97 Years @ Battersea Arts Centre Review

Approximately 800,000 people within the UK are diagnosed with Dementia, an illness that affects the memory, communication and empathy. Jo Hellier‘s 97 years is a conversation between herself and her grandfather as she attempts to unlock his fondest memories…

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Instigated by Jo Hellier, the art installation began with the organisation of a selection of fresh and rotting apples. Transfixed in her mission to find the perfect combination, it was a case of trial and error as she scrupulously aligned the fruit in the correct order. Combined with the dimly lit staging, apple bunches hanging from harp like strings, and the repetitive visuals of apple orchards, this only added to the mystique of the narrative, an unanswered question of the apple’s significance. The visuals began to take prominence, as the footage meandered between the elderly male protagonist wondering through serene gardens and orchards whilst a droning and jarring soundtrack played. This contrast between the imagery and sound created an atmospheric , surreal and intriguing setting, a mysterious world all of its own. A gradual process, the audience became an orchestra of speech and memory as Jo conducted our every move. Each audience member was assigned one of the strings, each controlling how far up or down the apple bundles were positioned. It were as if she were seeking our help to clarify the situation and the hazy sounds. Eventually, the soundtrack became audible sentences, as they were revealed to be the words of Jo’s Grandfather. It became apparent that the apples were a source of association, a means to accessing memories, engaging in conversation and unlocking emotions. The apple bunches on the surface not only signified nature and the serenity of agriculture, but the strings symbolised Jo’s grandfather’s mindset and the attempts by people from the medical profession, friends and relatives to reach out to him as his memory faded. This was powerful, and heartbreaking as the piece then transitioned into video footage of Jo and her grandfather having a conversation. Visually, the shadows created by the apples on the screen created flecks, impairing the footage. A way of displaying the decline of memory. Jo Hellier’s 97 years was unique, engaging and a fascinating art installation, integrating the audience into a different world. 4/5

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For more information on Jo Hellier’s 97 years, click here…

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