OCAD University

Pathfinding installation explores memory loss

A new media art installation portraying the perceptual experience of memory loss by two artists with amnesia is now on view at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre. Called Pathfinding, the project was developed at OCAD U’s Social Media and Collaboration Lab (SMAClab) by Judith Doyle, chair of OCAD U’s Integrated Media program, and her assistant Emad Dabiri, an OCAD U student and VJ, who worked together with Robin Len and Kang Il-Kim.

Len and Il-Kim both have anterograde amnesia, which inhibits the ability to create new memories, even though their long-term memories remain intact. Doyle and Dabiri spent a year working with Len and Il-Kim to develop the installation, which features video animations created from composited layers of images from nature together with those of neural pathways. The images Il-Kim took of flowers, snow, trees and buddhas were layered together with images of the brain, such as that of dendrites, into montage video loops, which are displayed on 10 crowd-sourced old TV sets.

Judith Doyle at the opening of Pathfinding

Judith Doyle at the opening of Pathfinding. Photo: Asma Khanani Caporaletti.

“The old fashioned TVs are appealing to people, and each one has its own character and personality, whether its wood-grain or white and futuristic,” says Doyle. “The installation creates a living room-like environment, and the beautiful soundtrack created by high school student Paul Geldart brings it all together.”

The project came about after Len, a former colleague of Doyle’s was in a bike accident. Prior to the accident he was a highly regarded animator and compositing designer who worked on commercials and opening sequences for films, but the accident, which put him in a month-long coma, was severely disabling. Len, like Il-Kim, whose brain injury is a result of the multiple surgeries he had for a brain tumour, remembers things from the past, but because he has difficulty making new memories, he forgets what he’s doing in mid-task and will sometimes even black out. As Doyle describes, it becomes difficult for people like Len and Il-Kim to move through space, because they forget where they are.

Doyle began working as an artist in residence at Baycrest in 2011, where she became involved in the Memory Link Program, which trains individuals like Len and Il-Kim to enlist their procedural memory to form alternate neural pathways in order to accomplish things. The program also looks to find new ways to use mobile technologies to help with day-to-day tasks. Doyle initially began the Pathfinding project in a small studio at Baycrest, and later moved it to the SMAClab once her residency was over. In the course of her research and project work, she was awarded OCAD U’s Distinguished Research and Creative Activity Award (2012), and OCAD U also received Baycrest’s Proud Partners Award (2012).

Pathfinding installation

Photo: Kelly Connelly.

The Pathfinding project itself received support from the Ontario Arts Council, Brain Injury Services of Hamilton and of course OCAD U’s Integrated Media Program.

What Doyle and her assistant Dabiri discovered by working with Len and Il-Kim is that they had knowledge in their hands. Len and Il-Kim could still use video software, and the more they did, the more they began to improve in other areas of their lives.

“The project re-invigorated and re-animated my interests and creative passions,” said Len. "I feel like I'm getting my hands wet again. I can smell the turpentine in the canvas of the video."

“It helped me to regain myself from my brain injury; it made me happier,” added Kang. He described the pleasure he felt taking photos of nature in a ravine near his home for the project. "The ravine path itself represents life. We all have a path that we're going through."

“The process was very productive, for both of them, and there were many unexpected outcomes of the project,” says Doyle, who plans to write a paper about their collaborative experience.

The installation is on view until March 1 at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre. It will also be part of the Inclusive Design Institute’s Disrupting Undoing: Constructs of Disability exhibition at OCAD U’s Open Gallery in April.

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