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’.

 

#wordgetsout

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-Arts TRACES

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?

 

VISUAL PLEASURE

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

THE FUTURE OF 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

Creativity, Complexity & Change – Towards a New Way

We are on the brink of a seismic shift. It is in the air, like electricity. It is in the spaces between people and it is shaping our relationships. We are at the ‘edge of chaos’ (in Complexity Theory, the place between order and chaos where synchronicity thrives). And some of us are dancing.

Dancing on the edge is a precarious place to be. We are pushing at the boundaries of what is possible. We are learning and growing together. We are seeing that collaboration is the only way forward. We are seeing that challenging the old ways as a means to create change leaves us feeling unfulfilled, exhausted and usually has little effect.

We are seeing. We are seeing better through the haze, and things are becoming clearer.

Many of us are gathering. In cities we see the emergence of multiple groups of folks coming together through shared interest, mostly mediated by the potential that technology offers. We are experiencing an awakening. Of mind and heart. Of connection, of our interdependence, to each other and the Earth.

What I notice is the energy that life on the edge of chaos offers. A clear playing out of the raw creative process. An idea expands, fills with energy, goes out of the self into the world, grows, forms, mutates, and moves on. And then the cycle repeats. On and on. A never-ending loop of intuition, sparking of impressions, generative patterns, expansion of energy, all full force into it. And then, collapse.

How does one hope to comprehend this experience? Our understanding is surely limited if we view ourselves as a separate entity. It is only in relation to the other we truly know. What is knowing anyway? What it is it to be?

How do I know where I end and you begin?

Life is rich and full of wonder and serendipity. There is a feeling of having torn through a veil, my body peaking into a new realm. Awareness, expanding. Compassion, connection. But the words don’t come easily. It’s as if the brain cannot settle on a theme to explore. Neurons are messy and jazzy. Something has changed. I’m dancing on the wave of the ripple.

I’m resting and exploring creatively in the gaps in between. I am dreaming big about what is possible. I am sitting with ideas and seeing if they have resonance. At some points I am directionless. I need something to push off. Something to resist against to aide motivation.Or perhaps it’s inspiration I need.

And so it is that I have time to write now. Right now. I often think that if I just had the time and space I could write something good. Here’s my chance to share with the world my following of the new way. Here’s a chance to look for examples of the New Story in the city. What comes next is up to me I suppose. 

Bardo. Where we are, our time. Charles Eisenstein talks about how we are in between stories. Otto Scharmer knowingly recapitulates ‘what’s dying, what’s waiting to be born’. His use of repetition clever and a sign of him being one who has a following. Repetition is important then, in the telling of the new story.

We are in a world of dreams, illusions and mystery. The magic that bubbles beneath the surface goes unnoticed mostly. We are too distracted by the screens. We aren’t headed for the war of the worlds, well perhaps we are. More likely though, we are headed for the war with the screens. The battle to call people back to the reality of the real world that we have all been so disconnected from will be a difficult one. Difficult because what is there to offer in exchange? What’s the deal? Meditation may be the thing we all need, but how do you convince a 20 yr old screen junkie to stop, put it down and just breathe?

Feeling is hard because we are distracted. Feeling is hard because we are addicted. We are protected because feeling is hard. We are cloaked in caffeine, coca-cola, crisps, crap and wine that slows our senses. Because, to feel is too much. It hurts. And it’s happening to us all. The system is letting us down.

~The system is broken beyond repair.

For a long time I tried to understand why equality and diversity policy in organisations doesn’t work. I know now. It’s targeting the individual and assuming behavioural change through policy directives is a lever. For 30 years we have tried to change the women to fit the system. We have built a culture of victim blaming. ‘If you don’t want to get raped, don’t wear a short skirt’ has to be one of the greatest insults of our time. But the victim blaming is everywhere. Don’t want to get killed by a person driving a car, wait for the green man. Don’t want to be fat, don’t eat the sugary fatty delicacy pushed in your face at every single waking moment.

The system is broken beyond repair, and it’s not my fault. It’s not your fault either, it’s not our fault, it’s not their fault. Blame cannot be ascribed to individuals in this system game. The beast is too big. The beast has become more than the sum of its parts.

The last year has been a journey that started with Marie Kondo, moved to Minimalism, onto Theory U and then a big dive into the world of Systems and Complexity, activated by experience of delivering the British Councils Active Citizens programme with Career Women Wales and then a falling into The Republic of the Imagination.

What then is a systems and complexity approach to social change? For me it is about learning and personal development. It’s about gift, and it’s about purpose. It’s about helping my self and others to grow empathy, listening, flexibility, creativity and innovation.

By empathy I am referring to having a sense of the other, authentic communication, compassion, a leaving behind of egocentric individualism, return to a whole sense of self through a move from ‘I’ to ‘we’,  and awareness. How can we cultivate empathy? My feeling is that it is about spending time in circles connecting with people who live in our communities. It is also about how we grow our own self-awareness through meditation or some other such practice.

Listening is about deep listening, really listening. To our internal selves, our intuition. To others. To the world around us and our environment, including all of nature and the living things we share this beautiful Earth with. Listening means stopping, noticing, feeling. Listening to our feelings. Understanding our emotions. Being guided by our intuition.

