Notating connections

2 July 2023
Community of Practice ~ Artists Network Event
Exploring shared approaches to socially engaged practice.

Lynne Dick Head of Programme (Engagement and Learning) at John Hansard Gallery (Southampton, UK) approached me some months back with an invitation to shape a network meeting for socially engaged artists. We sketched out areas of need for artists working within this context throughout our free flowing, nebulous conversations. Ideas around a community of practice rose up. Slowly the event formed.

Open invitations were made to artists to attend the event and we met for our first session on Saturday. Held in the 'active space', a dedicated informal learning space at the gallery. I was joined by artist Katy Beinart, based in Brighton, in offering creative activities to explore the research question I formulated for the event:

How can we activate our values throughout our social practice?

Processing values as drawings spatially.

Keywords: values; embodied practice; radical vulnerability; brave space.

Our meeting was joyously analogue and embodied. Sharing in-person. Using physical materials, space and voice. What follows is a partial account of the event.

We met around a table that grew bigger as people arrived. Meeting new people and people I haven't seen for a long time. Working with Katy who I had met online but never in person. We introduced ourselves briefly and what we hoped to get out of the session. Moving slowly into the first part of the activities. We moved to the floor and formed a loose circle. I introduced the research question for the session: How can we activate our values throughout our social practice?

Grounded in confidence to feel radically vulnerable, I explained my motivations for addressing this research question collectively. Reading a definition of values I had found whilst researching:

“Values are forces that cause an individual to behave in a particular manner.”

Repeating the definition over and over. For us all to feel the words enter our bodies. And to notice how the words felt. The associations and connections they made. I invited the group to add something to this definition. And a great conversation took place. About our relationship to particular words within the definition that caused blockages. Adding the importance of experiences, being socialised and changes over time. We noticed how the words we use matter. How words are alive. Words are culture. The group had already opening a shared mind. Feeling a shared trust I introduced my guided meditation: Holding Values

It was a brave space. We were willing to be vulnerable together. Once the short meditation was finished. We arrived back in the room together. Stretching and softening. I introduced the next stage of the session: to manifest our visualisations from the meditation through drawing. People began to move, to select drawing materials, make a space for themselves and set about drawing whilst initiating conversations. More people arrived and the brave space held. People felt willing to be uncertain and still take the chance and have a go drawing their values. 

Katy noticed when, little by little, people had finished their drawing and introduced the next stage she led:'clean space’ technique an adapted version. In 'clean space' we were invited to place our drawings in different places and ourselves spatially in relation to them. From this situation we asked two simple, poignant questions, “what do you know here?” and “what is this place called?”. We worked in pairs. Some stayed in the active space. Others moved around the gallery. Some went outside into the nearby parks. Repeating this exercise and taking turns to do so. Creating new situations with our drawings and moving in relation to them. The conversations were bold and real between the pairs. 

We willingly drifted back together for closing comments convened by Lynne. Holding jammy dodger biscuits and glasses of elderflower cordial or tea. These are the conversations I want to be having. You can expect another meeting later in the year.

Texts referred to during the session:
Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown
The Force of Listening by Lucia Farinati and Claudia Firth

1 December 2022
James Aldridge, Queer River walk at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve

Artist James Aldridge and I met for a walk last week as part of his Queer River project. Having first met in 2020, through PAC where we walk together within the New Forest. Walking is a method throughout our respective practices. Queer ecology and neuro-divergent positionalities are further convergences. For this musing I'm notating some recent reflections and thoughts arising from our walk at Blashford Lakes reserve.  
Looking out from Ivy Hide
Looking out from Ivy Hide
James in the hide
James in the hide
Iron coloured stream
Iron coloured stream
road outside the Blashford reserve site
road outside the Blashford reserve site
James had just spotted a kingfisher through the branches.
James had just spotted a kingfisher through the branches.
Industrial collections distributed across a tarmac
Industrial collections distributed across a tarmac
Reading 'A cave'
Reading 'A cave'
squishing moss under foot
squishing moss under foot
Our botanic ink and soil paintings
Our botanic ink and soil paintings
keywords: infrastructure, commoning, ecotone, tetherlessness.

