Task 1 Testing the boundaries
We were asked to plan and execute an exhibition or event in an unusual way. After investigating various potential exhibition spaces such as local galleries, restaurants and cafes I approached an interesting and quite unique space: an ecological gardening allotments club on the outskirts of town. It’s a beautiful space that has been designed to accommodate a wide variety of people from families with young children, students, people with mental health issues, physical disabilities, pensioners etc. People come to tend their allotments, have barbeques and do short courses.
There are two companies situated on the site that fall under the umbrella association called Grup eco. One manages the events and allotments side and the other is an environmental services company. I have been involved with these companies and this space since they were created as my partner is the entrepreneur behind them. My painting studio is also on the site. So it’s an important place for me and my family. Curiously however I’ve never been very open about sharing my artwork with the people who work there. I have always escaped into my space to work and to have some much needed me time.
I knew that I would be given permission and support to do something in this space but I wasn’t sure what to do. My initial idea was to make some work inspired by the space and have a small exhibition of it in their classroom area. This quickly changed to a mural project on an exterior wall which they agreed to. Eventually this idea also changed as I talked over my ideas with my tutor and became an event that would include the staff painting the mural with me. Eventually due to time restrictions I decided to take advantage of one of the company’s team building days and get the staff to make their own abstract paintings. This became a game to take the pressure off and more focused towards fighting fear and losing control to reach some self discovery.
Before starting the game I invited the participants up to my studio and explained a few simple concepts behind my art practice: A thinking process that allows emotions and memories to rise to the surface, fighting the fear of the blank canvas, losing control and allowing unexpected results, the development of a visual language. One asked what the visual elements meant: I replied that they don’t really mean anything they harness emotions.
People were generally surprised about the way I work, about the fact that I don’t have any idea about what I’m going to do before I do it, they recognized through painting themselves how difficult it is to paint on a white canvas and then make the next move relating it what’s there.
After a delicious lunch outside we cleaned up and got ready to start the game:
I divided the group into two and they gathered around their respective canvases (the canvases were 65x95cm) I gave them each a set of action cards and a dice.
One by one they took turns to choose an action card (e.g. paint with your eyes closed, paint some stripes, some spots, a grid…) and throwing the dice to choose a colour (I had prepared 6 different colours for them as well as a selection of spray paints) and then they painted on the canvas. I had orininally dicided to set a time limit but in the end we reached a point where I just said stop so they’ed have time to then fill in the feedback question forms, swap them around and read them out to the group.
The most surprising thing for me was that although I wasn’t actively painting and merely guiding others I really learned a lot about myself and had a great time. I was facing a fear too.
One member of the group confided that they had failed all their art subjects at school so I was very happy to see how this person ended up really letting loose and enjoying the activity. I think it’s quite common for people to feel quite jaded by their educational experiences with the arts.
It wasn’t as easy to time, and control as I thought, it was hard to get everyone together in one space, I felt most worried about explaining what I do to people who may not be the least bit interested. I was surprised to get really great feedback about my work and the activity.
Some got very competitive about the works as they were two teams, but I managed to defuse this by swapping the canvases over mid activity. Some were more conservative with their mark making while others were very extreme to the point where things almost got broken. By the end people were really enjoying themselves and making very interesting marks. Some even started pouring the paint water over the canvas, and they loved the spray paint.
What they enjoyed: Working in a team, using art materials, colours, some had never painted on canvas before, some had never had an artistic experience, some came from negative art experiences believing they were not good enough. Making a painting from nothing, freedom to create, the game aspect. Seeing how everyone’s efforts came together to make something beautiful and unexpected. freedom to create with abandon
They were interested and surprised about the following: Working on a blank canvas, starting from nothing, facing a fear of failure, expressing emotions, not having any ideas before starting.
They were surprised at how their initial fear and that of their colleagues diminished as the activity progressed.
They were surprised when I changed the pictures over half way through and then turned them upside down to help them lose their fear of messing up what had already been done.
They were surprised at how their combined efforts came together and how each person had something to offer.
They were surprised that using the same colours and instructions the paintings the emerged were completely different (I was very happy that they got this from the experience because that was one of my goals for the exercise).
Feedback about my own work: Similar to meditation, allows you to discover more about yourself and let your feeling and worries emerge. They realised that although it seems easy it’s actually much more difficult to create something from nothing. It helps to alleviate tension and face fears/lose fears. They enjoyed learning about my painterly vocabulary.
Other comments: In other comments they said thank you and expressed a desire to do it again one day, they said they’d had a great time.
Things to improve: timing, they wanted to paint more so I could’ve given them more canvas, they wanted more freedom by the end and I could have allowed for that. I spent more time with one group than the other because they seemed like they needed more attention but I should have stepped back a bit maybe.
Ideas for next time: Switch up the groups and keep the energy moving, give them more elements for their visual language. Ask them what they know about art and painting at the beginning of the activity. I think I could have given them more time to look at my work or concentrate on one or more pieces as well as showing them the different stages one of my paintings goes through before I consider it finished. I’d quite like to do some automatic drawing with them and maybe practice some mark making with different tools so as to give them more scope for when they begin on the canvas. Another idea is to have smaller groups so they each get more time to paint.