By FUA Fine Arts Department
Cover photo by Kaelynn Maloney, image of student artwork courtesy of FUA

 

A recent Fall 2014 FUA student exhibition included a collective mixed media piece titled Unapologetically Oneself created by the Social Practices in Contemporary Arts course taught by Prof. Lucia Giardino. The project is the final result of a course project that involved student interaction with the elderly residents of Il Giglio nursing home who are affected by Alzheimer's disease. Prof. Giardino shares, “The experience with the Alzheimer patients allowed the class to discover a different side of Florence, a side that is more hidden, more human, and all the more beautiful.” The course statement as presented in the exhibition project is republished here:

 

While the beginning of our project took place in the studios at FUA, the primary and essential interactions happened at the Il Giglio residence. According to their website, Il Giglio "is a structure that can accommodate seniors with varying degrees of autonomy." The community offers up to 60 beds for seniors who desire to reside either with or without roommates; and the floors are organized according to the varying levels of autonomy, primarily based on those residents with dementia. Upon our first visit to Il Giglio, we were greeted by residents of all varieties – as young as fifty and as old as ninety. What was immediately striking was the strong sense of community and care for the residents by the staff members. Elderly care facilities can be marked by a sterile and unfamiliar quality, yet the atmosphere in Il Giglio is one of warmth and community. Different amenities such as common areas, infirmaries, a gym, and a green area are available for resident use. We entered their space as cultural and generational outsiders, with the intention of bridging the gap between these two cohorts.


Much of our task in working with the residents of the Il Giglio community was about breaking barriers and conversing, building trust. The first barrier was gaining clearance to work in such a community. After given clearance, our next great wall to shatter would be to gain emotional clearance. As strangers and foreigners, patience was an essential element in overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers.

 

Initially, our ideas to build relationships revolved around creating a sort of collection of art – produced and curated by the residents. However, after our first sketching exercises, we quickly realized that the ultimate goal of a resident show would be too overwhelming. Instead we decided to focus on the needs of expression of the residents. We created notebooks to give to the residents, with which we would also assign them sketching exercises to improve their technical skills as well as their solidarity as Il Giglio residents.

 

The essential ideal that we hope to reveal in that beauty is being unapologetically oneself. This idea was taken from another class exercise, in which we read what other FUA students defined as “beauty.” The phrase “being unapologetically oneself” is the title of our work and experience with the residents because we witnessed them in their unique forms. Current popular culture deems youth as ideal beauty, so it is through our work with an older population that we may begin to dispel this common belief. We have observed the residents mostly in their body language because of our language barrier. In doing so, we have learned that language and understanding are much deeper than linguistic coherence. We have learned about the residents through their physical quirks and in a way to insert ourselves into their unique dialogue, we will film ourselves copying their movements. In this action, we aim to gain a bodily sense of their individual situations.

 

- Statement by participating FUA students Alice Cheeseman, Kaelynn Maloney, Danielle McCleave, Sarah Opitz

 


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