During the last week of May, I participated in the inaugural residency at Cabin Collective in Newton, NJ organized by Ruth Borgenicht and Dana Michele Hemes. Along with fellow residents, Anne Percoco and Ellie Irons, we spent the week exploring the land and the interactive aspects of our practices; sharing knowledge, food, and laughs. In exchange for this restorative week of retreat and community we all agreed to lead a workshop. My workshop, Make Sense, focused on how our senses trigger memory associations.
Photo Credit: Ruth Borgenicht
I began by collecting small objects that I found around the cabin. I labeled each object with a word that correlated to a sensory trigger. The sensory-linguistic objects were designed to be discordant, (i.e a green soft object would be labeled "blue" ) in order to disrupt preconceived haptic associations and introduce the possibility of new relationships.
The workshop was divided into three sections: It began with a sensory-memory recall exercise, the second was affect and enactment, and the final section was another sensory-memory recall exercise. Each section was facilitated by the random drawing of objects from a canvas bag.
For the first section, the sensory-linguistic object served as a memory trigger that participants would elaborate and track their associations on special forms that were provided. The participants responses revealed an immediate storytelling structure to memory recall, that ranged from extremely acute experiences from decades prior to amalgamations that compressed distinct moments over the course of weeks into a singular experience.
Photo Credit: Ruth Borgenicht
The second section consisted of choosing linguistic/sensorial objects at random again but this time each was enacted with an actual experiential affect. For example, if the object chosen read "orange", the smell of orange would be dispersed through the peeling of a fresh orange, or the diffusing of orange scented essential oil in steam. This section aimed to train attention on specific combinations of sensory interaction when 2 or more modes are engaged.
The results were the following:
1st round: Taste of chocolate + smell of lavender
2nd round: Feeling of fan, sound of walking on a dock, the smell of oranges.
3rd round: The color white, smell of smoke, sitting, holding a hard, heavy smooth, object.
Each experience drew up individual memory associations that we discussed. It was especially interesting for me to take note of when and how these associations were shared and when they were distinctly different.
During the final section of the workshop, I was curious to see how the experiences of the second section would impact the participants ability to access their actual and creative memories. The result was that almost all of the participants had the same or slightly better ability to recall and create memory associations after the experiential round.
Overall the workshop was immensely informative and enjoyable. The experience deepened my understanding of and empathy for my fellow residents. I intend to take the feedback they offered to improve the workshop and try it again soon. The results will be channeled into the creation of a multi-sensory installation later this year.