"Art For Orientation"

pictorial interventions on doors in residental homes

by Sonja van Kerkhoff, 14 December 2012 - 25 January 2013
During the Rotorua Art Village residency, Aotearoa | New Zealand

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During the interview with this 90 year old man, it seemed that what was of most importance were his nine grandchildren who descend from his three children. He had been an accountant and numbering things seemed important aspect to his personality. Simplicity was another aspect. His only memory that he shared about his career was of a suitcase he used to carry an IBM computer around in.

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An intervention on a 90 year old man's
door in a residental home.

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Other doors in the same corridor

"Art for Orientation" consists of 6 hand-painted or computer made images made as points for orientation in residential homes in Rotorua.

I used this project as a way to 'orient' myself - I found such homes and met a number of residents and learned a bit about the people in this world. I had several reasons for choosing this as an approach for a body of work and it also served as a community art project.

My main aim was investigative: to see what I could learn and how a visualization could serve as both aesthetic and as informative. Each image was the result of an hour or more long interview in a person's room. I asked all sorts of questions to find out what was of interest to this person, while also noting how much of the room seemed to belong to them, and also how they seemed to relate to the room that was their home.

I wanted to create an intervention on their door 'to the world' that would have an affect not only on them but on any one who passed by.

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A dominant exciting memory for her was seeing a pine tree for the first time. As a five year old she moved to pine forest where her father had work. For another woman who was crippled with a muscular disorder, the Friesian cow was a reminder not only of her work as a farmer, but another affect was that the staff knew that this had been her career. Until I interviewed her it had been assumed that the last job she was able to have with her disorder had been her career.

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This woman's treasured possession in her room was an old bank ledger that had belonged to her father who had opened one of the first banks in the area. Inside a sketch of this I placed a mirrored image of a newborn in a fetal position. She had had a long and happy career as a midwife.

One of the aims for these 'pictograms' was to serve as a form of orientation for the residents, so now instead of being wheeled to their room with a number or name in small print, it was as in this case "the newborn ledger" room.

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Norma Evans with her embroidered banner behind above her bed.

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This 85 year old woman's room was full of memoirs and she was articulate and lively but physically dependent. In her case it was a matter of choosing what to focus on. She started as a dressmaker, moved to sheepfarming, was actively involved in various social organizations and started a small pioneer museum.

I chose to make a collage with some optional illusions because she was very witty and this would set the tone for an orientation into her 'room.'

At the top was a photo of her rural women's federation banner she embroidered and which hangs above her bed. This was carried on the backs of four sheep (symbollic for her daughters and that she was a sheepfarmer) and beneath these were a scattering of many shoes drawn only in outline. She had been an obsessive collector of things and in particular of shoes. The shoes were arranged to emerge outwards from the feet of the sheep.

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