During lockdown in March 2020, I rescued my dad from the family home in Keyworth, where he had been living alone after the passing of my mother from vascular dementia in 2018. He was grief-stricken and also sadly suffering from the same disease. We decided as a family that he would be best living with us in our home to make his final chapter one filled with life, love and laughter. That decision profoundly changed how I perceived my relationship to my dad, to the disease of dementia and to my role as his daughter.
Dementia alters the neurological function of the brain cells in complex ways. I realised that my dad’s grief had effectively locked him into a world where he couldn’t talk about his loss. Dementia however took away his ability to process words and to speak when he really wanted to talk about it.
‘I used to be…’ is an immersive performance installation but it is also part-memorial, part-bereavement therapy and part- dementia research. The discussions around Dementia are often located in relation to how the identity of the sufferer is consumed by it. Little is mentioned about how it also consumes those that care for those with dementia.
I stepped out of the role of a daughter and into the role of a Carer. In the process of looking after my dad in his final chapter, I laughed, I cried, I got so angry my head boiled, I felt so sad that I felt my heart crush under the weight of losing him day by day, I was amazed and thrilled by his humour and intellect but I also realised that my perception of my own identity was being stripped layer by constructed layer.
This work closes a 15-year dementia-loop. It started with an installation entitled ‘Stuck’ in 2017. ‘Stuck’ was all about my mum, about her journey with dementia and how we as a family, especially my dad cared for her. ‘Stuck’ was a collaboration with artist Helen Newall. The Kinetic typography that fills this subterranean space are a product of Helen’s astounding creativity and are taken from my reflections of my mum during the last year of her life. The solo figure you see appear on the pillars is myself (a version of). The footage was shot in a 2ft–wide gap, a liminal space, a space in-between two rooms, a space devoid of purpose.
‘Stuck’ had an original soundscape created from the sound of my moving body against the walls of ‘the gap’.
‘I used to be….’ is the final closing of that loop. It is a collaboration between myself and creative technician Dave Forrest. Footage from ‘Stuck’ and new footage shot here in this space have been projected onto the landscape of this basement where pallets of everything from frozen food, cardigans to homeware were unloaded to supply the retail floors above. This is now your space
Thanks go to all the staff at Castlefield Art Gallery especially New Art Spaces Manager Nicholas James.
Culture Warrington: Leah Biddle and Roger Jeffery
Technical Support: Shawn Stephenson
Together Dementia Support: Sally Ferris CEO
Kinetic Typography: Professor Helen Newall
Editor and Projection Mapping: Dave Forrest
Visual Footage, Concept and Choreography: Julia Griffin
Artistic Practice Statement
Based in Manchester and Cleveleys on the Fylde Peninsula, my practice is divided between the sea and city. I have been working professionally with movement and dance since 1990.
My art practice is one of ongoing collaborations between dance, choreographic practice and film/video medium in a contemporary context, for me it challenges the symbiotic relationship that exists between dance, camera, body and site, performer and viewer. My research concerns are primarily centred around the investigation, exploration and experimentation of dance through cross art form collaborations and the interplay of ‘live’ performance and the juxtaposition between ‘live action’ and ‘recorded action’. Namely, the translation which occurs between multiple layers of media informed by architectural and/ or scenographic environments. My practice involves immersive theatre, site specific/responsive, body cartography, video installations, live and filmed dance events. Recent projects include; Dancing Demented, an autobiographical live dance installation with ‘Stuck’ Angel Fields Festival in 2020 and ‘Dancing the Blues’ project that explored the therapeutic benefits of movement/dance on people suffering with depression and anxiety performed in Manchester, Liverpool and Riga, Latvia, with accompanying published articles in 2019.