Well For Life – COME SIT A WHILE WITH ME…
This program was initiated by Warrnambool City Council and the F Project and was delivered by my dear friend and favourite collaborator, Julie Poi Kelly & me. The brief was to provide participants who have experienced brain injury with positive social connections and recognition of their rich life stories and contributions to our community.
“Come sit a while with me…” emerged
On Friday afternoons through February, March and April 2014 we gathered around a long table at the Archie Graham Centre in Warrnambool with seven (mostly) mature aged participants and their carers. Different techniques for making artworks were explored and individual visual languages developed. Each artist generously shared photographs and stories revealing the unique histories that have helped to bring them to this table. The goal was for each participant to create eight autobiographical artworks that would become the pages of their own “life story book”. This goal was reached through stellar performances! Julie and I then undertook the process of collating each artist’s work into a single, 60 page hard cover printed book.
The final page of each story includes a picture of each participant on their favorite chair. This acts as an aesthetic marker of their personality and also provides a common position for audience members to engage- we all have a favorite spot to sit after all.
This project culminated at the Artery Gallery in an installation designed as a series of small living rooms each embracing a participant’s autobiographical art book. This installation was to unfold in the Ozone Walk as a part of the Hidden Histories Laneway Festival but early May rain sent us inside! I must give due credit to Julie- as I was recovering from surgery the task fell on her to curate our borrowed furniture, and she did a wonderful job! The space felt warm and personal. The Artery reported on the show’s popularity and how common it was for gallery visitors to spend time reading through each book.
Our busy Friday workshops together always finished with a cuppa and Julie & I always left feeling positive. It was been an incredible privilege to get to know this cast of characters- we have been moved by the stories shared, opening for us worlds within time, affirming the priceless value of relationships with loved ones and the breathtaking power of human resilience.
Taking the time to sit a while with these stories allows you to imagine the worlds they reveal and the strong spirits who live within them…
Above are links to two Warrnambool Standard Articles about this beautiful project 🙂
Late in the second last week of our project I made an evening visit to our Project Coordinator and School Principle Lynn Lyle’s home. Here I collected 18 completed drawings crucial to the conclusion of our project. When Lynn and I attended an Arts Vic PD day back in March she warned me that she was not creative at all, non-the-less she was prepared to take our explorers for their Painting and Drawing Sessions as part of our five week rotation. Looking through these 18 completed drawings together I could see Lynn’s genuine pride in the children’s work.
During the Painting & Drawing Program the students were introduced to different mediums and taught a number of drawing techniques. It wasn’t until after I’d written this program that I saw the quality of the work the students were already making in there fortnightly art classes, I began to doubt if my program had anything to offer them….
We used Eugene von Guerard as a starting point, not so much for his meticulous technique but for his arts explorative process of looking at the environment in its parts and as its whole. The Arts Explorers in our program were to look at their environments, drawing on their expedition themes and create images uses the new methods shown to them.
This process was not about creating “perfect” drawings. In fact parts of this process were specifically designed to break with that idea we hold of being “a good drawer”, this was about getting in touch with creativity, and becoming brave and bold in the process. One of my favourite bits of feed back came from a year six student when I asked her what she had learnt through the process. She replied that she had learnt “that art didn’t have to be perfect” and that “it could be anything”. WOW!! Her mum actually stopped me in the hall one day to let me know the interest that her daughter was now showing in creativity and art and what a positive effect the program was having on her. For me it doesn’t get much better than that!!
These 18 Images are really strong works that are a kin with works I have seen by practicing artists in contemporary galleries. I collected the drawings that evening to turn them into digital prints which would become the lead-light images for our Light Chamber Observatory. Logos Ahead Warrnambool did a great job printing these and they look absolutely stunning inside our child centred light space.
This is my space for talking about the what I do as a Participatory Arts Practitioner…. This is a core part of what I have done with my time since 2001. My passion is developing unique programs and projects that give community members a positive way to be engaged in their environments. The idea is that through coming together as a group and using our hands to make meaningful art we invest ourselves in our shared reality and often raise our sense of personal and communal well-being in the process.
I am guided by my core research that views a person as an embodied consciousness in continual interaction and overlap with their physical, psychological and social environment. Over the years I have identified concepts that support and guide my practice:
Social Model of Health
Through my Community and Participatory Art Practice I promote opportunities for self-empowerment…. and we have so much fun!