I started studying computer programming two years ago, at the same time my grandmother was living in a nursing home and slowly declining with Alzheimer’s disease. She couldn’t remember my name but she did remember my face, it was always a comfort to visit her and see there was still some level of recognition in her eyes as she smiled and remarked on how tall I was now (I’ve been six foot since my twenties, though I’ve always wanted to be taller).
There was a sharp contrast between my interactions with my nanny and my studies. On one hand I was learning about the cold, hard maths of computer systems and how they systematically store, process and retrieve information from memory. At the same time I was watching my nan struggle to access her own memories as she got her wires crossed and talked about people she talked to yesterday even though they had been dead for ten years.
I wanted to capture something about the humanity of my nanny’s condition and contrast that with the true or false nature of computer operations – binary. I digitally embroidered hundreds of red and blue “one” and “zero” circles. The colour scheme here was defined by earlier journal work and was intended to reflect the opposing values of 1 and 0 (*cough* did someone mention “Binary Oppositions” by Dr. Helen McAllister? *cough*)
So I made some embroidered binary, but what does it say?
I recorded a part of my nan’s procedural memory – a simple prayer. A prayer she had repeated countless times since her childhood. Her religious beliefs were always a comfort to her, and just a computer like program that had been run over and over again, this prayer had been hard coded into a part of her mind that Alzheimer’s never touched.
The sequence of ones and zeros make up 8-bit strings of binary which can be converted in ASCII and read as “Hail Mary full of grace the lord is with thee”, the start of a prayer. To reflect the decline of my nan’s faculties and memory the code starts to break down towards the bottom of this wall-mounted piece (yeah, I glued over 300 of these things directly to the wall).
Now my nan always knew I had a sense of humour and I never miss an opportunity to take the piss. So If you look the piece again but ignore the words “one” and “zero” and just look at the colours of each patch you can find another layer of encoded binary. By letting blue circles equate to “zero” and red circles equate to “one” you end up with another string of binary which again can be converted to ASCII to read “I made it through the wilderness.” (This is a cheeky nod to Like a Virgin by Madonna, a very different kind of religious reference.)