Reflections on Tutor report for Assignment 2

There were a number of difficulties going into Assignment two from my prespective. Firstly I had lost a lot of momentum from the need (on my part) to change tutor; I had lost a lot of enthusiasm and needed to pick things up. Secondly, I had picked on a subject that had a raft of revelation issues that would likely diminish to zero any chance of showing any work I managed to create during the module. That being said the Echoes Group have been supportive (within legal constraints) and there is now a real chance the the work will be exhibited – though I still have to overcome the assessor issue – should I make it to the other end of this course! Which of course I intend to try at least.

My Tutor sent back a very comprehensive report which has guided me on certain areas, some of which I have reflected on in this entry – which will go someway, I hope, to remedy some of the shortcomings of my submission. There are other thoughts that were supplied in the report that I will try and take on board.

My thoughts are now turning to assignment three, which I had hoped would be with the Group. I am likely to find out what is happening with the Group soon, apparently there is a meeting in a couple of days time to make a plan forward. If the Group’s situation doesn’t allow me to find a way forward with them, in respect of the assignment I shall have to find other alternatives. Before I do any of that I shall go on a week’s holiday.

I have to say that not only did I think the report was accurate, fair and very positive; but that I need to say thanks to my tutor for engaging in the way that I always hoped for!

__________________________

The Tuesday morning Echoes Art Group is an art class for people with dementia and other mental health needs, and those who might be using community based services of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.  – Fusion Arts. Visiting artists are engaged by Artscape to run short-term projects – up to 12 weeks at a time and I was offered the chance to work with them on a photography project.

I wanted to use the project to investigate the possibilities of developing ‘focused portraits’ of the lives of the ‘users’ of the Group. The ‘users’ comprise all the various people who attend the sessions; the patients who come from the wards of the Warneford Mental Hospital, out-patients who live in the community, full time carers (who attend with sufferers), clinical staff, and charity support workers (like myself who volunteer). Everyone is encouraged to participate in these arts based therapies and I made no distinction between any one particular sub-group or any another – they were all ‘users’.

I developed this artist statement (to which I will return later in this piece) to accompany the work:

I wanted to investigate the area of identity with a group of users in a dementia support group. How, in an age where patient confidentiality is at a premium, to present a piece of work that opens areas of discussion regarding the condition of dementia and how that condition reflects on the area of identity. Without crossing the boundary of personal revelation, I set about to work collaboratively with the ‘users’ of the ‘Echoes Group’ to produce a number of ‘portraits’ using memorabilia supplied and edited by those ‘users’. The concept was to scan (two dimensional objects) or photograph (three dimensional objects) some of their personal posessions, and then have the users place the images in a narrative sequence as a photomontage, which I would then compile into a composite image. The result would then be discussed in a group session where the ‘users’ would be invited to talk about their own ‘portrait’ and interrogate other ‘users’ ‘portraits’. It is hoped that the A2 prints will be hung in the permanent space at the Warneford Hospital.

The Project:

The first session with the group was by way of introduction to the concept, I brought along a number of different objects, photographs to illustrate differing ways they, the users, might develop ideas. I had a range of holiday photographs, some objects that I had designed (silicon chips from when I was in electronics design, as well as a plot of an integrated circuit layout that I had designed) and family pictures. There was a very active conversation about these objects and photographs, lots of questions and a lot of reminiscing. The underlying concept was to try and develop a project that relied on memory (the use of photographs and memorabilia) to develop a singular narrative that expressed a part of an identity – albeit that I expected that description to be both partial and thin.

My expectations were wide and varied, having not done this before i.e. not having a precise outcome in mind and so I tried to have an open mind about outcome. My background as a leader in business would have prevented me from starting something without a predefined outcome, but with this group activity I wanted to, and indeed expected to be led to, areas I hadn’t countenanced in an effort of collaborative exploration. The ‘users’ had free range on the specifity of the objects that they wanted to bring to be recorded and the narratives they wanted to share. Though I have no doubt that some of their decisions were fed by what I had brought to the opening session.

