kill them. Its just lovely to speak to people and for them not to say 'well he's ill' I know he's ill, but it's not tattooed on his head, and when he's showing me up in the supermarket, they don't know he's ill.

I'm lucky because Ray likes coming to these groups. Until I came to these meetings I felt very lonely and depressed- until I found I wasn't the only one. (and your very easy to talk to) Not the only one, I found out that there are a lot more people putting up with a lot more than I am.

It develops in all sorts of ways, you then start with incontinence and whether they've changed their underwear... it like going back to having a baby. (I'm not thinking of getting rid of him!)

Friday, 9 March 2012

24/7 life of a carer

arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces are interviews, others creative work.  This project is in partnership with Age Concern Salford and Salford PCT. 

Yesterday we witnessed as the services provided by Age Concern Salford, gave Paul an opportunity to sit at a different table from Pauline- the first time in 5 years she's left his side.


I haven't got any respite, I suppose I could get it I wanted, but she would kick of big time.

I bring her down here or the Humphrey Booth Centre on a Tuesday. She seems to enjoy it, but if I told her we were going here she'd kick off, she wouldn't go. Sometimes I feel it, sometimes I don't. I have a gym in the back room, that helps.

This is the second time round for me. Me mum had it. She died two years ago. My brother was her main carer, but he died and me dad died.

You can't switch off. Denise (from Age Concern Salford) has done more for Pauline than anyone. She seems to have a bit of a bond with Denise. She knows she's someone, knows she can trust her. I trust her. She tells you how it is. A friendship. They have a really good team (Age Concern Salford) they know what their doing, if they can help with anything they will help.

(whilst we are speaking Pauline is sat at the other end of the room, Paul and Pauline seem very aware of each other, they regularly exchange looks) That's the first time in 5 years she's been left alone with people. She's just put 2 fingers up to me, she seems ok. It's what I'm looking for, for her to settle into something like this so that I can have time to myself.

Pauline can't take anything in. I don't take any notice when she goes off on one, I know its not her. She follows me 24/7. She's kicking off now, because she saw me.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


This is a thinking-aloud piece, prompted by working with Dave and Harry on the poem stampede.

The poems we're making at Salford are not just a process of scribing and editing. There's something subtle that we're trying to catch between the clean lines of language. People with dementia seem to experience apercus in thinking, turnings off the main track, off the written page. We all know this, but the quality of these mental sidesteps are very different for each individual. How to write that jump? It's here that we go into the realm of perhaps.

Perhaps is the business of poetry, some would say. This is the unspecific, the sensed rather than the known, the unsaid. We hope to chart some of the deeper emotional currents experienced by people at the Buddy Cafe where we're working by using intuitive thinking to make artworks and poetry. That's the plan.

But poems can be the opposite of all these woolly things listed above: equally, they're accurate, chilly-eyed, and open. They're blunt. Two people I've spoken with in the last week have expressed surprise at how open our participants are in discussing their state of health. Personally, I like that bluntness, it appeals to the reporter in me.

And anyway the issue of this kind of truth-telling misses the point. It's a discussion about people's fear of using arts and health work to investigate and express. I don't have a problem with that. What I would like us to do however is find a way of communicating the gap. I asked someone who has a dementia diagnosis:

You’re on your own there Phil. It’s one of them things I can’t come up with. A difficult question. You can’t just pluck it out of the air.” (Dave)

How a dementia differs for each person depends on the degree of it, their emotional reaction to it, the particular site of the problem, personal history, character, the support of others, and simply what kind of a day someone is having. How to say it?

To do this we need unmaking, rather than making. We need what Kenny Goldsmith would call un-creative writing. A page with holes, a process with its own built-in obsolescence.

Harry, who wrote the poem 'Stampede'

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

More quilt inspiration: warm/&/the cold

Now I have started looking for inspiration for the project warm/&/the cold I'm finding it quite additive. There is some fantastic work being done by artists and designer makers. (all photos shown here with permission from the artists)

The artist Susan Stockwell has been doing some inspirational work with inmates from Wandsworth prison with Fine Cell Works. I'm looking forward to the exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery and Platt Hall, entitled 'The First Cut' in October where she will be showing some of her works.

