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


Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #9 – Ignite

What a wild week it has been, I met the brilliant women who are doing urban differently at Urbanistas Cardiff and presented a talk about creative space at Ignite! Preparing my talk seemed to bring the Experiments in Creative Space project to a close. I see now that I am living a creative life, and that’s wonderful. I am going to move on to the next thing now. Not sure what that is yet, but, its going to be an adventure!

So…’s the long version of my Ignite talk.


For me, creative expression is vital for feeling truly alive. When I am creating I feel whole and happy. Last October, I was finding it hard to motivate myself and I needed to come up with a strategy for moving forward.


I was talking about this with a colleague, and as often happens the act of sharing my thoughts brought clarity and insight – if I can commit to take just 60 minutes of creative space a week, then I would at least be doing something.


I began the project ‘Experiments in Creative Space’, so far it’s taken me to wild places, I’ve learnt to look again, got some good impressions, soaked up creative inspiration and I’ve created space.

This is the story of my journey and what I have learnt along the way.

It has been an undulating path.


It was a miserable damp late autumn evening, and I had in mind to start designing a piece of jewellery inspired by a city I had visited, New York. It would have been easier to just think about it as I vegetated in front of come dine with me, I was feeling lazy after a long day sat in front of a computer, but I had committed to 60 minutes, I wanted to do it.

Something compelled me, I made the effort and I did it.

I noticed how the practice changed my mood. I felt elevated. I felt better.

Even though I had to push so hard to get there, what I achieved was beyond my expectations.


Just one hour spent planning my design made a spark in my mind that stayed with me for a few days. I would find myself thinking, solving the problems of construction I faced ahead.

It was like I created a pattern that resonated in my mind, growing and fuelling the idea over time. If I hadn’t taken the 60 minute creative space, I wouldn’t have had that. I think this is a small indicator that creative space can sow seeds of innovation.

I found this good impression in the neural pathways that resulted from the creative practice resonated over time and lead to more clear thinking and better ideas in other areas of work, and play.


I understand this as a psychological process that can be a healing one .

Taking creative space is like taking time away from my everyday life, I feel able to re-connect with my self, then when I return, I see things differently. I have found that I am becoming brighter, more intuitive, and more productive.


Knowing now that once I overcome the resistance, creative practice is hugely enjoyable, I thought I would expand the range of things I was doing, so I started writing a blog about the experiments, I started doodling in my sketchbook in the evenings and I started being more conscious of the impact on my creativity exploring places has.


I found that walking is vital for healthy creativity. Often as I was writing my blog I would get stuck and not know what to write next, so I would stop and take Lily dog for a walk. Forgetting about the task and enjoying the world seemed to ignite creative thoughts.


I love spending time in nature, exploring wild places, and as I did so, with my senses acute as I was observing as part of this little experiment, I started to see how vibrant the colours of the landscape were, I felt truly alive, in the present. Creative practice it seems was helping me be more in the moment.


Drawing has been key to my work designing jewellery, I often sketch, make patterns and shapes, mapping out designs, but this kind of drawing serves a particular purpose, and for me, it isn’t really about looking.

I had 60 minutes and a sketchbook and I thought I would find an object to draw, this was something I hadn’t done for years.

I looked around, on the coffee table was a glass off water, I started looking, really noticing.

As I drew, more emerged. I could see better. The minutiae of the surface, what’s in front, what’s through and behind. The light, the shade. The depth. My mind was at ease, but I felt focused. More focused than I have for a long time. My mind feels distracted a lot of the time and I find it hard to concentrate.


Learning to look is about learning to let go. I wasn’t making any judgements about how good or bad my drawing was. It was the process, not the product, that was important here.

As I looked for longer, the contrast became more apparent, the shapes and colours all become more vivid.

I was noticing that to make the highlights on the white paper means making darkness with the marks from the pencil. This reminds me that to experience joy, we have to know sorrow.


Exploring a city has always been something that captivates my heart and brings me joy. There is something about discovering a new place that nourishes. And there is nothinglike a break away from normal routine for topping up on creative inspiration and just before Christmas the lovely Mr.M and I went to Amsterdam to ride bicycles.


Throughout our adventure, I had a creative challenge on my mind. I had been commissioned to make a piece of jewellery, and I was all a bit stuck with where to go with it. As is the way of things, inspiration came from an unlikely place.

