‘Home Alone’: how can loneliness among the elderly be artistic?

Written by Arts

Grainger Market is home to hundreds of shops and local traders. The indoor market offers something for everyone from butchers, bakeries, vintage boutiques, florists and much more. But from 3-6 August, Sharon Bailey has transformed units 66 and 67 into a pensioner’s living room.

Image: Carl Smith Valdez

The art installation entitled ‘Home Alone’ features photographs and diary excerpts taken by Bailey in her eight-month project visiting 15 elderly people who live by themselves. She exposes normally hidden issues that older people face into the open public. Bringing these untold stories into busy spaces hauntingly highlights how it could be anyone of us living in this situation.

It is through Bailey’s lens that the spectators are given an insider outlook of the multiple challenges vulnerable elderly people face in their daily lives. She uses blooming flowers as a visual metaphor to represent the inner beauty to look forward to while growing old. Yet, through her framing, she separates the flowers against a row of houses. This perfectly encapsulates the isolation that is hidden in the community. It appears as though the potentials of the elderly are limited and underestimated by stereotyping. This photograph highlights the elegance unleased once such individuals are given importance.

Image: Carl Smith Valdez

The project explores the power of photography to overcome loneliness. Bailey showcases artwork she has created alongside the photographs, including clay works, paintings and drawings. It is evident that their skills have been brought to life, rekindling talents they thought they have lost. She has clearly built a strong bond with them throughout her visits. One of her photographs features an older woman concealing her smile. However, through her eyes, one can see her happiness and contentment. She is staring at the camera, directly addressing her flourished self-love and built positivity.

The installation also presents a specially commissioned monologue written by Catrina McHugh. The monologue follows the day-to-day experience of Mary who lives on her own. The intricate set and clustered seating welcome us into Mary’s world in a personal level. It is through the internal monologue that the pertaining issues come to life.

Image: Carl Smith Valdez

A standout moment is when the performing actress Barbara Heslop dances along to ‘Green Door’ by Shakin’ Stevens whilst holding onto her zimmer frame. Heslop perfectly captures a strong-willed, active, independent elderly woman. What makes this performance truly remarkable is that it is genuine – comprised of Bailey’s diary entries and older people’s own words. The props even came from elderly individuals.


Image: Carl Smith Valdez

One striking view in the installation is of the table of oranges in the back. It seemed intentionally hidden away from the public, that no one was drawn into it. One of the oranges is almost crinkled. This intricate display strongly expresses the lack of attention into the issues of elderly people. However, it equally highlights that once issues are brought to light, anyone regardless of their age, race or gender would have a sense of belonging in the community.

Politics is undoubtedly permeated in Bailey’s artwork. According to Bailey, “It is the policy makers that needs to see this.” Due to the changing funding landscape and austerity, an increasing number of elderly people lack access to social and cultural activities. As a result, many spend long periods of time at home.

As of 2018, it has been estimated by the Local Government Association, that the adult care services could face a £1.5 billion funding gap by 2019-20. This has been expected to rise to £3.5 billion by 2024-25. Bailey demonstrates how social and arts engagement can boost self-confidence, esteem and purpose.

‘Home Alone’ displays the strong influence art can have to incite social change. It highlights that art is not to only be glanced upon; it has the strength of bringing generations together. It could provide depth and understanding about the minor matters in our community.

Image: Carl Smith Valdez

Last modified: 14th August 2019

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