Dementia. It’s not something we like to think about or dwell upon, but with the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease rising, it is a physical illness that is going to need significant attention in future decades.
To help raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease, an exhibition of images, installations, text and conversations is currently showing at 135 Gallery. The Memory exhibition explores the experience of memory loss and living with dementia. It was initiated and curated by local artist Denise Main after her husband was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. His plight has given her a personal interest in finding ways to raise awareness about this growing health issue.
“The exhibition is about trying to remove the stigma of Alzheimer’s Disease – not to normalise it but bring it out in the open – not to keep it hidden away like a secret,” Main says. “This is a physical disease. It is not just natural aging. People aren’t afraid to say they’ve got diabetes, just as they shouldn’t be afraid to say they have Alzheimer’s Disease.”
The harsh reality is that Alzheimer’s Disease causes a relentlessly progressive decline in a person’s functioning. It attacks the brain resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. It is not curable and its cause is unknown but current research and strategic programs are giving a better understanding of how to tackle the disease. Of all dementia sufferers, around 70% have Alzheimer’s Disease and although it is often seen as an affliction of the elderly, increasingly young people are being diagnosed with the illness. In fact some health academics are predicting Alzheimer’s Disease will become the main cause of death and disability in Australia.
While dementia and memory loss is a tough subject, the exhibition gently explores the issues with thoughtful consideration. One of the functions of art is to examine the world around us and sometimes that means casting a light on things that make us feel uncomfortable.
The Memory exhibition features work by Springdale Artists who have created paintings, drawings and installations in response to specific quotes about memory loss. These quotes have become the titles of the works.
Trying to remember things is like whistling in the wind. Language and memory are the old growth forests of the mind. Sometimes randomness itself becomes a pattern. Memory is like a cat’s cradle of knots.
Gillian Turner’s installation Memory Case has generated a lot of discussion among gallery visitors. The installation comprises an antique suitcase full of everyday items such as a teddy bear, vintage clothing patterns, and a tin of buttons. After observing the items, viewers are invited to write their memories on luggage tags. It is touching to read these brief stories, these fragments from people’s lives, some of them quite poignant. The work explores the exhibition theme through the idea of randomness generating a pattern of memories. The repeated shape of the luggage tags means the piece is gradually acquiring its own pattern and rhythm.
Main has contributed several paintings to the exhibition. A painting of gnarled and knotted trees was informed by a conversation she had with her husband who described the sensation of memory loss as “Things go in one ear and come out the other all tangled.”
Helping her husband with his illness has given Main some insight into the physical and emotional issues associated with the disease and she says it is important that carers don’t patronise dementia sufferers.
“The dignity must always be there,” Main says. “They are not children, they are adults with wonderful experiences and that’s the respect that is due to them.”
The exhibition runs until Sunday 2 December with works by Gwenda Brehaut, Gwen Cook, Sue Daniels, Anne Devenish, George-Ann Gunn, Denise Main, Margaret McGillivray, Annette Playsted, Shirley Penman, Jeanne Stratford, Gillian Turner and Pip Williams. Main would like to see the exhibition tour around Victoria and welcomes enquiries. She can be contacted on 0408 584 169.