A Pandora's Box: creative practice in the becoming of 'cognitive impairment'
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Can the creative arts assist in understanding cognitive impairment or mental illness? The intersection between creative arts and cognitive impairment or mental illness from the position of an Outsider/Designer is explored through three modes of creative practice — painting, film, video. These observations commence with two-dimensional works and move through three-dimensional and four-dimensional ones, where time and motion are part of the works, as in interior design. Through these diverse representations of how reality is expressed and perceived within the framework of cognitive impairment, flickers of insight emerge which may foster an understanding of this multiple condition, and of the day-to-day experiences of those who are ‘insiders’. As an Outsider, the designer-researcher without cognitive impairment must use a variety of means to access the Insiders’ understandings. Bricolage is an appropriate mode of inquiry, enabling the researcher to gather creative fragments that, when juxtaposed, reveal insights into different realities. Investigating cognitive impairment is like opening a Pandora’s Box. In this revisiting of an ancient myth, the curious seeker opens something that is normally hidden away and not touched or spoken of, and reveals many disturbing issues and stories; for this enquiry, these are the history and narratives of contemporary mental health. Once revealed, these disowned or incarcerated stories and images cannot be put back ‘into the box’. People who witness them may feel uncomfortable or afraid, fascinated or voyeuristic, while others may be empathetic and caring. Indeed, many of us have had first-hand experience of mental health issues, so we are not simply ‘outsiders’. The almost-forgotten escapee from the original Pandora’s Box is Hope.Hope, in this quest for understanding, can guide us in a holistic approach to people with cognitive impairment and in re-conceptualising what it may mean to have a cognitive impairment. This investigation reveals that the environment portrayed in films manifests the constructions and judgements society makes regarding cognitive impairment. In contrast, other creative arts may allow us to ‘see’ the individuals differently: that is, through their experience and feelings. The first reflects Outsider views (designers or directors) and the second reflects Insider expressions. By importing the Insider perspective to inform the Outsider, potential synergies, a hybrid way of seeing and designing environments, can arise. The non-interior creative practices can be a means to enable communication with and inform the practice of environmental designers.
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