During spring 2012, Joanneke Meester was at work at The Fifth Season. This artists’ residence, situated on the grounds of Altrecht Mental Health Institution in Den Dolder, is occupied every three months by a different artist. Together with the patients of the institute, the artists work on a project, resulting in inspiring and fascinating images about psychiatry. One of the goals of The Fifth Season is to bring society closer to the patients and vice versa.For her project Routes and Routines, Joanneke Meester worked with a group of elderly psychiatric patients. The relationship between movement and mental well-being on one side, and her assumption that a long term stay at a mental health institution makes people less mobile on the other, formed the backbone of this project. In the course of three months, an extensive plan unfolded in which patients aged 65 and older mapped their movements and were challenged to take different paths.Questions that interested Joanneke Meester were, for instance: “Why do we hold on to routines so often in our daily life? And what happens if we break through our ingrained patterns?”The artist was particularly involved with the elderly people of Altrecht’s Korenveld department. In a short period of time, she established a special bond with the group and became a welcome guest of the department. The project stimulated the patients’ curiosity to observe their own movements and those of others.The elderly patients mapped their movements in a number of ways. They embroidered their routes from their own department to the central hall and its surroundings, each using his or her own colour to identify their own path. Subsequently, collages were made and the various routes were taped to the ground in coloured lines. The process resulted in a cheerful collection of mapped patterns.

But what if these established paths were disrupted? Meester thought of an alternative route that could temporarily replace and relativize the existing patterns. At the end of this alternative route, an installation of distorting mirrors were placed. Those who dared walked the new route and looked into one of the mirrors to experience themselves in a different way, to have fun and to allow themselves to discover an unknown path.

For both Joanneke Meester and the elderly patients, the project turned out to be a unique experience. Through her committed attitude and involvement, Meester succeeded in lifting this group of patients for a little while from their habits and challenging them to change. On behalf of The Fifth Season, I would like to thank Joanneke Meester, the social workers and above all the elderly people of Korenveld for their efforts and the joy they generated through the project Routes and Routines.

On behalf of The Fifth Season,
Roxanne Vernimme
President of the Management Board of Altrecht Mental Health Institution.

    1. QUESTIONS FOR JOANNEKE MEESTER By Esther Vossen Your project is called ‘Routes and Routines’. What is, in your opinion, the relation between the two?Of course we have all established patterns. Whenever we take the same route repeatedly, while the awareness of taking it moves to the background, it quickly turns into a routine. It becomes a habit that is usually experienced as pleasant. For instance, at one point you chose a route that was functional, that would get you quickly from A to B without too many obstacles. But habits can have a mind-narrowing effect, they can leave little space for change and they can impede new experiences. They can become ingrained patterns we’re often not aware of. During my project, I wanted to untangle these routines. In ‘Routes and Routines’, both the patients’ and the personnel’s patterns became visible.

      Why did you want to investigate these patterns of elderly patients in particular?

      My point of departure was that in this group the combination of their age and their clinical syndrome would create a bigger need for stability than in other people, and  therefore, their established patterns would be anchored more solidly. The fact that the environment of this specific group gets smaller and smaller, means that they are usually less stimulated to move around. This is why I wanted to investigate, together with these people, if and how I could make them more aware of their routes and routines. I wanted to know how I could invite them to walk different paths, and I was curious how they would then look at their environment with fresh eyes and which position they would take up in it. The process generated conversations and new experiences. It became clear how, why and who held on to which patterns.

      Have you noticed any explicit patterns of movement in elderly people?

      The patterns of movement of the elderly people were very diverse in comparison, and they were often related to their clinical syndrome. For instance, there were patients who, out of fear, avoided large spaces or patients who always followed the same route compulsively. While working together with the patients, I discovered that some patients had the desire to die and that often this was still a taboo for the patients themselves, for their family, and sometimes even for the personnel. I asked the patients what they would wish for someone who doesn’t want to continue living, in order to give him or her strength. In the end, a lady for whom this is an issue said; ‘It’s clean in heaven’. In my opinion, this sentence gives room for acceptance. Both for the patient and for his or her surroundings. It’s a statement that offers comfort. For this reason, I had it embroidered on a handkerchief.

      At the end of the project, you challenged patients to look at themselves and their movements from a different perspective. What were their reactions?

      There is a strong interaction between mind and body. We all manipulate our own thoughts. It is often difficult to convince people who are very depressed to get up in the morning. This creates a downward spiral. That is why I wanted to stimulate these people’s minds and see if they would be able to open themselves up for something new. I developed a new route, consisting of short pieces of tape on the floor. This new route led to an installation of distorting mirrors. The curtains in front of the mirrors aroused the curiosity of the patients. The estrangement of their self-image made them reflect on the image and on themselves. They asked themselves if they could identify with the image they saw. In a positive way, the mirrors had a mind-opening effect. The installation brought the elderly people distraction and fun and succeeded in getting them to move around, both physically and mentally.



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