Memory Loss and Scenic Experience: An Arts Based Investigation


  • Jill Bennett University of New South Wales
  • Lynn Froggett University of Central Lancashire
  • Gail Kenning University of Technology
  • Julian Manley University of Central Lancashire
  • Lizzie Muller University of New South Wales



art, affect, social scaffolding, memory loss, dementia, reverie, visual matrix, scenic experience


In our research, two groups of people living with memory loss due to mid-stage dementia were invited to view a film installation, centred on the experience of a woman with a brain lesion and dense amnesia. The groups, recruited from day-care and support settings, were living at home. One included informal care-givers. After the film, each participated in a visual matrix: A group-based method of eliciting image-led and affective associations in response to aesthetic stimuli to support shared and distributed memory. We hypothesised that the associative process of the visual matrix would support meaningful engagement for participants with dementia.

We discuss the participation and self-reflection facilitated through the method in terms of social scaffolding, attending to differences between the groups, presence of care-givers and visual matrix setting. We consider the conditions in which scenic experience, replete with embodied memory traces is expressed in a visual matrix by people with impaired recall, enabling them to engage with a complex artwork. This provides insight into how the embodied, subjective experience of people living with memory loss can be communicated. Implications for enrichment programmes, social activities and communication in group care settings are considered.


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Author Biographies

Jill Bennett, University of New South Wales

Jill BENNETT is an Australian Research Council laureate fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), where she is also director of the National Institute for Experimental Arts and founding director of The Big Anxiety—festival of arts + science + people. Her Laureate Research Lab advances the study of the subjective experience of ageing, mental health, marginalisation and stigma, combining psycho-social approaches with the use of immersive environments and virtual reality to enable perspective sharing, and the development of effective methods for cultivating empathy. Jill is a visual media theorist, curator and immersive media producer, whose research focuses on trauma, emotional experience, memory and mental health. Her research includes arts-science collaborations at the intersection of trauma studies, psychology and mental health. Her books, include "Empathic Vision" (2005, Stanford University Press) and "Practical Aesthetics" (2012, I.B.Taruis), as well as monographs on media arts, curating and its social impact. She has produced and curated many exhibitions and events, encompassing visual, media and performing arts, interactive workshops and experimental discussion forums, designed to promote new forms of engagement.

Lynn Froggett, University of Central Lancashire

Lynn FROGGETT has a cross-disciplinary academic background in humanities and social sciences and is professor and co-director of Psychosocial Research at the University of Central Lancashire and co-director of the trans-disciplinary Lancashire Institute for Citizenship, Society and Change. She is also chair of The Association for Psychosocial Studies in the UK. Her research focus includes psychosocial wellbeing, public mental health and the arts. She has led research projects in digital, clinical, cultural and community settings as diverse as youth justice, public mental health, museums, hospitals, new model arts institutions, primary care, regeneration contexts, schools and festivals. Current projects are concerned with the role of the arts in health and well-being civic action, cultural renewal and local democracy. The theoretical and conceptual development from these projects is cumulative, trans-disciplinary and rests on in-depth, hermeneutic, ethnographic, narrative and visual methodologies. She is also visiting research professor at The University of Stavanger, Norway, and collaborating visiting professor at the University of Roskilde, Denmark.

Gail Kenning, University of Technology

Gail KENNING is an artist and researcher. She uses ethnographic methodologies to explore social and cultural approaches to health with a particular focus on ageing, dementia and wellbeing and the evaluation of arts engagement projects. Gail is senior researcher at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), honorary reader in design for ageing and dementia at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales, UK and Design United visiting fellow at Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. Gail is also chief investigator on funded design for dementia projects in Australia, and co-investigator on AHRC and NWO projects in UK and Netherlands respectively.

Julian Manley, University of Central Lancashire

Julian MANLEY works at the University of Central Lancashire. He graduated at Cambridge University and holds a master in group relations and society and a PhD in social dreaming from the University of the West of England, Bristol. His research is centred around visual methods evolving from and including social dreaming and the visual matrix. He researches psychosocial and group relational approaches to knowledge and includes a Deleuzian perspective to this work. His book "Social Dreaming, Associative Thinking and Intensities of Affect" was published in 2018 (Palgrave).

Lizzie Muller, University of New South Wales

Lizzie MULLER is a curator specialising in interaction, audience experience and interdisciplinary collaboration. Her current research explores the relationship between curatorial practice and shifts in contemporary knowledge formations. Lizzie's recent exhibitions include "Human Non Human" (with Katie DYER) at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney and "A Working Model of the World" (with Holly WILLIAMS), which has been staged in Australia, USA and Scotland.




How to Cite

Bennett, J., Froggett, L., Kenning, G., Manley, J., & Muller, L. (2019). Memory Loss and Scenic Experience: An Arts Based Investigation. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(1).



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