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Review: 97 Years, Strike A Light Festival

By citizenmike  |  Posted: March 23, 2014


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Nearly everyone knows someone who has or is living with dementia but do we really know what is going on in their mind?

In this interactive installation by Jo Hellier, one performer delicately works through a series of conversations between her and her grandfather. It is a poignant investigation of mental health that invites the audience to decipher a confused mind together with the performer.

It is a show like 97 Years that gives Gloucester’s Strike A Light Festival its contemporary edge.

This is an unusual piece of work in which audience members are invited to sit around the performer, on the floor, in a semi-circle. She works in silence, arranging a series of apples in a line, organising them from the freshest to those that have deteriorated to a rotten core. The symbolism for the decline of the human mind is striking.

Hellier’s grandfather’s everyday conversation start to emerge. We see a projection of the orchard that he once maintained, while a collection of apples tied up in bags are suspended on strings attached to a pulley system. Hellier removes each string from underneath a brick and hands each one to an audience member. You are then asked to pull the string slowly to raise the bag of apples. As you do, the voice of her grandfather emerges. But then it is gone as quickly as it appears and background noise takes over.

By the time all of of apples are held up by audience members, we are asked to hold the strings for a few more minutes - not an easy task when you have been asked to hold the string for the whole show. But as we do a moving video appears of Hellier having breakfast with her grandfather on a ‘normal’ day, when he speaks perfect clarity. Hellier walks out and we are told we can release the strings at any time, but by doing so the moment that we are so desperately holding on to will be lost forever.

After a few minutes, one audience member gives up. The apples fall. Then another. And another. The screen goes dark and those precious moments of clarity with Hellier’s grandfather are gone. A truly poignant reflection on something that will affect not many, but most of us at some point.

Michael Wilkinson

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