Student artist explores comfort in photo exhibit
March 31, 2017, 10:19 am ADT Last Updated: March 31, 2017, 10:28 am ADT
Klara Ingersoll is curious about how people make their spaces comfortable.
Her exhibit in the Cochran Bay Laundry Room Gallery, explores how comfort items are a solace. Her photographs include friends and artists posing with their five favourite comfort items. There are also smaller stills of the objects themselves.
Photography is Ingersoll’s favourite creative medium. It allows her to capture “momentary and symbolic reality.”
“I’m photographing people with items that have an aesthetic but also have an emotional significance to them,” Ingersoll says. “It’s exploring people and their relationships to their things, but also exploring how people in Halifax have made me feel more at home.”
Ingersoll will debut her project on Friday in the gallery at the University of King’s College, in partnership with friend Greta Hamilton. This is her first exhibit on campus.
Ingersoll is a first-year student enrolled in the Foundation Year Programme at King’s. She’s originally from Boston and this is her first time in Halifax. She describes not knowing where her home is.
“I think that’s what a lot of people are dealing with right now,” Ingersoll says. “For me, it’s about not knowing where I’m going to be in the summer and reflecting upon the year here and how I’ve been able to make it feel more like home.”
Leslie Phillmore, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in the department of psychology and neuroscience, describes comfort items as any item for a particular person that soothes, calms or reduces anxiety.
Comfort items become associated with comfort through experience. For example, a small child might associate the soft feel of a blanket with being in a parent’s arms, rocking in a chair, or being warm in a calm environment. After experiencing this association, the blanket can eventually produce that calm on its own.
Ingersoll’s comfort items include her black Adidas sneakers, a stuffed bear from her childhood and art she has received from friends.
“I love sneakers because I love being comfortable and I love sports,” Ingersoll says. “They make me feel hot in any outfit.
“When people I know make art that feels super beautiful to me,” she continue. “It makes me feel like we have a shared reality, shared interests, and a shared passion.”
Dopamine and the amygdala
Phillmore credits the neurotransmitter dopamine and the amygdala for this feeling. Dopamine is released in the brain when one experiences something pleasurable.
The amygdala is a region of the brain important for feeling and learning emotion. When the amygdala is active when experiencing something happy, sad or scary, one tends to have a stronger memory for the feeling than the actual event.
“Memories with emotional content like when you are experiencing happy times holding a comfort item means you will have a stronger tie to that item and a longer term memory for it,” Phillmore explains.
Other comfort items from Ingersoll’s project include a guitar and various pieces of clothing.
“I think people’s comfort items make so much sense for them,” Ingersoll says. “It’s really cool with artists because you can see their styles reflected in the things that they love.
“It’s cool that the items aren’t always physical and they really take on the different preferred art forms,” she continues. “It’s interesting to see how people’s items are often tools or direct representations of their art form.”
Phillmore explains that adults can delay use of comfort items until timing and context are more appropriate.
“After work, for example,” she says, “knowing that you have a cozy sweatshirt to wear while you eat your favourite meal might be enough to get you through a bad day.”
The photo exhibit will run until April 8.