"There is so much more than just people” 

James comments whilst treading carefully across some long grass to look more closely at a tree covered in moss and lichen. Walking as an infrastructure. What does it mean for walking, a verb, as an infrastructure as posited by cultural theorist Astrida Neimanis?  Infrastructure means simply “underneath or below the structure.” Maybe it's a method of meeting, pacing and thinking beneath the surface. Perhaps walking as infrastructure is a commoning of consciousness created through the body's movement and the practicing of trans-species kinship. Of moving together. Forming connections throughout tissue, fluid, psyche and words. To notice the membranes of that separate us. To not underestimate other of life forms. Treading forwards, toward bird hides, encountering frustrated birders along the way. Thinking of frameworks of liminality, an ecotone is a a transition area between two adjacent ecological communities. An ease, a lull. Between states. 


Tones. Tones of voice. Voice as instrument. Conjuring safety and love towards infants through baby ease. Recent research shows that non-humans use their voice in this way too, creature-ease. Being-ease. Ecotone as a zone where life happens. Between states, neither and both, between. A cycle of waxing and waning. Relaxing the focus of my eyes, to gaze into the pale enveloping mist surrounding us. I mutter to myself and James, about the question of tetherlessness a reason that my friend Jo and I initiated our from Doggerland shared practice and also mentioned, again by Astrida Neimanis in a talk I watched recently, How to commit to tetherlessness as a mindset and trust? To remember and feel that I am connected. That I am safe, loved and becoming. Throughout these uncertain times. Can I? I can grow flippers or float on the surface. Or ride the waves or sediment at the bottom. I'm changing and still at once.

In our text chats before meeting today, James mentioned his developing interest in geology, which is partly how James chose the Blashford lakes as a place to walk together. Thinking about how the below and under, hidden geological touch-points in my practice over the years, I took along a previous work 'A cave’ to share with him on our journey around a former site of commercial sand and gravel extraction, now Blashford nature reserve managed by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. As I read the quoted passages from the work aloud I was struck by the live threads of this work still pertinent within my practice. A satisfying and reassuring folding of time. ’A cave’ is double sided poster that that assembles textual experiences of being underground. Outside of the diurnal rhythms, of moon and sun rotations of the surface Deep time. Quoted passages include Wu Cheng’en from ‘Journey to the West/Monkey’, Jules Verne, HG Wells and others. What a joy to share biscuits, art materials and walking times so generously. Sodden, mossy times. Thank you James!

Read James' blog of our walk here

17 May 2022
attuning/listening/bodies with PAC, New Forest 

attuning / listening / bodies is a short un-configuring and re-orientating exercise I put together. An activation towards creative commoning within the realms of the PAC (People And Commons ... ) artists' peer group. We study creative commoning together through embodied methods within the commons lands of the New Forest. ​​​​​​​
keywords: un-configuring, creative commoning, attuning, movement, tension.

Collective listening activation through movement and gestures. How do we voice and listen together? What are the specific contexts when creative commoning within the New Forest? What tensions operate here?

My skyward tilting feet. Annabel touches the forest floor in the distance. An agile log balances. Post-exercise charcoal notations in my sketchpad, stick human becoming rooted. Obliterated and fragmentary sketchpad drawings. Moss resting on the page. Tree tops, the bluest of sky’s with wisping clouds and bright sun. Strip of paper introducing the attuning / listening / bodies exercise.

December 2021 – January 2022
Develop Your Creative Practice evaluation: Tender

Between February and November 2021 I undertook Tender an intense self-initiated programme of research and development. The following paragraphs is my evaluation of the research carried out between December 2021 and January 2022, in response to the set questions from Arts Council England.

