The advent of Zoom is one of many autobiographical occurrences throughout my life that I have felt compelled to make art about, as a means of understanding it. In this way, at all levels, sensory, emotional and intellectual, I operate in a similar manner to artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgeois, whose processes and artworks are understood to be metaphorical embodiments of the experiences that they are working through (Rosenthal, 1987 & Bourgeois, 2015).
The garment and wall hanging relate to a character from Nordic mythology: Ganglot, a female servant to Hel (goddess of the underworld, carer of the sick and the dying). Myths and metaphors can be tools that help us consider the deeper meanings behind events, whilst keeping at a safe distance. I worked for many years with individuals who were diagnosed as having severe levels of ‘Flights of ideas: where your thoughts move very quickly from idea to idea, making links and seeing meaning between things that other people don't.’ (Mind, 2020). We used these flights of ideas to make art together, but we would anchor them down in a project, with skill attainment, practice and a defined end with a public interface. I would encircle us with this boundary of rigor, and I was as happy to reside in this circle as they were.
This bounded space is akin to the archetypal artist’s studio, a hermetically sealed space where an artist can perfect their work. At the same time, this circle, this environment was also my artwork, my doing, coming close but not quite to what Bourriard described as an ‘artwork [that] is presented as a social interstice within which these experiments and “new life possibilities” appear to be possible.’ (Bourriaud, 2002). In my work, individuals refined their work, but also restored themselves.
This is just one of the aspects of the unique blend of community art that I practiced over decades. For instance, I instinctively withheld much of my own tastes and styles, my own sense of aesthetics, when I worked with other people. Why? Borrowing the words of Susan Sontag, ‘For taste governs every free -- as opposed to rote -- human response. Nothing is more decisive’ (UCLA Department of DMA, 2020). I did not want to give them a set of lenses, as I believed their eyesight was perfectly suited to the dual task on which we all were focused: developing both themselves and their art.
Cognitive science is one area that begins to shed light on this way of thinking/operating. According to Francis Steen’s cognitive account of aesthetics, ‘the aesthetic impulse would be an appetite for information that in our distant past was recruited and relied on for optimal self-construction, regulated by a developmental chronology’ (Turner, M. (ed.) 2006). Interestingly, I was only able to put aside my own ‘lens’, or sensibilities, for certain amounts of time. Over an intensive period, involving working 6 days a week, year after year, on these types of projects, I perhaps neglected my own engagement with aesthetics, my own journey of self-construction. As educator and philosopher Paulo Freire wrote, “I cannot be if others are not” (Freire 1997), but in my case, I was not, while others were!
Mindful of my propensity to lose myself in ‘flights of ideas’, and the needs of others, I have drawn my own circle around the following features to my practice moving forward: a wish to tend to my own sensibilities; a proclivity for playing with metaphors and myths; a fascination with old mines chipped out of remote landscapes, lending me aesthetic, sensory, and metaphorical resources at this time; and a desire to experiment and develop my facilitation approaches for use in teaching, with particular awareness of the era of remote learning.
You can see the artwork featured above at Rheged Art Centre, Penrith CA11 from 26 June-5 September 2021.
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 ‘Community arts practice has been concerned with the joint capacity and potential of communities to make art that activates its members to collectively gather to identify, describe, share, discuss and dissent against its challenges and conditionings and often within the physical localities of their lives’ (Bowman, 2020)
Pursuing an understanding of what we need to exist in the world: how do we connect with others (and the wider world and its objects), how do we understand others, What is our language.