Local people will get their final chance to visit the former Nazareth House nursing home next weekend when it opens its doors for Culture Night.
The Bishop Street building will host an art exhibition by locally-based artist Sue Morris on Friday night.
Nazareth House closed its doors in 2013 after 120 years as a home, and is now earmarked for future redevelopment as a residential complex for the ‘active elderly’.
During its history it was used as a home for children and run by a religious order, and in more recent decades was a residential care home for older people.
Derry & Strabane Council have said that September 22 may be one of the last opportunities for the public to view the original building.
The exhibition will be one of dozens of free cultural events taking place across the city and district on Friday night.
Sue Morris chose the former residential care home as an atmospheric location for her mixed media site installation, titled ‘The Unfamiliar Familiar’.
The work attempts to look at our concepts of aging and the impact of Dementia, and uses the backdrop of the care home as a space to create a sense of the experiences and effects of mental distress.
Originally from England, Sue has made Derry her home for the past three years.
Her interest in Dementia stems from her memories of her own grandmother who was affected by the condition, so the creative process of exploring that world has been a challenging one.
Sue spent two months drawing floor plans and photographing the Nazareth House site, before moving on to more sculptural works, incorporating objects and materials found at the home.
The building has significantly influenced how the work has evolved, as she said.
“The building itself was very challenging to work in, as I was restricted in what I could change within the building. I had no information about the general layout so I was working there entirely by myself in a sprawling network of rooms. It took me a long time to find my bearings.
“I’ve used some of the existing features in my work introducing additional items which I’ve brought into the environment. For example there are communal bedrooms and railings above the beds from which I was able to suspend items.”
While working on the piece Sue was very conscious of the building’s history and the many local people who have connections to the home.
“I wanted to create something that was challenging but not distressing for people,” she said.
“In a cultural sense Dementia is somewhat taboo, and the condition isn’t represented much in mainstream art – it tends to sit on the periphery.
“A lot of the work around Dementia also focuses on the loss of memory, but a huge issue is simply not being able to complete everyday activities - navigating stairs and doorways for example - and I’ve tried to capture that sense of confusion. Everyone will take something different from the piece based on their own experience. I’m not dictating, everyone will bring something different to it, I’m just trying to create a space to reflect.”
Meanwhile Culture Night will see Baldies Barbers host a cutting edge black comedy also exploring the realities of aging.
‘The Barber of Moville’ is the work of local writer and director Ronan Carr, who stars in the short play alongside actress Anne Gallagher.
The production focuses on the relationship between the two elderly protagonists as they prepare to finally shut up shop.
Ronan explained that the play challenges perceptions of identity and how people learn to adapt to life changing circumstances.
“It’s obviously a play on the ‘The Barber of Seville’ the opera - if I’m honest the title came first and I’ve been desperately trying to write a play that lives up to that title,” he admits.
“It’s a dark comedy. In a nutshell it’s about two barbers - a husband and wife - who are preparing to head off to see the opera in Italy for one final holiday. You see, Molly, the wife, is not well, she has what the characters describe in the play as the ‘forgetting thing’.
“To call it dementia in this context would be ill-judged because the play doesn’t really portray the reality of that disease. We just use an illness to talk about identity and how something like Dementia is a shape-shifter. Basically the play asks, if you can’t remember you are, do you really exist? And Molly is determined to make her ultimate exit while she still knows who she is.”
Despite the serious undertones of the play, the characters manage to maintain a humorous note and the audience is literally immersed in their world.
“As in life there is humour everywhere even in the most desperate situations,” Ronan explains. “As I say it’s a dark humour and the play rattles along at a great pace and it’s not too heavy at all.
“For starters the audience is surrounded by the set. There is also an intimacy between spectators and performers as if they are eavesdropping on a conversation. In response the actors can be less theatrical and more natural. They don’t have to project to the back row.
“We owe a huge debt to Brian Gallagher of Baldies Barbers and to Ollie Green of Greater Shantallow Arts for giving us the rehearsal space. It’s generosity like that, that allows things like culture to function. It’s really, really difficult to get punters into the theatre so Culture Night offers the opportunity to bring the theatre to the people, whether they like it or not.”
You can view The Unfamiliar Familiar between 6pm – 9.30pm, Nazareth House, Bishop Street and The Barber of Moville, 7pm, 8pm and 9pm, Baldies Barbers, Castle Street, on Friday September 22, as part of the Culture Night programme.
Over 40 free events will be taking place at venues across the city – you can find out more about what’s on offer at www.derrystrabane.com/culturenight.