I began the exhibition worried that no-one would come, worried that I’d forgotten something important, worried that the exhibition was not visible enough.
By the end of the first hour, my worries vanished and I began to enjoy meeting and greeting the steady flow of visitors. They came to view a series of 23 images, announced by vinyl cut letters on the wall: ‘Dementia and Imagination: making connections through contemporary art,’ The work was displayed on the walls and tables of a busy community venue, The Saints Parish Centre of Chesterfield’s famous Crooked Spire.
Showcasing a broad range of techniques modelled by artists from Nottingham Contemporary, the walls told stories as well as displaying an intriguing array of art techniques, and surprised those who visited. Many were “taken aback” by the quality of work on display.
Pieces included a bold, dynamic charcoal drawing which to some looked like a bison or a bull, to others, a stooped man trying to stand.
As visitors moved around the two rooms, they took in beautifully mounted photographs of a dowel sculpture, reflecting the artists’ engineering background; a hanging installation of beautiful butterflies; a ‘landscape in a tray’ made using a variety of materials to reflect travels and favourite places; a carved sculpture of a toaster which attracted much comment; and a delicate stitched textile work reflecting absorption and focus.
In the second room, a block print of a house was explained by the caption: “The artist was moved into permanent residential care that morning. She had no conscious memory of this, but when invited to draw letters, numbers and symbols, she chose instead to draw her house.” This story prompted an exhibition goer to write that the exhibition was “a real eye opener for me. Even when people might not say much, there is obviously a lot still going on for them.”
A stencil of the word JUSTICE was chosen to demonstrate how art can foster communication, interest and the sharing of common values. The man who created this was asked about what was important to him, and invited to illustrate it. While not the most aesthetically sophisticated images, it is one of the most profound, given weight by his daughter’s amazement that he had contributed at all. A similar sentiment was summed up by a comment on the feedback sheets: “It just goes to show you what people can do, when you think they can’t do anything!”
Finally, one of the last visitors was the maker of the ‘bull’ - depending on your interpretation. With a keen appreciation of the arts, he and his wife circulated the room twice discussing the art, before settling in front of the bull in deep conversation. I suspected that he would not recall drawing this image, now a focus of the room in this contemporary exhibition. “What do you think of this one?” I asked. He nodded thoughtfully, approvingly. “I love it” she exclaimed. “It is so bold and powerful!” I thought carefully and told the pair who the artist was. His eyes and mouth opened in incredulity. As they were leaving after a third circulation of the room, I asked what he thought of the exhibition. “It’s not what I’m thinking” he said, “it’s what I’m feeling.”