There is a lot of fantastic art in the new Exhibition, “Where the Heart Is”, which has just opened at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston. What makes the show really important is that it is brave and positive and stands up for art “beyond therapy”. Since it started, the whole project has demonstrated that art which engages with older people and their worlds is neither safe nor comfortable. It is to the credit of the local Age Concern that they have provided the opportunity to four diverse artists to explore and engage with the deeper meaning and perception of dementia, which art is so well placed to do. So it is a bit of a shame that the final exhibition comes up short of the professional exhibition quality that the work deserves, on this occasion.
Art and Dementia
The role of art should not be something which people feel defensive about but you sense the show has had a difficult birth, with some political correctness and risk-aversion getting in the way of what should be, proudly, an art exhibition. Shows like this are not a PR exercise for the care homes involved. Nor is the work some form of safe wallpaper. It is art which stands on its own.
Art which engages with people with dementia can be seen as challenging if it does not frame the world in a particular way. But in fact it is simply doing what art can do well. It captures, stimulates, opens up opportunities to reflect, offers perspective, explores ambiguities, provides voice and then as a result perhaps challenges, uplifts and reframes thinking. It is not something that should neither be predetermined, packaged, underestimated nor controlled. It should be simply allowed to reveal itself so others can engage as they wish.
The best work in the show (especially the poetry and visual arts elements) does this extremely well. Clearly a lot of work has gone into the show but it would also be good to see this work in other venues where it can perhaps breathe a bit more. There is always a danger in local exhibitions where there are many hands on the curatorial tiller that the art seems required to serve another, safer function. Work which does not support the prevailing requirement for a positive spin on ageing can get marginalised or even undermined.
The exhibition runs until 6 December so there is plenty of opportunity to see if the work overcomes its local context. Online gives a good flavour of some of the challenges involved and the work that has emerged. It all looks good to me.