Handbag – a biography

I’ve decided to take another look at the relevance of the content of a handbag to a woman with dementia, looking at the handbag in a more literal and biographical way rather than metaphorical as I have been mainly focusing on. I have been considering looking at it in the form of an installation, exploring the spilling out of the content as a reflection of dementia.

I have been considering the following artists work as I have been doing this.

Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998)

My Bed

I saw this piece in the Tate Britain, and felt it related to the subject matter that I am looking at – this piece is very exposing, and invites scrutiny and investigation into the normally private setting of a bedroom. It reveals chaos and grittiness that parallels with the state of mind that created the mess in the first place. To me, it reflects something of an internal state of mind externalised and then placed into a public setting – there is an air of vulnerability and I see it as a piece that offers me a way of looking at the handbag work that I’m doing. Similarly, I would like to explore the idea of a personal space (inside a handbag) outpouring into an open space – with the objects pouring out offering an insight into the life of the owner of the handbag.

Michael Landy – Breakdown (2001)

In this piece artist Michael Landy takes every object that he owns and destroys them. Although not a direct link between the work I am looking to do and this piece, what this work highlights to me is the emotional connection between a person and their objects (the memories attached to objects), and the process of a severing of those connections. Whilst Landy willingly observes the loss of these objects, it parallels to the loss of emotional connection seen in a memory loss process – his work highlights our relationship with objects, something that I am exploring in the work I am doing.

Becky Shaw – Twelve Museums


I am interested in Becky Shaw’s work as she directly explores dementia as the subject of her work. Her piece ‘Twelve Museums’ looks at transparency as a representation of the delicate and brittle nature of the illness. She worked with a dementia patient ‘Michael Gill’, and looked to explores the use of small rooms, rooms turning back on themselves, dead ends, corridors, familiar imagery to Gill and text to create a mirror of his experiences of dementia.

In reference to Michael Landy’s piece and Becky Shaw’s work, Joann Gibbons in ‘Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance’ writes “While Breakdown tested the limits of identity and the emotional or symbolic significance of material objects for memory, Twelve Museums was an exploration of the realities of an identity that was slipping and becoming inchoate through a pathological loss of memory”. 


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