Thinking through Traumas – The Memory Impression Project

I had the opportunity to participate in the Memory Impression Project started by Clea Jentsch, Fiona O’Leary, Ivie Egonmwan, and Tomomi Ogata. This is one of four projects from the Design Products department at the Royal College of Art; the projects were supported by Formlabs.[1] The Memory Impression Project exhibited their results and carried out an interactive project in the sculpture gallery at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum on the 28th of March 2015 (Fig.1).


Fig.1. Exhibition of Bench Top Factory

Exhibition of Bench Top Factory, at the sculpture gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum © Clea Jentsch, 2015

The Memory Impression Project’s remit was to design a set of art tools which they hope will help people dealing with loss and trauma; the death of a loved one, natural disasters and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The aim of this exercise is to have people work though some of the trauma associated with the event by recognizing certain memories in a physical form, and creating new memories.


This was very much a personal story for me.  My parents experienced a fire in their home, through which I lost many objects associated with my memories. Unfortunately, unexpected and disastrous events happen all over the world. According to International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), 2.9 billion people were affected and 1.2 million people were killed between 2000 and 2012 in the world as a result of natural disasters; drought, earthquakes, epidemics, floods, insect infestation, storms, volcanoes, and wildfires.[2] These statistics suggest that the mental health of the huge number of people affected by these events is a global issue.  Up to this point the role of designers in the implementation of therapy to help those affected work through the trauma has not been realized, despite the role designers play in coordinating our normal lives.  In this regard The Memory Impression Project and its use of designers as therapy facilitators is well worth our attention.


When formulating this project the designers worked with advice from a counselor and a psychoanalyst.  They were advised that during this process the object is an important tool. Objects associated to a trauma can act as a trigger to remember the event and thus enable people to think about it and possibly work through it. Furthermore, post-traumatic stress disorder patients’ experiences are ‘frozen’ in their minds and it is important to make them pliable again through actively processing the trauma.[3]


My creative therapy process was initiated by a conversation with designers (therapists) and me (the patient). During this conversation we decided what kind of fragments would be most suitable to be used in the project, we decided to use a part of a pattern from the Kimono fabric pattern of Hina Ningyo雛人形(Hina dolls) (Fig.2)(Fig.3)(Fig.4), The Hina doll is displayed in one’s home in Japan on the 3rd of March for the girls’ festival to wish a girl health and prosperity. My Hina dolls fortunately survived the fire because of a Paulownia wood box. Historically in Japan and the Far East, wooden boxes are used for the storage of artifacts- hanging scrolls, hand scrolls and other art objects, including books and household utensils.[4] In some cases they protected these objects from flood, fire, mould or threat of insect.[5] For instance, the box is designed to fit together tightly, this stops from water penetrating and enables the box to float. The objects inside the box are protected from fire by the high moisture content of the wood.  These surviving dolls represent not only my past but have since become linked to the fire and to almost everything else that had been lost. Indeed the dolls also represent a part of my identity as well.


Fig.2. Author’s Hina dolls. © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.2. Author’s Hina dolls. © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.3. Patterns of Kimono fabric of Hina doll. © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.3. Patterns of Kimono fabric of Hina doll. © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.4. Patterns of Kimono fabric of Hina doll © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.4. Patterns of Kimono fabric of Hina doll © Yoshika Yajima, 2015


I provided photographs of the dolls from which the designers chose the small section of fabric pattern. In other cases participants (patients) drew a picture or brought fragments or objects associated with the loss or trauma. This idea emerged from the fact that whatever event took place or how much was lost, something remained as a trace of the traumatic experience.[6]


The image was projected onto a stamp model using a 3D CAD program first and sent to the Formlabs 3D printer.   The participants could then use the prepared stamp and apply the pattern onto a new object such as clay or fabric.[7]

Fig.5. The moment of stamping a pattern onto the clay © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig.5. The moment of stamping a pattern onto the clay © Yoshika Yajima, 2015


After completing the stamping, I could see the pattern of the kimono fabric on the clay. In this way I felt I could re-compose the location of my memory both visually and physically (Fig.5).

Fig. 6. Stamped images onto the fabrics © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig. 6. Stamped images onto the fabrics © Yoshika Yajima, 2015


Although the traumatic event that one experienced cannot be changed through the process of choosing a pattern and the bodily movement of stamping a pattern onto a new material a new layer is added to the memory, (Fig.6, Fig.7). As a result I could start seeing the dolls in slightly different way.


Fig. 8. A box for storing a stamp © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig. 8. A box for storing a stamp © Clea Jentsch, 2014

At the end of the process the participant is presented with a box to store the sacred memory and the stamp (Fig. 8). Even this final stage, the box, adds a further meaning to the memory reconstruction procedure.  It requires another bodily engagement – opening, seeing, touching, using, and storing the stamp. Indeed as they explain, this procedure can stimulate the rebuilding of an individual’s sense of meaning.[8] They designed the packaging as a physical object in relation to space.


Overall this project demonstrates the way in which designers can contribute to designing one’s identity through objects, in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder and emerging new technological devices. They are hoping to develop this project locally and believe it can be applicable in a broader sense. If you want to know more about this project, please get in touch with them.

Fig. 8. Designers © Yoshika Yajima, 2015

Fig. 8. Designers © Tomomi Ogata, 2015

Contact details:

Clea Jentsch <>

Fiona O’Leary <>

Ivie Egonmwan <>

Tomomi Ogata <>

Yoshika Yajima

[1] Royal College of Art Design products Formlabs 3D printer, BENCH-TOP FACTORY, 2015

[2] International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) [accessed 28 March, 2015]

[3] Clea Jentsch, personal correspondence with Yoshika Yajima, 29 March 2015

[4] Simon Fleury, A Study Visit to Japan, Conservation Journal, Summer 2001 Issue 38 (London: V&A, 2001) [accessed 28 March, 2015]

[5] Simon Fleury, ‘Don’t throw away the box’in Art on paper: Mounting and housing (London: The British Museum, 2005)

[6] Author’s interview with Tomomi Ogata [28 March, 2015]

[7] Royal College of Art Design products Formlabs 3D printer, BENCH-TOP FACTORY, 2015

[8] Royal College of Art Design products Formlabs 3D printer, BENCH-TOP FACTORY, 2015

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