Art, Creativity and an Imaginary Beyond Ourselves

Recently the winner of the Artes Mundi 7 art prize was announced as John Akomfrah. I had the pleasure of attending the artists talks the day before the announcement and found I was left with many questions about my own artistic/creative practice. Whether what I do is really art at all? What is art anyway? What happens at the border crossing between art and creativity? Is creativity merely a tool for art production. Art seems to be so much more than just the outcome of the creative process. What follows is an experiment in the appropriation of artists words. It may appear as a rambling right now. In time it will forma and shift and change, and something of meaning will emerge.

Hearing and seeing the artists talk about their practice helped define and give shape to my understanding. I made notes of some the things they said and overheard conversations, and I thought they were poetic, so I weaved them with my own observations to make poems/prose/groupsofwords. Here’s one:

          Quite a playful human being

          Thinking about the world

          Alternative futures

          Spending time, standing in circles

Amy Franceschini from FutureFarmers had many wise words. As a group they were an inspiration. I’d like to make work like this.

Amy described a ‘Collective’ as a constellation of people, places, projects. She explained that the work was about how we might Deconstruct systems and Situational intelligence.

She said that an Archivist is someone who records things.

This made me wonder about my photos, what are they a record of? Humanity? I must

Attend to them…


She talked of

Making a collective skill set,

Activated through spoken word.

And the need to acknowledge

What’s important to be done in this particular place and time.


What feels urgent to me now.

Learning to grow food.


The work is Reacting to the spontaneity of everyday life.

What are you questioning? How are you questioning it?

It is a Demonstration of another way, a transition to a more sustainable future.

When asked how they find the people to take part she said the ‘Journey provokes and imaginary beyond ourselves’.



Seed ceremony ritualises the process

We need ritual to hold us together, now we have gathered.

We have our own ritual of Gwledd Lleuad Llawn/Full Moon Feast.

It’s such a rarity to experience presence


A persistence that measures the presence

(I have been present to this City and other places, taking photographs for many years)


Art Resensitises

    Sublime and contradictory

    Unmake our assumpions


What is your response? When challenged to talk about it the work is art, Amy said

Where does the art exist anyway?

She recognises the benefit of being involved in an art prize because Working in cultural institutions amplifies the work on the ground.


Neil Beloufa

Inbetween situations

Doing what they like doing and spending time with people they like being with

Pushing and adding layers + layers + layers + layers of complexity

(The simplest thing is making food together. Sharing food and standing in circles. Moving + singing + learning + sharing + telling stories)

Position: system + self-awareness

Art, Social Change, Placemaking

Creative process, drawing, well-being


Lamia Joreige

What questions does your art explore?

Narrating a personal lived experience

(Life is wonderful: being entangled at the growing edge)

Thought, thought, writing down feelings

Use of object as a device for unlocking personal stories

Located at the intersection of the personal and collective

The work only exists if it is shared. Actual work exists when it confronts itself with the other, that sharing makes the artwork complete

What is arts role in building community? (#getcreative is a good way to find out…)



Co-arising PLACES

Co-llaborative SHADOWS

Co-llective DANCERS


[connect, communicate, collaborate, community, compassion, creativity]


(Start making art now, so then when you are 60 you can say you’ve been doing it for 3 decades).


Which artists write about/explore ‘visual pleasure’ in their work?



What is that?

Aesthetics – what’s that philosophy?

What is this image communicating?

What is the image saying to me?

What impact does the image have on the viewer?

Link between art making and expression of the psyche


(Grow your network in a new direction now)


Bedywr Williams

Performing normality

Telling a story about the way art is going

Artist as storyteller

Narrative, image, vision – artists role in society is to do that

Questions about how your work works in the world

Reinterpreting + seeing differently because of things that have transformed me over time

Amy – Understand social, political + economic ecology, spending time in a place

Futurefarmers – work is about trying to be present + not representing

When you’re sailing, you can’t be anywhere else but now


        FUTURE NOW


What very specific thing do you want to communicate with the world: stories of the new way. Maps to the future.


How do you define your art practice? (would you rather be talking about how you define your creative practice anyway?)

Interest in creative process and link to well-being


What is ART for me?


Subjective response

  • don’t ever underestimate the value of just having conversation
  • Complex conversation
  • Many ways of viewing the world
  • Gathering divergent voices


The artist, how they might be present in the work

Form & Gesture


What feels urgent?

