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L I V E S


‘Self-Portrait (with Saw)’


A blissful lapse


The award-winning South Korean film Poetry (2010) offers a striking alternative to familiar Hollywood depictions of dementia. Rather than focusing on the difficult choices and narrative arc of a caregiver coming to terms with a traumatic end-of-life scenario, Poetry explores how Alzheimer’s affects language and its relationship to memory. After hearing her diagnosis described in the


context of forgetting words, the central character starts to pursue a childhood ambition to write poetry. Her efforts generate new ways of commemorating the past, and drive her to a moment of memory loss interpreted as a blissful lapse rather than a loss of self. Memory, the film suggests, is a mixed blessing.


‘Self-Portrait (with Saw)’ Giclee print William Utermohlen, 1997 RRa0074 / William Utermohlen


Utermohlen began this self-portrait on the day he willed his brain to science. The striking saw suggests the act of dissection.


‘Head 1’ A dementia page-turner


Alice LaPlante’s thriller about a woman with Alz- heimer’s who is accused of murdering her best friend won the Wellcome Book Prize in 2011. Judge Roger Highfield described Turn of Mind as ‘a page-turner about dementia, which I never thought possible’.


Read


LaPlante A. Turn of Mind. London: Vintage; 2012. Baker B. Diary Drawings: Mental illness and me. London: Profile Books; 2010.


Cumming L. A Face to the World: On self-portraits. London: HarperPress; 2009.


Woodall J. Portraiture: Facing the subject. Manches- ter: Manchester University Press; 1997.


Documenting the changing self


‘Head 1’ Giclee print William Utermohlen, 2000 RRa0075 / William Utermohlen


This contorted, eyeless portrait is the last work Utermohlen produced before his death in 2007.


Many artists make their own changing and change- able bodies an important theme of their work. Rembrandt (1606–69) painted self-portraits through- out his life, from raffish youth to unsentimentally depicted old age, even showing what may be the result of a botched ear piercing. American artist Cindy Sherman (b.1954) has made a life’s work out of pho- tographing herself in clothes and settings of various disturbing personae. And Sir Antony Gormley (b.1950) uses the dimensions of his own body as parameters that determine the forms of his sculptures, which range from the clearly figurative to almost geometric abstraction.


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