Little Boxes of Memory: Unpacking Through Performance

Back in November we wrote about the first stage of Entelechy’s Little Boxes of Memory Project (LBM), focusing on the genesis of the boxes and their materials through artistic dialogue with older people with dementia. Nine months on and CDAN has finished its official report on the project, but we feel that the end phase of the project deserves time for reflection as an example of best practice and intergenerational approaches.

Entelechy, with a group of highly flexible adaptable artists, built on their work in-clinic with older people with dementia by extending the installation-sculptures (the eponymous boxes) to schools teaching children with special and complex needs. Through a highly pliable dance and drama vocabulary, this small group was able to impact multiple schools on an intimate level, bringing the experiences of older people with dementia to life.

Each performance ran two boxes in sequence: Dorris’ and Darnley’s, one calm and one energetic. Each targeted at a small audience of on average 4 persons within a balanced 20 minute window, through every performance all learned – artist, volunteer, student, all engaged in an act of exploration. LBM’s responsiveness to context cannot be emphasised enough – each performance was tailored experience, and to generalise is to elide the true beauty of the project.

Laughter, dance, song, positive engagement was seen expressed in every register. Touch, temperature, sound and image – every sense was explored with every individual, searching out a phenomenal-specific experience for all audience/participants. Total engagement was ensured again and again not only in the construction of immersive narrative performance per se, but in playing to and with the audience and its specifics. Seeing smiles of recognition and joy in those SEN schools was both a moving experience and a common one.

This was complimented by the ability to employ the contrast of, and transition between, the two boxes, both concerned with travel and change. The dedicated artists and volunteers wove their audiences into the loose and effective content of the works, making the work new with each telling – their passion for invention and experimentation was impossible to ignore in any conversation with them. From speakers playing sounds of the sea inside tactile sunny exuberances of knitting that accentuated every vibration of the speaker, to projected film on cut-out dioramas held in the intimate mobile cinema of a repurposed paper lampshade – each facet of these cabinets of curiosity held wonders.

Generating tools through practice, response and nuanced planning, Entelechy and the LBM performance group has created a knowledge base that has positively impacted Teaching Assistant practice at the schools, as well as offering spaces of transformative experience for the young people that received them – offering agency, freedom and palpable joy to all involved.

CDAN has completed its evaluation of Little Boxes of Memory (LBM) for the Heritage Lottery Fund and will make it freely available after a further period of review.