Proud of this

Memories Project with the Echoes Group

Memories Project with the Echoes Group

I had a meeting with the Artscape Manager today to discuss the next exhibition and was very proud to see this in the Artscape Gallery next to my prints which form the basis for Assignment Two. The next exhibition will likely be in the Fusion Arts Centre, Cowley Road as well as the replacement to the current exhibition. and will likely be hung towards the end of the month. The Fusion Arts piece will be for around two weeks and the Artscape one will likely be up for a few months.

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Postcript two

Postcard

Postcard

Small tidbits of news and updates from Echoes Group, at the session today I was given some postcards made by Fusion Arts (who host the Echoes Group). The cards were done as part of the Need/Make/Use project that I participated in – the central bar contains images that were used in the ‘Memories’ project I did with the Group and which formed the basis for Assignment 2. I had to edit the images so they would work in screen printing – the project has been written up on the Pitt Rivers Museum blog here.

Postcard

Postcard

The large prints (four of them each by one of the participating groups) were in the region of 12 feet by 9 feet and were created in about three sessions, the postcards make them seem less bright than they were in reality, but nevertheless they will be a welcome addition to a small collection of postcards. I also had a chat with the owner of the Armenian archive who is conducting research for a book that he will be publishing sometime; he is interested in me working with him to prepare some images to illustrate his book – I think he is some time off from needing the prints and I think it unlikely it will top the best sellers list, but its an interesting opportunity I will follow up with him. Posts on the archive can be found here.

Another postscript to Assignment Two

I had an email today from the Director of Artscape in whose gallery the ‘Memories’ project is currently hanging. it read:

Good afternoon Tom

I work at the Highfield Unit and used to have regular walks along the Warneford corridor to reach the canteen – I was always impressed by the artscape work, but never fed this back to anyone. Since our unit has moved to a new building on the Warneford site I don’t walk the length of the corridor any more – however today I had a meeting further into the building and was really taken by the recent ‘memories’ project. Please will you let the people who took part know how impressive it is, and how very moving it was so see the things people had chosen. As a family therapist I never cease to be in awe of how amazing families are!

Thank you very much,

Regards

Janet

Family and Systemic Psychotherapist

I thought it was nice.

Portraits

This series has been a long time coming. In the end it was a close thing whether I asked for their participation, but these portraits come quite close to what I wanted to achieve. None of the photographs are named, they are all users – though not all the users who attended on this day agreed to be photographed, but all those who did were happy to agree to pose. I had two portraits in mind, the one above that I have chosen and another square on to the camera. I felt I needed to keep the image creation time short, the sensitivity of the process was apparent in my mind, though I am quite prepared to be told that I have overplayed that sensitivity, had these not been users of the Group, then I would have encroached on more of their time. This portrait had the subject looking out of a large window that provided soft light, even in summer this window has that property, so I had envisioned the space. I wanted them to be looking to the light, I wanted them to not be smiling, a couple of the subjects had difficulty in not smiling, and this was to do with them providing a contemplative pose in an attempt to equalise them, to bring them to a similar place before the lens – to not differentiate them as either clinically needy or otherwise. The alternate pose had too much variety in the poses and the sense of artificiality seemed to me to be too evident. The users all work on ‘art’ projects and this portrait session was slotted as and when they/we completed the final piece of the current project, a large communal print:

The final print

The final print

I have been working at the centre now for most of this year. I have had some ups and downs, but mostly ups. I usually have a sense of inspiration after attending these sessions, and whilst I have a strong feeling that I am benefitting significantly from working with this group, the various artists that attend – which is allowing me to build a new network – I am very mindful that I don’t want to appear to be using them. I hope I am now trusted within the group, that I contribute from more than just another pair of hands perspective, that I bring to the group something that benefits both parties and that this final print is a signifier of that spirit of the group; all the users, including me, contributed a piece to the print and we all worked on bringing the piece to a conclusion.

The final print is likely to be included in the exhibition of the project that I have documented to date, the exhibition will be a ‘Group’ show. I will make a lot of prints and perhaps a book and we will include work from the users (both prints, and text). The next few weeks will decide on whether the show will go ahead; the exhibition will probably take three months to put together and it might be a project for the group early next year, or a joint project between Helen and myself to be hosted at Fusion Arts, who appear to be positive about the idea.

On the Gallery wall

On the wall at the Artscape Gallery in the permanent art space at the Warneford are twelve of my images created as part of the memories project with the Echoes Group. I am very happy and somewhat proud that Artscape has put the work up and I saw them up for the first time today.

John

John

 

Peter and Graham

Peter and Graham

And further good news today is that Helen –  current project artist – and I have agreed to collaborate on an exhibition of the latest project which will likely be a mixed media show and, hopefully, a book of the current project which finishes next week with an exhibition of the work at the History of Science Museum, where it all started about three months ago.

 

 

Assignment two revisited

MemoryProject_prf2

My submission for assignment two – here – was limited to the extent by which I could post about it. I sent all the prints on a disc to my tutor who viewed them and returned them directly to me. This was done because the subjects were users of the Echoes Group – a dementia support group that I am a volunteer at (having received an honorary employment contract from the NHS and hence governed by their confidentiality clauses). After the end of the ‘Memories Project’ which I led as the lead artist there was some discussion about hanging the work created at the permanent art-space at the Warneford Hospital which hosts the group that I work with. It was decided to request authority and clearance from the users to be able to present the work and the attached pdf is the printers proof from my original files. The work will be hung in a couple of weeks for viewing to the general public. I am thrilled that it will be so, and I know the users will be similarly excited about seeing their work on display, I suspect we will all decamp there for a viewing in the not too distant future.

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.