Posted on Thu 2 Oct 2014

Tangible Memories Lunchtime Talk Write-up

For our first Lunchtime Talk of the season, we were joined by a group of Studio residents who are collaborating on a Bristol University and AHRC project, Tangible Memories. Described as half ethnographic research, half…

For our first Lunchtime Talk of the season, we were joined by a group of Studio residents who are collaborating on a Bristol University and AHRC project, Tangible Memories. Described as half ethnographic research, half co-operative deign, the project is an investigation into the significance of the objects that residents take with them into care homes, and their role as vessels for storing and sharing memories.

Co-director of the Studio and co-investigator on the project, Kirsten Cater introduced the talk. Along with Kirsten, the Tangible Memories team is made up of folklorist Seana Kozarr, technologist Pete Bennett, Educationalist Helen Manchester, Artist Heidi Hinder, Researcher Tim Cole and Designers, Lucy and Barney Heywood (AKA Stand + Stare). Partnered with the Alive charity, the team have been have been working with the residents in four homes across the city to sculpt creative processes and innovative tangible interfaces, enabling residents to store and share their stories in a way that suits them best.

Seana spoke to us about the process of ‘ungathering’ that people often go through when they are transferred to a care home. To a certain extent, the objects we own tell our story. They might be reminiscent of a person or place, or a particular time in our lives. When downsizing or moving into a care home, the decision of which objects to keep and which to leave behind can be incredibly difficult. Seana has been documenting her conversations with the residents about this process. We watched a couple of videos of these discussions. Some of the things that residents Beryl and Margaret said were particularly resonant; ‘I just like to know they’re there – they remind me of things. If I part with them I part with memories and thoughts of people who gave them to me.’ ‘holding on to them I feel like there is still a part of me in the past…’ Over the course of these conversations, Seana told us that she became more convinced that the objects we physically keep can help us to share stories, hold on to memories and reinforce our sense of identity.

Heidi then introduced the design aspect of the project, and explained some of the co-designing processes. Tangible Memories have divided the practical side of the project into four categories:

Objects containing stories: Pete Bennett has set out to develop an interface for listening, having been inspired by an old music box, which evokes countless memories and stories for its owner, Daphne. Pete has developed TaleTap, a device that lets you tune in to stories contained within objects, and record your own. He has created some musical cushions, which are dotted with RFID buttons that each contain a song, which you can listen to by scanning them with the TaleTap. Pete is now investigating pendulum technology to explore ways in which someone can release content from an object without having to push any buttons or use any other devices. Pete has been looking into planting this technology into an object so that when you rock it in a certain way, you can listen to the stories or music that it contains.

Objects of escape: Tangible Memories has been investigating how Virtual Reality could allow new experiences to be taken into a care home, enabling residents to visit places that they may not be able to visit physically. Pete showed us some images of Bob, an ex RAF flight engineer, very much enjoying using an Oculous Rift to soar around the solar system. The team have been taking VR snapshots of places like Bristol Museum and the top of Cabot tower, to share with the residents. In turn, the residents took their own VR snapshots inside the homes, to share with other people and help tell their story.

Objects for reminiscence: Stand + Stare have been developing a platform for creating print-on demand books based on people’s memories. The books will contain AR triggers, with audio and visual content. They feel that print is a good medium to work with, as ‘some people are wary of technology, but everyone knows how to interact with a book.’ They have made three interactive books so far, and in doing so have found that the process involved in collating memories encourages people to share them, converse and form new bonds with others. The ultimate aim of this particular strand of Tangible Memories is to develop a website where the formula for creating these books can be accessed so that anyone can create their own book.

Objects of exchange: Heidi has been facilitating art workshops for elderly residents. The shared creative process helps to create new memories, and strengthens the resident community. Heidi shared a quote from that she felt pretty much summarized the direction of the whole project.

 ‘It’s a good idea this [project], you tell them that. It’s really got me thinking. The trouble is you get so old and you think you’ve forgotten everything, all these things – but you haven’t. The memories just need fishing out.’
(Daphne, during an art workshop.)

Heidi is exploring ways in which the art made by residents could potentially become tokens of exchange. When people transfer into care homes, the daily monetary exchanges they may have been used to suddenly disappear. Cash isn’t really used in care homes, and Heidi pointed out that we are used to associating money with agency and choice. Having a sort of micro-currency in care homes could bring this agency back to residents. Heidi touched on a fascinating cashless system of exchange that has been set up for elderly people in Japan. She prompted the question ‘would that work here?’

Tangible Memories have 7 months left on the project, where they will continue to develop ideas and work with residents. Check their website for updates on the project’s development.