Flexibility, learnt through movement of the body is about loosening up ideas, being open to what’s possible and freedom from a fixed or set way of doing things. Managing when unexpected things happen, dealing with complex situations. It’s about developing the confidence to act in ways that challenge the status quo, but from a heart place, with compassion, love and non-violence. It’s about awareness of the bigger picture, the wider context we are working in, achieved through communication with folks outside of our echo chambers and via real reporting of the news, which is perhaps a myth of our time. Who says what’s real anyway.

Creativity is vital for human beings. As we move forward into the new story, creative skills are going to be the ones we need most as we guide ourselves through this bardo. We have to be developing creative skills in all people now, especially young people. And we need to get back to ourselves by getting back to the wild. 

Innovation is about doing things differently, moving out of your comfort zone, taking a different route. Making different choices. Following new paths. Building new paths. Having adventures, taking risks. Sharing love. Allowing your self to feel the connection to others and the world around you.

Share the story of the change you want to see in the world with others, in conversation, often. 

I like this peace-ful approach to how to respond when it is unclear, I found it on the internet.

Peace.

  • Pause and take a few deep breaths
  • Experience the moment
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
  • Choose what you feel is the best for you to do
  • Enjoy the choice

Let’s dance.

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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

@salEhughes

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #10 – Creative Habits

The recent musings on my blog now lead me into the next ‘Experiments in Creative Space’ challenge. I had felt that the project came to a logical conclusion after the Ignite talk I did in January. But I see there is room for it to grow into something more.

I am going to test this idea about 21 days of focused attention leading to habitual behaviour. Writing and drawing are going to be my creative practices of choice here. My days may not be consecutive, because of work commitments (I have to make it work for me!). However, for 21 days I will write for one hour and for 21 days I will draw for one hour. I will set a timer and for 60 minutes and I will use words and drawing to explore. Perhaps writing about experience, creativity or perhaps delving into something more fictitious. And for the drawing, most likely making #patternsfrompictures as I
enjoy the meditative quality of the process.

I came home from Briony’s workshop with a number of beginnings.

You can join in, if you so wish, by sharing your own experience of creative space on the Facebook page here, or on Twitter using the #creativespace hashtag.

@salEhughes

And so to begin…

On Creativity, Writing and Self-discovery

I recently went along to Briony Goffin’s creative writing workshop at Chapter Arts Centre. Briony is a generous and open-hearted women. Her facilitative style is warm and supportive – she knows how to empower people to be their best selves in the workshop space she creates. There is some magic in this. Words are alchemy. Words transport us. Words describe and define our landscapes, internal and external. They allow us to uncover our reality, to give shape and definition to our unique experience of the world. To come to know ourselves better.

As with any creative endeavor, there is a process involved. A beginning, a middle and an end, a journey, a story. A bold remembrance. Images, ideas and associations meld to form opportunities for openings. If we look we can witness fragments of the soul in the stories people embody with pen and paper.

There is a quality to this process, of beginning, writing, then sharing that moves one closer to an empathetic understanding of the other. We are all at once our own unique experience, tethered to our shared experience, to our collective unconscious. As writers and creatives we can feel we are alone in our experience. Through sharing we catch a glimpse of our connectedness.

Writing can be transformational, I like to see it as righting. Writing is a journey of self-discovery, it requires us to call on memory to conjure our experience of the past, bring us into the present and launch us into the future.

Any form of creative practice can be expressed as the sum of time, inspiration and work. In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp is a proponent of habit as a force for good in creative pursuits. She talks about how the process of installing purposeful habits in our lives can move us into productivity. She describes habit as a ritual, and believes that creativity is ‘augmented by routine and habit’.

What habits do you have in your life that support you, creatively and otherwise? Do you take time each week, time set aside just for you, to focus on the areas of your creative life that you want to develop?

My understanding is that setting 60 minutes aside, in which to explore creatively through drawing, writing, making or moving, can move us forward in ways we can’t even imagine until we begin. It has to be a timeframe that fits with your lifestyle and can shift and change and ebb and flow, make it work for you, if it doesn’t, you create a barrier and starting is harder.

Like motivation and overcoming procrastination, practice is hard. Not only do we have to overcome internal resistance, find the motivation to sit and do the work, we have to do it repeatedly to make progress. That’s why we say practice makes perfect. Malcolm Gladwell believes that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

And that’s why habit is a useful tool. The Minimalists describe how in their experience of clearing their lives of the clutter of consumerism to make room for more important things like health, relationships and contribution, 21 days of attention is all you need to make a habit. After 21 days of committing to a particular activity, it becomes embedded and embodied enough to form a new habit that is more supportive and growth-full.

What new habit are you looking to bring into your life to bring you closer to wellbeing, health, vitality and creative energy?

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #7 – 10 Lessons

It’s been three months now since I started trying to motivate myself and to live a more creative life. Here’s what I have learnt so far.

Lesson 1: Overcoming internal resistance is hard

Lesson 2: Creative practice leads to creative thinking which feeds innovation

Lesson 3: Creative practice helps with living in the present moment

Lesson 4: Learning to look is about learning to let go

Lesson 5: Creative practice helps with self awareness

Lesson 6: Seek out new experiences

Lesson 7: Time away from everyday routines is vital for creative practice to flourish

Lesson 8: When you wrestle with an idea then rest then repeat,  joy emanates and learning happens

Lesson 9: A clutter free environment makes creative thinking clearer

Lesson 10:  Talking about creative ideas brings insight