*building community

*learning how to grow food

*using art to wake people up

(contribute to building CoArts)

How can arts be used to stimulate dialogue?

None of the artists were keen to discuss the ‘money’ side of the prize. Perhaps they were all just in it for the prestige. Doubtful. Bedwyr Williams gave what I thought was an open and honest response when an audience member asked what they would do with the money. He said that it would enable him to make the big work he wanted to, because money buys time and things like big projections. He actually said this without any irony or wit. Just an honest response to the question no one wanted to answer.

Why does this interest me?

I am a firm believer in basic income as the next phase for our economy. It appears to offer a wide ranging solution to a plethora of social problems and has proved to bring people out of poverty in places where it has been piloted.* It would also re-frame our relationship to money in some way. My vision is for a future based on skills sharing, barter and collaborative, local, community based food production. For most of my life I have believed that ‘money is the root of all evil’. For all of my life I have had enough money to be comfortable.

Until now. I sense there could be an art project waiting to happen here.

*See Basic Income Wales on Twitter for evidence

Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, Build Community

On 7th September 2016, I was delighted to be invited by visual artist Rabab Ghazoul to present a Pecha Kucha style talk at the Cardiff With Culture symposium at G39. It was an amazing day of sharing and connecting. I’m still feeling the resonance of the space and look forward to seeing all the beautiful people involved again very soon.

Here’s the talk…

In May this year, I went to lecture about sharing cities. There I happened upon Mark Hooper, founder of Indycube, and we got talking. Then we started a conversation and invited others to join in. We are allowing something to grow in its own way. We are calling it Cardiff Coalition. We see that coming together to have conversations is worthwhile, and fun. As things progress, we are meeting new people. We are connecting.


During the Cardiff Without Culture campaign we identified a challenge, galvanized, mobilised, organized using online tools, came together, became visible, and we created change. It showed that it is possible to affect change from the grassroots. The internet played an important role in the campaign.


And now, we are together, in this room, with each other.

The thing for me that feels urgent is to find a way to address our current challenge to sustain a thriving arts and cultural sector in our city in an age of austerity


How can we create sustainable organisations and enterprises that do not rely on grant funding and which are built on and encourage values that are good for people and the environment?

One way of understanding our current reality is that we apply for funds to carry out our work. We are constrained by our funders and one of our key drivers is the need to survive.


We also facilitate all the benefits of arts and culture to society through this work, but often it comes back to our need to pay the bills.

Now, think for a moment what we would do if we didn’t have to generate an income for ourselves? What if our basic needs were covered, what would we do then?



It’s come out of the experience I’ve had over the past few days whilst I have been in Ukraine learning to facilitate the British Council’s Active Citizens programme and from conversations with Mark, and with the other people I have met in recent months through Cardiff Coalition.

Here’s the idea….

What if you had enough money to live comfortably, what would you do? How would your projects and endeavours be different?

What if we got together to explore our answers to these questions (call it our vision perhaps), and worked out what our first tentative steps towards this might be…Could this be a way to work out how to be sustainable?


To explore how we might create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city, my feeling is that we should be asking ourselves how we can do things differently.



We need to be asking how everyone can be involved in this innovation, addressing issues of access and inclusion. We must remember who all our online organising excludes. We need to be finding ways to communicate beyond our echo chambers. We need to listen.


We need embodied thinking, we need to grow the possibilities in our bellies. We need to learn to be flexible through movement.

We need to reawaken the creative spark inside all of us, because to be ready to build a sustainable future, we need to be well, we need to take care of ourselves and others, we’re aware of the link between creativity and wellbeing, let’s harness that.

To be well we need to be connected. To be connected we can harness the power of the internet, which is an effective tool for bringing us together.


We need to get to know each other. To get to know each other we need activities to do together to build community, to grow and solidify that which bonds us, our social capital.



Here’s the caveat – our current model of leadership is not fit for purpose, one person with a vision charging ahead into the future hasn’t served us so well.

We are living with complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability, we need to reassess what it means to be a leader and we need to find ways to work in a world that’s constantly changing.


I’d like to share a story that I learnt from Daniel Smith of the London based The Change Collective and designer of the Active Citizens programme.

It’s about how we negotiate our way through the challenges we face, how we look for leverage points and how we learn to be emergent leaders. It’s about learning to be flexible and learning to be present with what is, it’s about awareness.