On one of the canals, Singel, sits a houseboat that has a small population of cats on board, a sanctuary for the stray and abandoned. Nothing stirs my heart quite like animals, and on this boat I captured three cats with my camera. Once I was back in the ‘Diff in my studio, it was these images that pushed my idea for my jewellery design forward and enabled me to complete the commission successfully.


Creativity is funny that way. I find that if you sit with a creative problem, just keeping it in the margins of your attention then observe the world with delight and wonder, usually a fix comes along often taking you in a direction you hadn’t even anticipated. For me, it is in this kind of creative space, where you wrestle with an idea then rest then repeat, that joy emanates and learning resides.


Then I came to reflect 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. I realised that for productive creative space, I needed to create space. So, I Konmari’d all my possessions.


Objects bring me joy, as an artist I am delighted by the visual world and good shape, form and design. I want to feel gratitude for the objects that make my life comfortable, the process of tidying the spaces in which I live made me feel that gratitude; it also made me feel more peaceful, because, as the saying goes, tidy house, tidy mind, I believe that’s true.


In the past few weeks I have had a number of good experiences that have pushed me forward, creatively and in other ways and because I have been doing this project, I have been paying more attention. The experiment has been a catalyst for change, it has brought a new perspective.


I have come to know the beauty of connecting with others through shared experience and enjoy other perspectives as they consolidate my understanding of the context in which I live.


I see that unlocking my creativity through committing to taking creative space has reformed my identity, I know what I am like more now, I have a better sense of self.


Sharing this learning, and the products that I create with the world is the next step, this is the start of that journey for me.

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #4 – Good Impressions

This week I have had the good fortune to have had the opportunity to travel to London as part of my role at Women Making a Difference. I was travelling to collect international visitors who were coming to Cardiff as part of the British Council Active Citizens programme.

In order to make a record of our journey, I had in my possession the office DSLR. I usually take photos with my iPhone, so this was exciting, and as I set off I was looking forward to experimenting with a ‘proper’ camera.

Boris Bicycles!

Photography has always been key to my creative practice. I enjoy it as a means of documenting my experience, but also as a way to capture scenes of the places I am exploring. I enjoy composing and framing the image, and I feel I have become good at this with my iPhone and I regularly share on Instagram.

I felt almost that with this DSLR I had a new set of eyes, I was ‘seeing things differently’ with this new medium for capturing the world around me, some of the images are in this post. Actually, I prefer the results I get with my iPhone, but it was fun to experiment, that’s what creativity is all about isn’t it!

Senedd, Cardiff Bay

The experiences I have had during the past few days have been moving, and will in time, I am sure, act as a catalyst of change in my creative practice and in life more broadly. I have had a chance to see London and my home town, Cardiff, through the eyes of  visitor. This has brought a new perspective.

I have also had amazing conversations with people from all over the world. I have enjoyed stories from Rwanda, Morocco, Belfast, Birmingham, Bangladesh and Poland.

I have learnt that we live in a world of divides, but we have commonalities that unite us. I have come to know my own privilege, and the beauty of connecting with others through shared experience. I have learnt about tolerance, about how I may not agree with others views, but I can enjoy their perspectives as they consolidate my understanding of the context in which I live.

One of the things I have noticed about taking a ’60 minute creative space’ is the way in which a ‘good impression’ in the neural pathways as a result of creative practice resonates over time and leads to more clear thinking and better ideas in other areas of work, and play.

It was through the conversation with Ksenia that I was able to understand this as a psychological process that can be a healing one. To the west of Ukraine the landscape is wild and beautiful. Ksenia described how soldiers who have been involved in the conflict there can take part in a project where they spend three weeks in this wild landscape as a way to begin to heal the trauma they have experienced. Ksenia, a psychologist, explained how having this time of ‘good impressions’ helps them to cope with the trauma and to understand it from a different point of view.

View of Cardiff from Oxfam offices on St Mary Street
View of Cardiff from Oxfam offices on St Mary Street

I remember having a conversation with a Buddhist mindfulness practitioner who was into spending time in the wild. He understood that when a person who lives their day to day lives in the frenetic and busy city takes time out to go into natures wild space something changes in their mentality. He referred particularly to dreaming. When we dream in our everyday, we can dream our anxiety and busi-ness, but it only takes three days away from our frenetic lives for us to start to dream of the wild, for us to get back to our native selves and re-establish the lost connection with Earth and wild things.

For me, the learning from these conversations is that taking creative space is a healing process, and when we have time away from our everyday lives, we are able to re-connect with our selves, then when we return, we ‘see things differently’. We can be brighter, more intuitive, more productive and more innovative.