Accept the Cycle of Alzheimer’s Disease by Overcoming Its Restraints

Learning to accept Alzheimer's disease

Eighteen young men form a circle and pray in the basement of a fraternity house in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Simultaneously my father stands before an altar in his home praying for those who have passed and those who continue to live on.

Flash back 23 years prior, San Francisco. An artist attempts to draw his depiction of aspects of human biology, while performing feats of athleticism under physical restraint.

At the same time a young boy starts a fistfight with a grade school friend for no apparent reason.

Examples of personal experience, scientific study, artistic expression, and sociological theories emphasize the importance of developing one’s own understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. The following explanation of the disease is concerted through depictions of human biology. Some partially based on ideas articulated by the contemporary artist Matthew Barney. The practice of learning how to cope with Alzheimer’s can be compared to the building and break down of the internal process of energy moving through the body. 2

As the young men from the Western Kentucky University finish their prayers, they begin to discuss the details of a cross-country bicycle trip they are planning with the intent to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and raise money for research. They call this project Bike 4 Alz. The lighthearted atmosphere in the room encourages laughter and productivity, while the details of the trip are orchestrated. As ideas materialize and de-materialize the young men’s planning process evokes raw un-harnessed essentially useless energy, although ripe with potential to create something.

Drawing Restraint 2

Barney’s first artworks, made while he was still in college, were performance-based situations during which he applied his biological model to the practice of drawing.

A form cannot emerge unless it struggles against resistance in a process. The young men from Kentucky prepare for their bicycle trip by training and perfecting their riding skills.  During their training, through the creation of form and technique they achieve hypertrophic muscle development. The process involves tearing down tissue through repetitive stress in order to enlarge the muscles in the body. In addition the unity of organized sport, the activity asserts a psychosocial dimension of exhibitionism and idolization building the collective unconscious in turn forming ones identity.  Through the physical, mental, and emotional energy expended through planning, training, and executing the fundraiser the gentlemen learn more about themselves as well as continue to better understand their own personal connections to Alzheimer’s disease.  The process: “Condition” refers to a visceral “disciplinary funnel” that processes the body’s crude energy. If the Situation phase consists of potential but undirected energy, the Condition phase manages the energy with the goal of making it useful.

Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 3

Barney attempts to lift an Olympic barbell with three 45-pound plates on each side. The barbell and plates are cast in petroleum jelly and wax. His goal was to create a drawing made of the markings on the floor left from the barbell after performing an Olympic style clean and jerk weightlifting event. It is his way of expressing resistance and the building and breakdown of muscle tissue.

Production: Completion of the Circular Process of Human Biology
The young men complete their bicycle trip. Their excretion of energy produces a final physically tangible result of money raised for Alzheimer’s disease research.

The concept explained signifies the circular process of human biology: prenatal birth, life, and death.

To simplify the process you can view the three stages similarly in the body’s digestive system.  Situation refers to consumption of food; Condition refers to the digestion of food and the transformation into energy for the body. Production is the movement of consumed food, now in the form of waste, energy already expended and a final result is created: an outcome and the byproduct of the outcome.

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease causes a devastating effect to the cycle. It bypasses the Production phase.

Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 14

The image on the far right shows the “Production”, the remnants from Barney's performance of Drawing Restraint 14. In the five-story atrium of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art he scaled the wall and navigated a system of carabiners under the bridge until he reached the opposing wall and commenced drawing.

Removal of the Production Phase
If the Production phase is skipped, the unity of the circular process is ruined.  Situation and Condition oscillate, between desire and discipline, in a never-ending self-referential cycle. “If Production is bypassed…the head goes into the ass,”4 and the form goes into a tailspin.  The quote seems harsh in reference to Alzheimer’s, however, as a description of the cycle it is brutally and completely accurate. The disease essentially ceases ones ability to use their mind and body before they have reached the end: Production and inevitably, death.

Biologically, Alzheimer’s disease parallels the outcome from removal of the Production phase.

Research on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease varies in results, and is typically inconclusive. However, study of the possibility of genetic cause has shown how the disease deteriorates the mind and body.

Biological studies on the effects of mutations in the four known Alzheimer causing genes has led to the conclusion that all of these genes cause dysregulation of amyloid precursor protein processing and in particular dysregulation of the handling of a proteolytic derivative termed Abeta. The accumulation of Abeta appears to be an early and initiating event that triggers a series of downstream processes including misprocessing of the tau protein. This cascade ultimately causes neuronal dysfunction and death, and leads to the clinical and pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease.