Imagine a river. Your challenge is to use a boat travel as a group from the mountains, down to the sea. Now, you could all get in the boat and get in the middle of the river and paddle with all your energy, ploughing a straight course through.


You’re going to run out of steam pretty quickly. You’re not going to be taking account of the conditions, the weather, the ecosystem, the needs of the people in the boat. It’s going to be hard, there will be conflict and you’ll likely capsize.


You notice that on some days the water runs smooth. When you drop a branch in you see the currents. You feel the wind, and acknowledge the trees, mountains and wildlife. You work together and you feel solidarity. After plenty of time watching, observing and learning, you all tentatively get in your boat.


You feel the weight of your bodies and feel the movement of the water. You let the current take you. The wind picks up and moves you to the edge, so you use a little energy to correct your path. As you move along the river the conditions change, you paddle fast, you paddle slow. You rest. You use oars to push away from the banks and you hold tight and support each other in the rapids. You listen to each other’s ideas, all voices are valued, no one voice is louder.

The journey is different because you have spent time being aware of what is happening, making small interventions when necessary, trying lots of things to see how they work and you have done it together.


This is how emergent leadership works, it’s about empathy, listening, being flexible and innovating. It’s about being present. This is a story about living with uncertainty, complexity and unpredictability. This is our story.

I’m really interested in learning how we can create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city because I recognise the value for us as human beings.

But I cannot do it alone.

I can have a crazy idea that if we get together and talk about what we’d do if we didn’t need to worry about our income it could help us create sustainable projects that are good for people and the earth. But, if I have an idea in isolation, it means nothing.


I have learnt from my experience over the past few days and weeks and months that our capacity to create the change we want to see in the world comes from our ability to connect, communicate, collaborate and build community.

We are in it together.

@CardiffCoaltn #CardiffCoalition

Cardiff Coalition on Facebook


On Superhighways, Image and the Internet

Super highways were a recurring theme on a recent trip Mr.M and I took to London. We explored the Electronic Superhighway exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery and then we rode bicycles on Cycle Superhighways that are emerging in the city.

The Electronic Superhighway exhibition plotted a history of the internet’s impact on art, starting in 2016, moving backwards in time to the 1966. What struck me most about the range of works in the exhibition was the way that the internet has changed visual language. There is something about the colours, for example in works by Nam June Paik (who coined the phase Electronic Superhighway and predicted the internet age), they are so lurid and bold and bright, and, well, computer generated. Viewers are invited to consider ‘how is the internet changing art?’

It is the visual disturbance that I experience from viewing these works that piques my interest most.  Albert Oehlen’s large scale painting Deathoknocko (2001) is described in the gallery notes as representing the ‘visual cacophony of daily life in the information age’.

I was left with a feeling that I didn’t just want to consider how the internet is changing art, but how it is changing life. Every moment of every day we are bombarded with images on screens, it is overwhelming. The images we see are multi-layered. They can be read as a surface image with a message to communicate, but more importantly the images that proliferate must be questioned because the reality they bare witness to is often fake, manipulated, tweaked to perfection, they are constructed. It is within the context of the construction of women’s & men’s identities that this mis-representation seems to me to be causing most harm. In particular the way in which women & men present their image on platforms such as Instagram.

‘Reality will soon cease to be the standard by which to judge the imperfect image. Instead, the virtual image will become the standard by which to measure the imperfections of reality.’

Harun Farocki, narrated by Cynthia Beatt Parallel I-IV, 2012-14

When the images of women & men portrayed in the media and online become the standard, yet the reality of women’s & men’s bodies is something very different, we end up with a disjuncture that wounds the self worth of individuals. We are creating a situation where we can never reach the ‘perfection’ that we are told we ought to be aspiring to. As with all forms of perfectionism, it becomes problematic because perfection is not attainable. We live in an imperfect world. It seems to me that the visual imagery that is emerging as we integrate with the internet raises questions about authenticity. We are co-creating a visual, virtual artifice. An edifice which is reconceptualising our ways of being whilst reproducing the status quo when it comes to equality and equity. Using the new technologies to disrupt the systemic power structures is vital, and I believe this is happening.

