Thursday, 31 October 2013

don't tell me, show me!

Words are false friends when introducing a creative activity. You can easily fall into the trap of being too prescriptive and as a result 'end-gaming' the outcomes that should be about discovery and giving participants a chance of finding their own voice and means of expression. There is always a desire when leading an activity to constantly provide, to fill every minute with things to do, stuff to handle. This sometimes gets in the way of participants generating material themselves with autonomy, authorship and agency.

Meet me at the Albany is a program I am involved with organised by the Albany Centre in partnership with Entelechy Arts, providing creative activities from singing to sewing and from circus to photography for the over 60s.  My desire is to put creative collaboration (see also previous post) at the core of these sessions. I also think making art here should not simply be a means to enhance well-being, a sense of self and the building of a community, but be an end in itself.

The strategy I’m adopting is to rely heavily on visual resources, such as these illustrated, so to curb the reliance on words to initiate the activity. I also aim to have the work displayed as it is produced, negotiating this with the participants and working with them as curators as much as artists.

One month into the program there is already talk of hosting a Meet me at the Albany exhibition in 2014 (I’m also secretly holding out for a publication!). Thinking of these sessions not as workshops but events, one might think of the exhibition next year as a retrospective, showcasing moments of the Meet me at the Albany program.

Objects in the images above are the resources brought in at the start of the last session at the Albany on October 29th.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

collaborating with myself

‘The real issue is not how do you find your voice, but how to get rid of it’ – Phillip Glass

Can this be the benefit of creative collaboration?  Not according to Sally Potter. It’s ok to relinquish your voice if you have one, but some of us don’t have had that privilege. If you’re lucky enough to have a voice, own it and celebrate it! Collaboration is all too often an excuse to mask the embarrassment of claiming authorship for something she argues.  Mmm, now there's something to argue about…

This and other ideas on creative collaboration were shared in a panel discussion at Central St Martins, an event part of Dance Umbrella 2013 held earlier this month, where a number of speakers working across film, theatre and dance talked about the subject from directed collaboration to shared authorship. Working as I do in participatory settings, this was of interest to me and not least because of my recent involvement in a couple of projects with Entelechy Arts.

One of these is Ambient Jam, a unique programme of movement and sensory-based work with adults and young people who have profound and multiple disabilities. Many company members have physical disabilities combined with learning disabilities preventing them from expressing in words their experiences, interests and needs. In these sessions, the body and its senses provide the ways and means for expression and communication through improvisation, social dance and live movement. The multi-sensory workshops and short term projects that arise from them lead to a creative dialogue between all involved.

Contributing to these workshops, primarily as a visual artist, has challenged my understanding of what participation and creative collaboration is.  In a situation where verbal communication cannot be relied on, who facilitates what, who leads who, and whose creativity is explored isn’t so clear anymore. You have to forget what you know, loose your ‘voice’ as it were, and be completely in the ‘moment’ for the creative exchange to be meaningful. The outcome is you do find your voice in unexpected places. As the dancer and choreographer Akram Khan put it in the talk referred to above, to hear music we sometime need to stop playing and simply hold the flute to the wind.

What have these pictures got to do with any of the above you may ask? Well, images of Ambient Jam can be seen on this link, meanwhile I've illustrated here images taken while dismantling my installation at Nottingham Castle. Even when working alone, we are collaborating with our memory and our acquired knowledge. The dismantling of the work led to the production of objects that were the result not only of a collaboration between myself, but also the material I worked with, the site and the weather.  The process was planned and methodical, but they were also happy accidents that were embraced and lead to what you see pictured here.