Fine Cell Work, City Shirts & Blue Jeans 2011

Susan Stockwell, Mens Shirts 2011
Mens Shirts, made in 2011 measures 3 x 2.4 m  Made by inmates at the Wandsworth Prison working with Fine Cell Works. Materials, recycled mens shirts.

Fine Cell Work is sustainable social enterprise, and charity. Prisoners get trained in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem.

Susan Stockwell, Cot Blanket 2000
A Knitted map, measuring 56 x 37 centimetres.

Susan Stockwell, Gandi Quilt 2012

Gandi Quilt, measures 60 x 60 cm. A small quilt made as part of a series of quilts containg money with images such as Gandi, Florence Nightingale and Nelson Mandela. Materials: paper maps, money, cotton thread and ribbon. 

You can find beautiful abstracts from Diane Melms 

Diane Melms, Concentric Squares 2009

Diane Melms, Standing Together 2007

Also have a look at:

The artist Amy Ahlstrom who makes contemporary quilts that draw on elements of graphic design, street art and anime. and

The beautiful work of Natasha Kerr

A collection of word quilts at

Debate over the origin of 'freedom quilts'

And finally a couple of articles about the V&A quilt show and

Monday, 5 March 2012


arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces will be interviews, others creative work. The following is a poem created by regulars in the group Harry and Dave.

the hooves clippety-clop
down the lane to the old abattoir
chasing the old animals
down the road
chasing memories down the road
like a stampede
heard about but not seen

“keep it quiet in the threpennies!”
in the old days
of the old days
tunes you enjoyed
stampeding back
grandma’s bread wrapped in a cloth
- “carry it back to your dad” -

trying to catch animals
on an open road, they’re frightened
hit em, belt em
the cars braking, breaking windows
they do it because they’re frightened
pushing through doors
memory’s locked away

in here somewhere I can remember
but can’t say
I can’t tell you that
it’s down the lane
to the old

February 2012

Phil, Harry and Dave editing poem

working memories

Lois writes

I've just had some wonderful news I secured funding from Arts Council England to start the project 'Working Memories'. 

This will be an Artist Residency spread over 6 months, in a Care Home, and Day Care Centres for older people including those diagnosed with dementia, in rural Peak District. During my residency I will create illustrated reminiscence boxes for use in the host venues, and digital versions for care settings throughout the High Peak and the Derbyshire Dales. Work will be inspired by the best practice in memory boxes, developing the way of working into 21st Century art practice; by utilising digital forms, I can add sounds, music and even film to their boxes, that can be shown on televisions in care settings.

As Lead artist with arthur+martha, collaborative practice has become part of my personal artwork. Part of this project will be an opportunity to pause and look at the parameters of this new way of working. It gives me a dedicated time to research, develop and re-fresh my artistic ideas, skills and technique, creating new work for publication and display. 

As with the best of new projects, the reality of starting it fills me with equal measures of excitement and panic! In the coming months will share my progress on this blog. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mum wasn’t violent but nearly clobbered a woman for liver

On Thursday afternoon my Text from Grandma workshop was hosted by Parr Care Home, in St Helens. Five participants, two staff from the home and I took our seats in their wonderful Summer House, and started the conversations about 'Make do and Mend. 

Unlike the morning this group was all women. A single sex group always subtly changes the dynamic of a session, they often seem freer and more willing to discuss more sensitive subjects. 

Sarah, Agnes, Barbara and Joanne

Conversations were lively, diverting from 'make do and mend' to nr fights over the rations. One lady enjoyed a little snooze woken magically by drinks and cake, after which she regained enough energy to join in conversations. I particularly enjoyed working with M who enjoyed listening to the group conversations but blossomed when given the opportunity to work one-to-one. She was aware and seemed rather embarrassed of her Alzheimer's, she would interrupt herself mid-flow with apologies: 'Gravy browning for the legs, got a bit of Alzheimer's, my mother got the gravy browning, if it was a tin practically gone she would give it to me'.  

From the reminiscence we devised 10 word edits of the pieces, which will be a starting point for a twitter poems. Lots of great material was gathered, these pieces stood out to me, they have a feeling of 'old sayings':

My sister, I was always little when she was big: Marion

Make it go a little further it might be mine tomorrow: Agnes.