                             Work-in progress photos from R&D Tender

Give us an outline of the activity delivered:
Through the DYCP I was able to work with mentors and access various sector expertise:
x8 Mentor sessions with 4 different arts professionals: focusing on audiences, support my development of sustainable approaches to practice, practicing presentation skills and access support.
The DYCP supported me Research and development time to explore practice and take risks:
​​​​​​​x640 hours studio time.
x4 tested new works with audiences.
x25 sessions Adobe Premiere, css and HTML coding with some javascript.Sound recording and editing.
x3 conferences including: Seeing Into the Heart of Things: Earth and Equality Within Indigenous and Ancestral Knowledges by Institut Kunst Gender Natur HGK and Beyond Stereotypes by Playing A/Part (University of Kent).
x6 workshops to develop practice.
The DYCP provided me the conditions to experiment with new collaborators:
x15 sessions from Doggerland developed new collaboration with Jo Willoughby (UK/NL).
x4 sessions with Cheryl Gallaway towards new collaborations (UK/NZ).
x1 new work ‘a thread of pauses’ collaborating with voice actor.
Throughout the DYCP funding I was able to build new networks for future development/presentation of work:
x15 sessions ‘Practice Talking Practice’ - self-initiated radical vulnerability framework for dialogue around sustaining artistic practice.
x6 sessions with Ocean/UNI - global community of scholars.

Tell us what you learned, and how the activity has helped you to develop:
Through the range and depth of my development work I am a more confident artist able to articulate my practice, bolstered by embedding new skills, learning methodologies and frameworks to make stronger work and proposals to sustain me into the future. I now have networks to return to for support, inspiration and opportunities.Mentor sessions helped me set my aims and objectives and guided me towards techniques and approaches towards sustainable practice with increased confidence. My networks have increased dramatically, I discuss practice with artists, scientists and academics across range of different networks, locally, regionally nationally and internationally. Studio R&D time created a leap in digital technology skills and testing works with audiences. Attending conferences for research has created new directions and ambitions for my work. Committing to my aims has enabled me to achieve more than I thought possible. My relationship with writing has entirely shifted with enhanced fluency and articulation of my practice. I have written a new artist statement and biography, formulated research questions to communicate what my practice addresses and a manifesto (tender). Writing is a new layer within my practice, I have written stories to include within my works and I wrote my first script that was spoken by a voice actor. I also developed sound recording skills, capturing Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response sounds I included in new works. New collaborations have emerged from this period not all were planned. I have intensely worked with Jo Willoughby to form a collective practice from Doggerland, a substantial investment towards future projects. We developed an online studio space to study together. During sessions with Cheryl Gallaway we made first steps towards developing a collaboration. Through these collaborations I am more certain of my role as an artist and can set and uphold boundaries. This has led to some great outcomes and amazing possibilities ahead.

Tell us what you think will happen as a result of this development period:
With gained momentum and substantially better equipped, this period of R&D has provided me a pole vault to recalibrate my trajectory, I’m now steadily working towards further ambitious developments and projects within my practice. Investing time and space to take risks has stretched me towards exciting new directions using interactive digital technologies and collaborative methodologies grounded in sustainable strategies. Sensuous layers of sound and words are ricocheting within my practice. I’ll continue developing these threads, condensing and working with collaborators to create projects that build symphonies of awareness and open possibilities for audiences. I have the methodologies and frameworks to develop future proposals and art works that I hope will sustain me into the future. With defined next steps and networks in place to help me realise these plans, I will develop new proposals with my collaborators. With strengthened connections with Cheryl Gallaway in New Zealand, we plan to continue an evolution of our conversations through experimentation, exchange and play. Having substantially invested in slow research, development and tests for our collective practice from Doggerland Jo Willoughby (UK/NL) and I are now ready to open our conversations to collaborators/participants/audiences. I hope these collaborations will lead to international opportunities. Having worked closely with Melanie Stidolph, we plan to continue working together.

