Katya Marchenko

will you look for me when I am gone? (2024)

I believe there is great value in the connection between social work and art.

My graduation project is born out of the experience of caring for my grandmother that lived with a dementia diagnosis for over 10 years. Pained by stigmatization of this terminal illness, as well as my personal failure to support her in her last years, I decided to dedicate my graduation work to dementia awareness.

Over the span of 6 months, I conducted art workshops at a dementia care center called Het Huis Van De Tijd. Together with the visitors of the dementia care center and its volunteers, we made animation, prints and clay objects. In each workshop, I focused on using experimental forms of art expression, such as draw-on-film and scratch film analogue animation. I used items such as an overhead projector and 35mm film in order to spark memories for the people with dementia about their own experience of working with such objects in the past.

At the center of my work are interviews I conducted with 3 writers who all have various stages of vascular dementia, and who dedicated their post-diagnosis life to educating about this illness. In particular, my main question for each of the people I interviewed was: “Has dementia brought something positive to your life?” Through looking at dementia in a positive lens, I wanted to tackle stigmatization and show how joy and meaning can be found in life with a challenging terminal illness.

The objects and films that were made in the workshops serve as my tools to tell the story about finding light in the darkness and caring for one another. I am centering on dementia as a gateway to a larger conversation about the value and necessity of social work in art education and art spaces, and tackling the question as to how modern artists can use their trade for a community cause.

In one of the interviews I conducted, an educator and medical professional Dr. Jennifer Brute shared her view on life with her dementia diagnosis: “The main thing is to remember that the real person is still there and to bother to find them. People say: “they[people with dementia] are not there anymore”. But they are! They just need to be found. When people ask me what I want in the future, I say I want to be somewhere where someone will be willing and bothered to find me.”

The name for my work stems from my own fear and insecurity that I face throughout my project – will there be someone willing to find me if I develop dementia? What kind of fate awaits my generation as we age, in a world where dementia is becoming a dominant terminal illness? Most importantly, how can we as society and individuals improve how we care for each other?