Made plain gowns green with shadow leaves, little capped sleeves: Jane

I couldn’t make a pattern so went round the edge: Barbara

Mum wasn’t violent but nearly clobbered a woman for liver: Barbara

Saturday, 3 March 2012

text from grandma

On Thursday I started a pilot of the project 'text from Grandma' (working title) In the morning I was based in Mayfield Care Home, Prescot, St Helens. 

Text from Grandma is an intergenerational heritage project working with older people and an younger relative. Conversations will take the form of short poetic text messages, tweets, skype or real handwritten and drawn/written postcards.

The aim is both generations to share skills, knowledge and experience. The younger participants will help older relatives to become familiar with new technologies. The older participants will in turn share their knowledge and experiences first hand with a younger generation. This way of working will enable and inspire conversations between the generations, invigorating relationships and helping the older person to avoid becoming isolated.

The material will be archived on-line and when we secure funding to take this project further, will form part of the project exhibited in a venue appropriate to the heritage theme. I will work with the two participating care homes to set up there own twitter sites which will share the material generated in our workshop sessions with the older persons relative. Material will also be archived on arthur+martha websites.

Yesterday morning started badly, I spent half an hour driving round the block trying to find the venue screaming at my sat nav as it repeatedly took me back to the same two blocked roads. When I eventually arrived at Mayfield Care Home I was immediately put at ease by the Matron Sheila, who I'm sure is used to much more serious situations than one artist going round in circles. A cup of tea and introductions to the participants was all that was needed to settle me back down.

We worked on the theme of 'make do and mend', the idea being that we can gather stories and tips about subjects that will relate to a younger (recession hit) generation. Using my new ipad, we looked at a great film on youtube  from the collection at the Imperial War Museum and a slide show put together of 1940s images promoting the idea of make do and mend.

The visual resources prompted much conversation which in turn was edited down by participants into short poetic pieces. These I filmed (using the new ipad) which will be sent onto participants relatives or posted on websites.

Its was a joy to work there, the staff where really helpful and enthusiastic, the participants full of stories and memories. Lots of material was collected, the next stage is to develop a template for editing the material, and fine tuning ways to get the words and pictures to the relatives.

Barbara one of the participants commented "I very much enjoyed that. You never stop to think what path your life will take you.'

Friday, 2 March 2012

House of Cards

Last Thursday at the Buddy Cafe, Salford (for people diagnosed with dementia and the carers) we created a new series of poems, recorded striking new conversations with group members and started playing with visual ideas for exhibitions.

When starting a new project it often takes a while to discover what form the visual will take. We uterlise materials and content that relate strongly to the environment we are working in, the people we are working with and any brief we have been given. The brief here is to work with people diagnosed with dementia (and their carers) and to identify the strengths and the weaknesses in the services that are provided for them. The environment is the wonderful Cricket Club, full of the fantastic staff and volunteers from Age Concern Salford filling the day up with cups of tea, rounds of toast, nourishing lunch and loads of activity. For the men this means conversations between games of cards, pool, domino, draughts, cups of tea...The women's activities are often based around reminiscence, stimulated by objects, photos and games provided by Age Concern.

 1st experiments with adapted playing cards

I've always had a love of playing cards myself and the strong visual imagery of card design, so it seems a great place to start adapting playing cards with words, numbers and imagery expressing snippets of experience of life with dementia.  The Tower or House of Cards idea seems to fit in well with the stories we are hearing. It looks solid enough, but one breeze, sneeze, cough or wrong move and it collapses!

 1st experiments with adapted playing cards

Everyone is happy with conversation, but to take it to the next level- creating art and poetry takes some subtle manoeuvring, you have to find ways to take people with you. Thankfully as ever the majority of people in the group did humour me and had a go at writing a short piece of text on a blank card. I got some quizzical looks when asking people to join in, but when the results began to emerge some great responses. There is an art to finding ways for strong source material to be reduced to its very essence, like any good project it needs, preparation, care, reflection, space for trial & error and plenty of brews. 

writing in playing card