Downward spiral of Alzheimer's

Removing the Emotional Restraints from Alzheimer’s: Spirit and the Depiction of Ouroboros
My father makes prayers for those that he loves and passed. While he initially grieved for lost loved ones, now he celebrates their spirit through the way he chooses to live his own life. His father, my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease. My grandfather was diagnosed when I was in grade school. I struggled with the loss, and continue to struggle with the fact that I have never, and can ever have an adult relationship with him.

I cope with this loss though strengthening my understanding about the disease.

My father is the closest living person in his mannerisms, personality, and principles as my late grandfather.  Grandpa passed down his ideals to him and I appreciate grandpa’s soul through my father’s actions.

The Ouroboric concept reinforces my thoughts about personality traits that are passed down from one generation to another. I embrace the concept, as it aids to my understanding about Alzheimer’s.

Neumann describes his theory in detail about Ouroboros (typically represented visually in a circular form of a snake catching it’s own tail).

“The archetypal phases of conscious development correspond to certain ego levels which are co-ordinated with definite periods in the individuals life, each with its wealth of experiences. They belong to the store of personal conscious memories of the individual, who passes through the archetypal phases of conscious in his own ontogenetic development.” (Neumann, 349)7

Neumann emphasizes his theories through Jungian concepts: “A primordial image is evidently determined as to its contents only when it is conscious, and hence filled out with the material of conscious experience. “(Jung) As Jung presents, as our brains develop the ability of conscious thought, we begin to assert individuality. Those who raised us impart our representation of ourselves.

The Ouroboros represents the perpetual cyclic renewal of life and infinity, the concept of eternity and the eternal return,and depicts the cycle of life, death and rebirth, leading to immortality.

As Jung and Neumann explain, personality development does not begin and end with birth and death. The circular theory continues, just as the visual image of Ouroboros (right). It is the development of ego through conscious experience that makes each of us unique individuals.  When one ceases the ability to create conscious thought the progression of personal growth ends. This is the devastation that Alzheimer’s produces.

As I start a fight with a grade school friend as a child, I am not able to process the information I was given that day. That morning I was informed that my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  As my grandfather slowly lost consciousness, his ability to think as he did before was gone. I celebrate his prior conscious life. I grieve for my loss of his physical life.

My understanding about Alzheimer’s role in my life has become cloudless, thanks to my father and the work that I do.

Whether it is through the pursuit of an athletic feat, business, loving, helping, care giving, self-expression, or other means. It is essential for ones self, and the progression of Alzheimer’s advocacy, to make peace with the disease.


By, Carlos Barrios
Founder, Endear for Alzheimer’ s

In loving memory of David Joseph Barrios

If you are interested in reading more about Bike 4 Alz you may enjoy this article:
College Students Cycle Across the US for Alzheimer’s

End Notes

1  Referring to contemporary artist Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint series between 1988 and 1993. Drawing Restraint, a series of performance-based situations where he attempted to make drawings while under varying physical restraints.

2  Spector, Nancy. Barney, Matthew. “Only the Perverse Fantasy Can Still Save Us”.  The Cremaster Cycle. (New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2002), 5.

 Barney, Lecture of February 12, 1998

4  Barney, quoted in Goodeve, “Travels in Hypertrophia,” p.117.

 Barney, quoted in the interview ”Matthew Barney: A Conversation with Jeanne Siegel,” Tema Celeste, no.40 (spring 1993), pg. 67.

6  St George-Hyslop PH, Petit A. “Molecular biology and genetics of Alzheimer’s disease”. Comptes Rendes Biologies. 2005 Feb;328(2):119-30.

 Neumann, Erich. The Origins of History and Consciousness.  New York, N.Y.: Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1954.

 Neumann, Erich. Jung, Carl. Psycho Social Aspects of the Mother ArchetypeThe Origins of History and Consciousness.  New York, N.Y.: Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1954.

Image Credit

Matthew Barney, DRAWING RESTRAINT 2, 1988. Photo by Michael Rees. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Matthew Barney, Video still from DRAWING RESTRAINT 3, 1988. Video by Randolph Huff. Image courtesy of Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Matthew Barney, DRAWING RESTRAINT 14, 2006. Photos by Ben Blackwell and David Regen. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

©Endear Marketing Group, LLC. 2012

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