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'A'. The Christmas Party

'A'. The Christmas Party

Research Centre
Art and Design Research Centre

Date
2013

Exploring dementia

Becky Shaw has been making work that explores dementia since 2005, when she was artist in residence with Age Concern Chelsea and Westminster. During this time she made three complex works. The first of these, Twelve Museums, was developed through working with Michael Gill. Gill had produced Kenneth Clark’s well-known television series Civilisation. Through weekly meetings Gill explored his thoughts on this experience and on the origins of civilisation, sometimes using this as a material through which to articulate his extraordinary insight into the processes of his illness. The resulting work was a Perspex model of a museum, built to fit drawn maps exactly, diagrammatically recording Gill’s conversation. David Clegg devised and led the Age Concern residencies, and Shaw and Clegg have continued to maintain a dialogue focused on his work An Occasional Cobra as part of his project Trebus.

This work was developed after visiting ‘A’, a woman ill with dementia, every day for ten weeks. During that time Shaw tried to encourage her to make work but to no avail. ‘A’ spoke in rhyme, her speech was affected by the illness. Without consent, Shaw recorded their conversations, then transcribed them into a six-act play. The play, in book form, was exhibited in the Sackler Centre at Serpentine Gallery in 2003.

In collaboration with Terry O’Connor, of Forced Entertainment, 'A'.The Christmas Party was then developed as a performance. The six hours of text were read by a team of actors without ever having seen it before, so it couldn’t be ‘acted’. The work was broadcast in Sheffield by community Radio SheffieldLive, during the 2008 city wide Biennial, curated by Annie Fletcher and Frederique Bergholz.

'A' was also performed live as a durational reading at Roehampton University Christmas 2011, using all the original readers from the radio work.

Researchers involved

Dr Becky Shaw - Post Graduate Research Tutor in Art and Design

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