Dementia in Digital Artwork

My Gran was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in around 2008, we were very close so it hurt me that she was starting to lose her ways, but I like to think I have remained strong throughout this all.

Fast forward four years and I’ve decided to be a digital artist. During my first year at college, I basked in all the glory of student life, and was not really interested in getting my head stuck into my coursework.

It wasn’t until my dog had to be put to sleep in March last year (2014), that I suddenly realised life is short. And with that, I put most of my partying behind me, and I was suddenly producing work. I applied to University of the West of Scotland, completed my final year at college, and to my surprise, I was accepted on to their 3rd year BA Digital Art course.

My Gran passed away suddenly in June this year, shortly after her 84th birthday, she had endured a seven year long battle, and she deserved her rest. This led me to start getting heavily involved with Alzheimer’s; my family and I completed a 4K walk for Alzheimer Scotland (we raised over £400!), I have guest written for, I am part of my constituencies local fundraising group, helping them to gather raffle prizes for a festive event, taking part in DecodeDementia, and I have made it the focus point for my coursework at university.

I have devised all three of my university assignments around the subject of dementia. I figured I was already doing the research for one of them, so why not continue? I usually focus on the medium of film, so these projects were a challenge for me.

I had an idea last year that I wanted to create an interactive glass brain that would light up, with audio output on touching specific parts. Perhaps a bit far-fetched for someone at my level…but I used this idea to create a 3D brain.

The brain was a lot smaller than I had planned, who knew 3D printing was so expensive? So I adapted my project. In doing so, my Uncle advised that I create something like hands to hold the brain up. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I got to work on creating cast moulds of my own hands using plaster of Paris and alginate.

I added a flickering tea light to show I picture dementia: the light isn’t quite out, but it’s not fully on either. You can see this light in action at my tumblr page.

My second project was a Flash animation. I created three different scenes, one a standard brain, the second a face (mostly concentrating on the eyes), and the third an ear. These are to imply colour-blindness and deafness, two factors of Alzheimer’s disease.

I then created ‘creatures’ by scanning a metal scourer and a cotton pad into the computer, and using Photoshop to alter them, these represent plaques in the brain. I used Photoshop again to take the heads from old childhood photographs (as dementia affects your short term memory most) and placed these on to the plaques, I blurred these slightly to create that fading memory effect.

I gave each creature a ‘weapon’, these included a copper pipe, an aluminium pot, and a burger, I chose these objects as they have all been said to heighten your risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. I drew out some nerves, both on paper and on the computer, and I put everything together and animated it to show the plaques hitting the nerves with the weapons, whilst the images in the background change to depict what happens to the person on the outside. You can view an almost completed version of this below. I say almost because as you will see, it’s still slightly glitchy.

My final project for this year will be my narrative. I am just starting this project which will use one of my Uncle’s beautiful poems to create watercolour paintings of penguins to depict the relationship between my Gran and I. It is a project I cannot wait to dig my teeth into! I will be posting about this on my Tumblr page very soon.

Overall, I am glad to finally have a focus point for my work, it gives me something to strive for, and it is also helping me to be recognized in the online world. Those who know me know that I am usually a bit of a slacker, but now that I have something to work hard for, something that interests me greatly, I am more driven than ever!

Here where I live, in Scotland, our national Alzheimer’s charity isn’t as ‘popular’ and well-known as the other big charities, and I feel like that needs to change. I don’t think many young people take an interest since dementia is classed as something only elderly people have. It is something that is joked about constantly, when the truth is, anyone of any age can be affected, it’s not something that we should be joking about and it’s something that everyone needs to take more seriously.

My goal is to work alongside Alzheimer Scotland in the hopes of helping them reach out to people, not just to people my age, but to everyone. I hope that my art will influence a younger generation to get involved, but mostly I hope that one day, Alzheimer’s charities can stand up with the rest of the big charities and that the stigmas surrounding this disease will be demolished.

Caitlin Mooney