This paper presents results of the DSiN project ‘Beyond autonomy and language; towards a Disability Studies’ perspective on dementia’ that aims at a better understanding of how people with dementia can escape dominant cultural imagery and feel more at home in society. It reports on an artistic intervention (i.e. film) in a residential care home for people with dementia. The aim of the intervention was (1) to offer people with dementia, whom you normally would not reach, a beautiful sensory experience, and (2) to create room for these residents to participate in a process of cultural (re)production in passive and active ways.
The Flemish filmmaker Joël Rabijns (Hasselt, 1986) was asked to make three short movies. Visual material was used from the historical film archive of the Venlo-based Limburg’s Museum. The film making process was based on artistic principles, and informed by scholarly insights from the DSiN research project. The film images were shared with residents of three psychogeriatric wards over a period of four weeks. Members of the research team watched the films together with the residents and registered their responses. During this phase, the researchers relied on the ethnographic method of participant observation.
Two strategies were followed to meet the aims of the project. In order to offer the residents a chance to have a beautiful sensory experience (1), the film did not offer a linear storyline that required cognitive processing or rely on remembrance; instead it played with the rythms and tactile qualities of everyday life in the province of Limburg and invited people to share their feeling of belonging in the here and now. In order to offer residents a chance to participate in a process of cultural (re)production (2), their responses were registered, whatever form they took (coherent or not; understandable or not; verbal or embodied, et cetera), and will ideally be integrated in the cultural heritage of the museum. The paper will reflect on whether and how these aims were realized in practice.
A sense of belonging for people living with dementia depends on embodied and affective relations with the world around them. By aiming at other than cognitive forms of recognition, the film project tried to create room for people to manifest themselves and become part of the shared heritage, without immediately filling that room again with our all too obvious fears and expectations; e.g. without projecting our hang-up with memory on them. The search for ways to translate such ideas to practice has only just begun.