The brief set for the subject project was ‘Inside/Outside’, this was a very open theme that we were able to take in a number of directions. I decided that I wanted to explore the Internal and External elements of an individuals’ identity, and was particularly interested in exploring the affect that an internal illness such as dementia had on the external sense of identity. This was something of a personal issue, as my Grandmother suffers from the illness – because of this, however, I was able to explore the theme with some personal insight. I began looking into dementia, and came across an interesting article on the attachment of women with dementia to their handbag. My work began to flow from the object of the handbag and its relevance to a female sufferer of dementia.
I began to dissect and explore the handbag as a metaphor, using it to represent the effect that dementia has on the sufferer – a key idea was the way that an internal breakdown could be visualised materially. I separated the handbags that I had collected, into parts, and used paint and drawing to explore how I could represent the separate parts of the handbags in a way that would reflect the barrier between a dementia sufferer and the rest of the world.
I began to move away from the painting work that I was doing, as it wasn’t successfully conveying that idea of identity and the removal of it. I instead began to explore the handbag as an object of security – and became particularly interested in exploring the sense of ownership, control and privacy that the object of the zip provided in the minds of the dementia sufferer, who were unable themselves to be comforted in the security of their own sense of self.
I have also been interested in exploring the separation of the parts of the handbag, and how this offered a parallel to the removal of identity and function occurring in dementia sufferers. I looked to explore the work of Cornelia Parker, and her exploration of object through the bold installation work she produces.
My work began to look at installation as a way of conveying a sense of absent presence, that I felt was of significant importance to the identity of someone with dementia. The separation of the bag into parts, and its display occupying a space, presented an object with its function and purpose removed – an object that had now become a series of parts – no longer with a cohesive sense of identity. This to me is something that I hope reflects the unravelling of identity and ‘self’ that occurs throughout the process of dementia, and the impact that this has on the way that we are then able to relate to the sufferer once they lose that overall identity.