The artists symposium last week proved to be a fruitful event in a number of ways. This was the first time a majority of the artists had met each other and the first time many had seen the exhibition as a complete entity. To start, I asked the artists to briefly introduce their work and practice so that all involved could gain a sense of the scope of work in the exhibition, as well as the shared synergy that is the exhibition ethos. What followed was a candid and illuminating discussion that weaved around a number of themes – healing, context, memory and identity, being four that were considered in detail. In the final twenty minutes. I asked the artists to comment on how they feel their work interfaced with the concept of the ‘still point’. What followed was an enlightening consideration on how the ‘still point’ can be read, engaged with and understood in a variety of ways. To round off the session, I suggested a collective reflection on the symposium and of the ‘still point’. Below are reflections from some of the artists:
I thought the event was very successful and stimulating in a focussed and quiet way: there was so much sharing going on ,and it was interesting to hear the other artists talk about what makes them tick and do what they do. It helped me think more clearly about my work and gain a better perspective of what lies at the core of much of what I do.
I was very taken by the exhibition title and knew early on which existing work (post script l) would go with the idea of ‘still point’. Still point also reminded me of death: the last breath and subsequent stillness.Yet life carries on around as if nothing had happened. I am also very fond of T.S. Eliot’s, ‘Little Gidding’ in particular. I like the dance he suggests in the following, from ‘Little Gidding’
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration.
Still Points Moving World also resonated strongly with my yoga meditation practice.The goal of Yoga is to establish a link or connection between the temporal and the eternal , the finite with the infinite. The following is not to do with this exhibition as such but the exhibition title reminded me of my very first text piece which was inspired by the following line by Rabindranath Tagore:
On the seashore of endless worlds children play..
there is hardly a still point to be found in there, just a suggestion of one continuos dance. The sentence had a strong effect on my mind at the time which I wanted to explore visually.
The symposium was invaluable and it was a pleasure to meet the other artists and people who came to listen.
I was interested in hearing Annelies talk about her installation of letters which appeared to tie in closely with Helen’s exhibition of her mother’s letters? I was also intrigued by Annelies’s description of process, taking note of the way it developed and evolved because it appeared to resonate with ideas I have for my own future work. As much as I may, or may not, wish to engage with the subject, ‘I’ myself have recently been found in letter form, in a suitcase, under a bed, after a suicide.
So a review of myself is imminent.
I was also drawn to the time it took for Annelies to find the last letters and then to exhibit them. My university research had already led me to the possibilities of a thirty year time lapse after a traumatic incident, such as termination, adoption, rape, before it can be taken up as a creative potential and exhibited, installed or written about publicly. This time lapse further feeds into the historic abuse cases that are being brought out into the open at present.
I was also interested in hearing about Patrick’s work, especially the aspect of photographs taken within a psychiatric institution. And I wanted to hear more from him and others about their use of life writing, autobiography with all its attending issues around ethics, censor, display, aesthetics etc.
Finally, I was very taken with Cerys’s use of inscribing, place, language, imagination narrative and fragmentation. It brought to mind, Ken McMullen’s, non-linear film, ‘Ghost Dance’ (2006) which focuses on the idea of ‘ghosts’ (eg; Kafka, Marx, Freud) and explores issues of memory (the past) and how it functions in the present. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida plays ‘himself’ in the film.
I also felt that the somewhat mysterious element brought out in the symposium, with its strange reference to the drawing left by Cerys’s monitor/ book, appeared to reflect or echo the Stanza atmosphere, the unconscious dynamic played out in the Stanza space the week before. Which once again points to the project appearing to go on outside the time and space that it was originally allotted.
If anything, my work is probably propelled by a sense of disorientation, or a lack of still points. Questions were raised at the symposium about identity — importantly, my own work strips its subjects of their identity — everyone becomes either a clinician or a patient. This is a manifestation of my own sense of alienation, developed through my time as a patient and a student. I believe we are different people at different times in our lives and we behave differently depending on the situation, our mood, etc. Something within us remains constant, but how much?
Camilla spoke in the session about her own piece, which was made in collaboration with infants in a London school. She was surprised how different each child’s contribution was and how particular they were about its composition. Perhaps the children were acting without prejudice or inhibition. I have been undertaking teacher training recently; pedagogy (or ‘leader of children’) is opposed by andragogy (or ‘leader of adults’) in that field. In fact the real difference is between two philosophies of teaching: teacher-led and learner-led. I favour andragogy, which is learner led, because it is clear that the active involvement of all participants results in the best learning. Yet the experience of adults, educated in the days of rote learning and corporal punishment, in fact prepares many of them for a pedagogical approach. How much of us is left by the time we reach adulthood or old age?
I was the only male artist to make it along to the symposium and one of the audience members asked about the dominance of certain genders in different fields (e.g. male poets) in relation to the language used in such fields. I have realised recently that one of the thing which distinguishes my work from my peers’ is what I would describe as the difference between poetry and prose. Most contemporary work, particularly within photography, seems poetic compared to mine. I am not interested in making abstract work; while I am open to observations on and interpretation of my work, I have a very definite — and political — message. I do not know if this is a male characteristic and, as someone pointed out, gender should not be thought of as binary, in the way that sex is, but rather as a spectrum.
The central focus of my book, Form & Pressure, is the contradiction between professional art making which, if the romantics are to believed, is idealised as a struggle, and an art therapy context where participants aim to enjoy themselves and build self-esteem. Evidently, there is a strong biographical element to the work, and this was picked up on at the symposium. Christine mentioned a ‘hate list’ which she displayed in the village of Cheddar, which caused some controversy locally, and she bemoaned the view that art should be fully positive. An audience member asked whether the real focus of art making could be said to be healing, rather than struggle or joy. I do wonder what Christine made of this observation. Fittingly, though, Annelies said her piece, which traces her correspondence across borders with her now deceased husband, has had just such a healing effect.
It was fantastic to have everyone together and hear the back stories to all pieces and performances. I think what this brought out most strongly was that the piece is a still point a node or point at which the dance happens in a vast movement that is the lived interaction of the artist of everything else that is life.. the piece comes out of a focussed reflection and working through or material reaction in microcosm to this life flow or in reaction to a particular event or trigger in this life flow. Sharing the piece is only ever showing part of the story but the piece becomes a trigger in itself a potential life moment that might inspire a different reaction or set a life off in another direction. I want to draw a diagram of this.. or perhaps in a way my own piece is a beginning iteration of a structure made in 3D. Life flows are focussed and materialised into bounded still forms such as the page and how people move in and out of these pages taking on what they will or even in spite of what they will.
As a maker of the structure, my thoughts on this theory and in my piece is that I am the holder of parts together in mind and in space. I am the slightly unseemly and haphazard tangle of branches holding things together, seemingly strong and sturdy but on a closer look the failure of a few threads might cause the whole thing to fall apart.
There were ghosts and are ghosts in all of this as with all the other pieces.. acknowledged and unacknowledged ghosts that enable and sustain thwarting living. I suppose I am always searching to give these ghosts a voice to identify them or identify why it is that we make them ghosts.. why some of these elements are dead and what is the role of the living in killing, resurrecting, reviving or even saving elements from the brink of extinction – how can we bring them back to life or keep their presence in place.