Spaghetti Maze (2012 – 13)

A collaboration with older people living with dementia. We all spent six months together, re-capturing their memories through art and poetry. Each person’s life story collection was gathered in a box containing poems, pictures, short conversations and recordings of interviews, plus prompt questions and ideas for carers. When memory struggles, the box is still there to help stimulate remembering. It is also an heirloom for family members.

But how do you tell a life? It’s a question that has vexed the great artists and writers. Variously and in random order Proust, Lyn Hejinian, Adolf Wolfli, Susan Hiller, James Joyce have played chase with the essence of being alive. All attempts must fail of course, but as Beckett said, the trick is to ‘Fail better.’

The life story books we’ve seen in care settings usually contain the basic facts of someone’s passage through society: details of marriage, children, place of birth, occupation, together with hobbies, dis/likes regarding TV and music and puddings and similar. But isn’t there more to tell? Or are bald facts actually the best memory triggers for people with dementia? These things certainly aren’t the common topics of conversation among the people we’ve met. We’ve kept returning in our chats to the touchstones of memory, usually set down in childhood, or moments of great change.

Paula Parnell, 2013

Dear Lois and Philip, I contacted you some years ago to say thank you for spending time with my mum Paula on the Spaghetti Maze project. I can assure you that whilst mum could remember very little of her waking hours and days, on the occasions when you came to run a session, she would chatter on in detail and with great enthusiasm about the things she’d done and the stories she’d shared. I’m writing now to thank you for making all this so visible on line. Periodically I seek out your site, seek out my mum, it’s so wonderful to be able to do that. I thought you’d like to know that what you do continues to affect others long after you’ve moved onto another project. 

Heather Parnell, June 2017

“We all rely on memory to know who we are, so losing memories can be extremely scary – like losing yourself. This project focussed on some of the most memorable and happiest moments of people’s lives, which they then put down on paper as creative pieces. Poems and art are very intense ways to express ourselves, good for stimulating a deep, emotional response. As people’s dementia increases, we hope that these little prompts will help to bring back happy, reassuring associations.”

Lois Blackburn

Funded by Arts Council England, many of these workshops took place in Bury, Greater Manchester. Work from this project was exhibited at Bury Art Museum and included in The Dark Would anthology of language art (ed. Davenport, 2013)

Blog about project: spaghettimaze

On-line portfolio arthur-and-marth

Falling leaves

beautiful fields
go with a jamjar and root for tiddlers
spend all your
time: leaves
pressed out in a book
taken off a tree.

21 September 2012

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