The elderly return to museums: culture in the memory of gestures

Los mayores regresan a los museos: la cultura en la memoria de los gestos - Tribuna Abierta

This article reflects on the importance of the memory of the gestures that are exhibited in the pictorial and sculptural culture of museums, and that can serve to activate the movements of people in an integral way: mental, cultural and motor.


The approach is based on the model for designing accessible spaces, a cognitive spectrum that is incorporated into the methodology of work and research on the neurological functions of people, both from the point of view of their functioning, in accordance with the structural and functional aspects of afferent and efferent processes, and of those blocks in nerve impulses -which could cause some difficulty in accessing, receiving and converting efferent functions into motor actions-.


Some texts already published have incorporated important concepts relating to neurological functions, those referring to memories in general and, in particular: gesture memory or topokinetics.

The posterior cingulate gyrus - "passing" brain structure, which differentiates us to a great extent from other animals- due to the afferences it receives and the efferences it emits, brings together primitive regions that in other species are not joined, for example, the amygdala and the hippocampus (emotions, memory) with the parietal and prefrontal cortexes.

Sensory information allows responses and adjustments to be elaborated: in the parietal lobe (areas 5 and 7 in the following figure) there are neurons that are selectively activated during visual-motor behavior. The importance of the left hemisphere in these processes has been demonstrated by tomography (PET).

Fig. 1. Brodmann areas (Brusilovsky, B. 2020)

From the afferent, exteroceptive and proprioceptive information, the synthesis of different perceptive modalities is carried out: visual, auditory and somesthetic or nuclei of the gesture-motor system, called by some authors "práxico", which represents in gestural matter what the "lexical" does with words (references to certain concepts, abstract or material). The system is formed by a complex structure whose functions are characterized by the elements it connects, from the sensory afference to the motor areas with the following route:

  • Nucleus of the processes: left angular and supramarginal convolution or rotation (Brodmann areas 39 and 40 parietal-temporal-occipital crossroads). The most dorsal part of the posterior cingulate cortex is closely linked to the premotor, dorsal visual and orbitofrontal regions of the brain.  It participates in the orientation of the body in a visual space and in a variety of cognitive functions, including memory and spatial attention.
  • It connects with pre-frontal areas: which generate plans and programs of action and verify execution).
  • Its connection with limbic structures: it integrates motivational impulses. 
  • Further connections with the premotor cortex, the supplemental motor area and the primary motor cortex direct the outputs to the specific muscles, organized around a joint, that are to intervene in the motor act, to the cerebellum and basal ganglia. 

Through the fibers of the corpus callosum that connect them (about 350 million) the system continues to the motor association and primary areas of the right hemisphere.

Apraxia - a disorder in which a person is unable to carry out tasks or movements when requested - may be due to parietal disconnection of the motor areas, which implement spatial representations without destruction of the storage areas: lower parietal lobe of the left hemisphere: angular and supramarginal convolution (M. V. Perea B, M. Page 143). Or by destruction of the areas that should have the stored gestures.

"Praxicón" system

There are studies that focus on the different models that would explain the cerebral organization of the learned movements: this would be possible if there were a "praxicón" (Peña-Casanova, J. 144. 2007) that stored the space-motor representations. These (topokinetic) memories should incorporate the position, order and time in which they should be executed. In the previous graph, area 40, responsible for the calculation of the spatial coordinates and bordering on 5 and 7, is shown.

Authors (Cubelli et all. 2000) confirm through their studies the need to consider two action lexicons or "praxicons: 

  • One of action input (LEA) for the reception, perception, understanding of physical attributes,
  • Another output of actions (LSA) for production, realization, ie a code of the physical attributes so that the action can be executed. 

What happens if any area is affected?

  • If the input zone is affected: there is no perception, understanding: disorders in the understanding of the gesture would be explained in relation to the input.
  • If the affected zone is the connection zone between areas of spatial representations with motor areas, the information could not transcend, pass.

If the reproduction is injured, the difficulty would focus on the output. If the input information is maintained, the unaffected side could intervene in the gesture reproduction. 

Direct route

It is possible to imitate movements that have not been made or are not remembered through a non-representational path, without accessing the store of the space-time representations, since there is no memory of them. But it is possible to access the gesture by imitation, by means of the so-called "direct route" without the historical meaning that it could have if there was practical memory.

"Praxicón" in museums

Both the memory of the gestures that have been stored in the brain in the gesture storage and the "direct route", in case it had to be activated because of its absence in the storage system, find in museums countless examples that can be imitated and reproduced. And it is there that one can actively find the models to remember, reproduce, imitate, copy. 

Sculpture undoubtedly offers the most examples. An endless number of them that can be reproduced in an amusing way.


Mirar un cuadro - Las meninas (Velázquez)

Fig. 2 and 3. Examples to imitate.

Painting is a different mobilizer since it refers in an integral way, not only to movement, but to a place where it can or could be happening. 

And to companies that could be collaborating so that the movement, forgotten perhaps becomes memory, occasional memory and motor behavior. 

Museum activity

In this way and with these objectives - in the de-escalation of the month of July or perhaps already in September - people who live in residences or attend day centres can approach the museums with a dynamic and active objective, which is capable of promoting movements that perhaps, during these months of confinement, have remained somewhat lethargic.