My original concept was to work with the ‘users’ to produce large A2 size images, which had a photomontage of, hopefully, a cogent narrative that would then be annotated by the ‘user’ to bring an added dimension to the work. I have been studying the value of text recently and wondered what dynamic this addition would bring to the work. The work has now been annotated, though the work was interrupted by the Group to ‘fit-in’ another project which, I feel, interrupted the flow from the ‘users’. This break in the flow slowed the current of expression that had been quite creative and I feel that perhaps it has diminished the overall effect of this part of the work. Some ‘users’ decided not to annotate at all, others preferred me to provide the writing skills whilst others wanted to have their thoughts printed and glued to their work

I found the completed works quite fascinating. All of the ‘users’ expressed a narrative that said something, I feel, about themselves, as well as about the subject of the work they produced. In that sense they were, of course, self-portraits as much as anything else. Their relationships with the people they brought to the narrative, mother, sister, children, parents, partner and indeed self in a couple of portraits as the primary motif

I’m not sure if this is in the right order of things, to modify an artist’s statement post the work being completed; instinctively I feel ok about doing so because the work is a continual process of evolution – the one informing the other, developing the trains of thought and informing the direction of the road forward.

I think I have clarified what ‘users’ are, though I fully realize the connotative power of the ambiguity of the term ‘user’. Had I had a clearer notion of that when I started the project I may have chosen more wisely, but on this occasion, and at this juncture, I will leave the title ‘users’ to mean all present at the Group sessions. But the question of whether the term “I want to investigate the area of identity with a dementia support group…” was specific enough I think is a good question and one which the following statement is hopefully clearer on.

So my Artist statement could become:

I wanted to investigate the area of identity with a group of users in a dementia support group. How, in an age where patient confidentiality is at a premium, to present a piece of work that opens areas of discussion regarding the condition of dementia and how that condition reflects on the area of identity. Without crossing the boundary of personal revelation, I set about to work collaboratively with the ‘users’ of the ‘Echoes Group’ to produce a number of ‘portraits’ using memorabilia supplied and edited by those ‘users’. The concept was to scan (two dimensional objects) or photograph (three dimensional objects) some of their personal posessions, and then have the users place the images in a narrative sequence as a photomontage, which I would then compile into a composite image. The result would then be discussed in a group session where the ‘users’ would be invited to talk about their own ‘portrait’ and interrogate other ‘users’ ‘portraits’. It is hoped that the A2 prints will be hung in the permanent space at the Warneford Hospital.

Which is of course the same as before, but now with a (hopefully) clearer understanding of ‘user’.  I know I will come back to this again and with the benefit of distance from the project may have a clearer idea of how to construct the statement in a more rounded way.

The whole project was very beneficial from a number of aspects, firstly the ‘users’: I was surprised at their creativity, their histories, their willingness to engage in the project and the expressions of interest in both their own creations and those of the others around them. Their willingness to have the work exhibited, the diversity of their narratives. The poignancy of their stories, and the way in which they were at ease with exploring some of their emotions in public.

I am aware that I didn’t direct as much as maybe I should have/could have  – this was certainly down to naivety in both the role as an artist and as a leader at the Group. Being stronger of purpose with the completion of the project, I feel I let some of the ‘users’ down by appearing to be a trifle weak in letting another project interject and allow some momentum to be released. It is a curious thing this lack of ‘directiveness’ as I have spent most of my adult life ‘directing’ things – work as a leader, in the theatre as a ‘Director’, local community groups etc etc. This lack of surefootedness in a curious one to feel, and something to ponder over.

Overall I really enjoyed this module, from a shaky start to a possible shaky end, the journey from than ’till now has been very productive.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Tutor report for Assignment 2

  1. Looking forward to seeing the portraits tomorrow John. Excellent that they will be displayed. I see no problem personally in editing and artist statement as one goes along. I have found it generally the case that ideas evolving in the doing of them.

    You should be proud of this work. It is a real departure from the usual fare of social documentary which could well have represented the users of the unit as objects of pity. They don’t need pity. They need help to experience a better quality of life. This is just what you have done and hopefully it has allowed them to gain confidence whilst maintaining their dignity. I would like to come and see the exhibition some time….

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