4 October 2021
bloodless sight presentation at Critical Exchange 'a space' arts (online)
key words emerging from participants discussions.
key words emerging from participants discussions.
Participants at Critical Exchange IRL/online experiencing the work and ensuing discussions.
Critical Exchange is a monthly session dedicated to the sharing and discussion of works in progress using particular and specific rules of engagement, and is facilitated with much care by Celeste Ingrams and Jilly Evans. It happens in person at Arches Studio's Southampton and during pandemic times it has sometimes gone online.  I have been going to these sessions regularly since they were initiated via 'a space' arts Peer Networks Artist Development programme in 2019. The sessions have been a revelation of the form of the artist crit, as comments, opinions and insights are invited within the 4 stages of Critical Response Process developed by Liz Lerman. I find the sessions a tonic and am delighted to have presented bloodless Sight within this context. 

We met in hybrid form (still in the midst of the pandemic) both on-line and IRL. This CRP format provided me the opportunity to not only share the work as a rehearsal with audiences, but also formulate and ask some important questions and enter a specific and carefully guided dialogue to find out how the work was experienced and the ways in which it resonated within the group. It feels such a valuable opportunity to hear carefully constructed insights from audience's thinking about their experiences of my work and I found the whole session to be generous and open-spirited.

bloodless sight is one of the works emerging from my Arts Council England funded research and development project, Tender. Throughout this research I have been un–learning and re–learning strategies towards care, to disrupt cycles of harm and create more sustainable relations. These relations begin with myself and I have been attempting to address my own embodied ableism as a neuro-diverse and chronically sick woman. Presenting this work in progress at Critical Exchange created the possibility to further reflect on the work and ultimately by presenting to a small audience, begins to complete the circle of a work, so I can complete the work, knowing it is doing what I hoped it would. 

10-12th June 2021
SIMUPOEM/Distributed Devices Screening Festival of Ideas (University of Sussex)
Evidence provided by participants of online Distributed Devices Screening.
Responding to the provocation by artist, academic Micheál O'Connell / MOCKSIM  to create a simupoem with the rules: 
1. Intended for watching in loop mode
2. From 6 seconds to a maximum of 2 minutes in duration
3. Non-narrative is encouraged
4. Avoiding didacticism and messaging if possible
5. May incorporate appropriated motifs, images or forms
6. They can be montages or animations
7. The emphasis is on dynamic effects (with possible atypical use of modelling, animation tools, physics engines, low-tech, or engagement with poetic, musical or mathematical concerns)
8. They can be silent or include a soundtrack

Enjoying the rules as obstructions to stimulate creative responses I had been thinking of how to share my garden. My friend was interested to know about it, I made a night time video tour for her.  The Simupoem open call gave me the opportunity to take this further and I made a new 1 minute 59 seconds video from filming in my garden at night Nocturne (vegetal portrait). Micheál and I had some zoom chats with some in-depth discussion about the work as well as troubleshooting, organising and decision making in advance of the screening. The Simupoem was screened online as part of University of Sussex Festival of Ideas in June 2021. Online screenings can be an opaque format of relations with audiences, so I was drawn to the the organisational aesthetics of the online screening:

“…available for all of Friday, globally, which began in the earliest time zone (known as UTC+14) at 11am Dublin/London Thursday and ends in the latest time zone (UTC+12) at 1pm Dublin/London on Saturday (making a total of 50 hours and not 48 as you might intuitively expect). Watch with others, or alone, on any device, screen or projector, and also guerrilla screenings are encouraged.”

Audiences were asked for some rudimentary commitment to watching the video, and with a personal email exchange with Micheál who also requested for some evidence of having watched it to be emailed to him. Viewing the evidence was exciting as it the request had led to creative in responses within audiences. Around 60 people submitted photos evidencing their screening / watching of the video. It was also screened as part of a creative symposium with Micheál where he spoke about his artistic practice. It seemed to offer a group of genuinely interested people to engage bit more and to build  communities of interest. As well as the zoom chats Micheál and I had strings of email exchanges throughout the process of organising the screening. Which led to some interesting comments about generosity of sharing and non-transactional agendas as well as the messiness of art making/interventions, difficult relations and curious ways of living having a compelling, irresistible affect.

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