A poignant visual story of one designer's mother, and her experiences of sight-loss-based hallucinations

Amsterdam-based studio No Rocket is more usually found working on briefs for projects across graphic design, ad campaigns, illustration and more for the likes of Corno and a number of cultural clients including the exhibition design and communication materials for an exhibition about Ettore Sottsass.

But recently, its co-founder Francesco Zorzi unveiled a project that was both rather different in content and form, but highly personal. MACULA / The Theater is in the Mind is a short film that’s premiering at the international indie film festival LFF2019 - Lago Film Fest 2019 in Italy.

MACULA was presented as a work-in-progress in 2017, and the film explores "the complex interconnection between eyes and human brain, between sight and perception," says Zorzi, and is also the story of his mother and her Macular Degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) – the world’s leading cause of vision loss that affects millions of people every year.

The condition is a deterioration of the eye’s macula, which is the central position of the retina responsible for fine vision that may result in severely blurred vision, and over time, may also find sufferers experience visual hallucinations. "The brain compensates for the loss of sight by filling in the gaps of missing information, producing vivid, complex recurrent fictive visual perceptions," says Zorzi.

"This film is also the story of my mother," Zorzi adds. She was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration and in 2004 started experiencing visual hallucinations. 
This disturbance, named Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), has been known since the 18th century, yet very little is understood about the syndrome, so many of those affected tend not to share their experiences with anyone through fear of people thinking they're mentally unwell. But without any guidance in how CBS visual hallucinations might manifest, those experiencing these visions can confuse them with reality.

Over the years Zorzi's mother started keeping a 'voice diary' documenting her experiences, and Zorzi gathered seven years of such audio notes to delineate "what it means to live in the darkness," he says.

Her experiences of "puzzling hallucinations, blurred visions, and confusion", have Zorzi both insight and inspiration to translate them visually. "Her notes represent a process of putting volatile and illusory perceptions into concrete words.
This film is a visual representation that  tells a story which begins with first-person voice recordings and evolves into abstract moving images."

He adds: "It is a visual tour inside her reality and that tells her story. 
'Her' story as the story of 'many'."

Alongside the film, Zorzi produced a limited, 50-edition run of printed publications as the latest step of ongoing research about vision and perception, AMD – Age Macular Degeneration and CBS – Charles Bonnet Syndrome Visual Hallucinations.

"The project wants to open a discussion on vision and perception and bring it to the people, confronting them on what could be the repercussions of serious visual impairment to visual perception during the daily routine of millions of people every year, using design and visual arts to support the circulation of such messages," he says.

Through his use of multiple experiments across various media, the project follows his broader practice goals of blurring the lines that divide disciplines, juxtapose numerous formats to and create a range of outcomes on a theme "for a greater depth of investigation, a better public outreach and a more stimulating exploration of its development," he says.

Direction, project and concept by Francesco Zorzi. Filming and editing by Gabriele Mariotti. Music by Nick Malkin. All images and film courtesy of the artist.


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