It’s really interesting to me to consider the way our relationship to the internet is changing our relationship to the world around us, and to ourselves and others. I have long been fascinated with how the internet is changing things. Way back in 2009 I wrote my Master’s thesis about the way the internet is enabling feminists to build communities online that then play out in the real world. Then it seemed new, now it’s just everyday. I love seeing how groups of people are gathering through shared interest online, then coming together IRL (in real life) in community venues and coffee shops like Little Man Coffee and Kin & Ilk. The internet is changing the way we do ‘community’.

Looking at art that explored our relationship to the online world triggered this thinking for me. Taking a moment of creative space through a visit to an art gallery is one of the things I find most fulfilling. Seeing artwork triggers a response in me that pushes my thinking and my creative practice forward. Whether it challenges my assumptions, or offers a new way of looking at something, there is no doubt that immersing oneself in art exhibits is key for making creativity flourish.

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #6 – Creating Space

Julia Cameron, author of one of my favourite books on creativity The Artists Way, wrote a pertinent sentiment recently on her Facebook wall ‘Clearing clutter, we make room for insight. We literally clear our minds’. This got me thinking…

In the busyness of everyday life, making time for creative practice can end up low on the list of priorities. After a day in the office I find it challenging to motivate myself to create, and then in my own time I am a pro at procrastination. I motivate myself by promising to take at least one tiny step, and I usually succeed. In fact, the tiny step I take tends to lead to greater things.

I have been reflecting on the impact my environment has on my creativity. I have observed that when I am in an ordered, clutter free and beautiful environment, my creativity thrives differently to when I am in a messy space with lack of natural light and nothing beautiful to look at.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 13.23.38Master of sublimely beautiful interiors in the Arts and Crafts era, William Morris, said ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Over the holiday period I thought I would experiment with tidying up and see if any new insights came into awareness. What I found was gratitude and peace.

A little while ago I was browsing Pinterest and came across the Konmari method for decluttering. This peaked my interest so I delved a bit deeper. I learnt that Marie Kondo, a Japanese tidying expert, had a simple way to work out what stuff to keep and what to discard. ‘Hold an object in your hand and ask yourself if it brings you joy’. Being a joy seeker, I was enthralled and as the weeks have gone on I have become more engrossed. The lovely Mr. M (or perhaps Santa) delivered a copy of the delightful book of the magic of tidying underneath the tree, and voila, it began.

IMG_3296I laboured through every corner of the house, holding objects and feeling the joy, or not.  There is a massive pile of bags full of stuff waiting to go to the charity shop.

But, the house is tidy, it is beautiful, clear, clutter free, I have created space. Even the sock draw, thanks to Marie, is beautiful. The recommended technique for storing items of clothing is folding. There are many examples on Pinterest and videos on Youtube that show you how to fold. It does make a difference – things take up less space and are easier to see. It is a very pleasing process.

Marie talks about trying to empathise with the relief the sock that is folded kindly feels now it isn’t scrunched up in a ball tightly. Even for me and my wacky view of the world, this may be a step too far. But then I tried to understand where she may be coming from. On a quantum level, all matter is made up of the same stuff, so I tried to understand it that way.

IMG_3029But the way of conceptualising it that sits most comfortably with me is that I would want to feel gratitude for the objects that make my life comfortable. So thank you, Marie Kondo, for bringing gratitude for objects into my life.

As I walked this morning, pondering how to compose this blog, I noticed a clarity in my thoughts. I am interested in Buddhism and Mindfulness, in particular the idea that a mind is like the clear blue sky, our thoughts are the clouds, they come and go, sometimes thick and heavy, sometimes light and airy. But they are just thoughts. This tidying process seems to have shifted my understanding of how the thoughts in my mind tend to dominate. I see now that engaging with the objects I have through tidying has had a meditative quality. I have reconnected with the things that surround me. I have created space literally and this has allowed for space to emerge in my internal world too, it’s rather peaceful!

I think Julia Cameron is spot on. By tidying my physical environment, my internal environment has become less cluttered, there is more room for thinking creatively. I am more in control of the chitter chatter in my mind. The act of committing to taking creative space in which to explore with materials and through drawing and making brings this same kind of meditative quality.

The process has allowed me to create space literally and mentally, and I have a place to be where I can thrive creatively. My home and studio are filled with objects that bring me joy, I am surrounded by beautiful things!

A great place from which to begin afresh for the New Year with maintaining a creative practice. Here’s to finding gratitude and peace.