Life has strife and grief beneath its sheath of growth and teeth of both an oath for truth and trembling youth that calls my path to alter. A sleuth would start to falter: I bolted from the halter revolting jolts with stilted faults when wilting vaults cast out The Stranger. Danger changed my manger. Arranged until deranged, estranged, exchanged a different wager. I disappeared. Steering clear appearing near a weary jeered asylum, sheared there and smeared with shame. Weird for years, drowned in tears, commandeered by fears, I veered through guards who charred and scarred my soul. And yet I persevered. Walking out one day the rays reclaimed my fate. A weight of hate was lifted. I shifted when the horses began to breathe a-near me. Rearing love and light a state of righteous passage. They heal the damage salvaging a voyage where flashbacks are not torturous but fortunate, nurturing, opening. I grope for this connection and feel it through the reins. His scope gives hope, we cope and reap, leaping to the sunrise. I have the bug. I will plug on and on. The drug that tags my soul says time is mine when e’er I ride. The horses are my company, accepting my incumbency professional redundancy and need to call them home. I’ve grown. They will support me, thoughtfully they’ve taught me a sport that ought to hold me. Boldly we go forward. Sold to them I pledge my core to wedge the raw and inner score, with more and more attention. Back now in contention.
The high that flies amidst the cries belies blue dried detention. I wretch and reach the mention. The sty my eye has tried to dye complies with stench of tension. The nerves before the soaring score reserved the floor's attention. I tore apart the heart of gore with and more prevention. Pouring prayers to anti-God the fodder was retention staring from detention an even store's ascension. Soon my time's pretension could grime the theme's prevention. At last my wry with tied up prey could stay and stall contention. The fray of grey and grovelling hay (my own and putrid venture) was quenching thirst and clenching (worst) the first and final denture. I mention this since, trenched with bliss, it hangs my whole adventure. The star was spent but won't relent and calls my better scent to vent, ferment, augment, prevent torment, inventing new retentions, with multiple dimensions.
The pulse of prāṇāyāma was a magical experience. Lots of people came and participated in both studios – the hot space for the yoga practice, and also the meditative space. The soundtrack of my heartbeat was momentous. I shall describe the whole day.
Firstly I went to Sainsburies to buy about 20 bags of fruit and 4 huge cartons of juice for participants to eat and drink. It was extremely heavy to carry 6 full shopping bags to the yoga centre. A workout! I put it in the kitchen and then took class. My organisation and setting up for the event did not begin until 3.30 so there was time for me to print out the press release and try to make myself look more presentable.
At 3.30pm precisely Theo and I began to set up the yoga studio. My big posters were placed on the doors of the building, outside the studio. I washed and prepared the fruit and juice. Theo fixed the technology for playing the sound in both studios so that they could both run at exactly the same time. I would press play when the people practicing had finished pranayama breathing, and the sound would be heard simultaneously in all areas of the yoga centre. I cleaned windows, we set up the space, and did odd jobs (not so odd, but normal setting up activities).
Then at 5.30pm people started to arrive. My friend Julia Johnson, our professional photographer for today, was one of the first, and she got out her camera and did some test shots. Soon the yoga practitioners turned up and prepared to start the class. Several people had never done Bikram yoga before. They wanted to come and practice because they were interested in my artwork. It was great that my art was attracting new people to the yoga centre, and I felt thrilled that they wanted to experience The pulse of prāṇāyāma. There were lots of familiar faces, also. Lots of friends rallying around to support my work. I was very grateful.
Then, at 6pm, we started. I went into the hot room and gave a short, spur-of-the-moment talk to introduce my project. Then Theo began to lead the practice. Meanwhile several people had entered the other studio and lied down on the mats and bolsters. They put eye pillows on and sank into the floor. I explained that the sound would not be played immediately because we had to wait until the yogis had finished the preliminary exercise of prāṇāyāma breathing.
Then it was time to start the sound. I pressed play. Boom boom boom! The sound kicked in. It was momentous, vigorous, powerful and compelling. I think I can say that, can’t I? I was ‘in charge’, so to speak, outside of both of the studios. People kept on arriving. Julia’s family came. So did my old doctor, the one who diagnosed me by analyzing my paintings. It was such a pleasure to see him and show him my work. I felt proud. He was thrilled to see me looking so well and it was amazing to be able to talk to him as a healthy woman, as an equal, rather than a sick and disabled patient.
People in the meditative space lay down and most seemed to fall asleep – fully absorbed by the artwork. This was exactly what I had hoped would happen. The hot space was viewable because we had left the glass door open. It was amazing to watch people practicing Bikram yoga – I have done it so many times but never watched it before. They practiced the same routine as normal, but with the soundtrack of my heartbeat. Their practice, and the oscillation of their own heartbeat, echoed the sound they were hearing. Sweat poured down their lithe bodies. It was so dramatic and powerful to see this happen.
Other people arrived. Julia took some amazing photographs. Time dissolved. Soon the end of the recording came upon us. I could not wait to hear the practitioners’ comments on their experience. They walked out of the hot studio with sweat pouring off their bodies, red cheeks, bright eyes and wet hair. Beaming.
I went to the kitchen to get some more juice and water. Then I spoke to people and was overjoyed at their reactions to The pulse of prāṇāyāma. Everyone thanked me. They thanked me for the experience I had set up and initiated. They thanked me for my artwork. They thanked me for my initiative, persistence and for what I had made and produced. Thanking me. That would not happen in a gallery. People don’t really thank artists for the experience that their art gives them, generally. This was a new kind of art. And a new kind of aesthetic experience.
The overall opinion was extremely appreciative and interested. This was a participatory kind of art. People had to contort their bodies and enter my installation. They themselves made it a performance – in both spaces. The resulting performance-installation was a collaboration – between me, Theo and Jennifer (in organizing it and putting it on at the yoga centre), and also between me and all of the people who experienced it and helped to make it happen by participating last night.
Some of the people who came out of the hot room were totally zoned out. They said they were overwhelmed and it had been such a powerful experience. They said they needed time to absorb it. There were things to say, but they couldn’t put them to words yet. Not whilst their hearts were still pounding as a result of the extreme physical workout, and their minds were still pounding as a result of the extreme ontological workout that The pulse of prāṇāyāma had initiated and nourished inside them.
Theo, in particular, said he was overwhelmed by his practice. He had lead the whole class – changing posture at the appropriate time (which I had worked out and written down for him. He also had a stopwatch so he knew when each posture ended and began). People were copying him. He said he needed a few days to decompress and respond to this transformative experience. It had been the most powerful session of Bikram yoga he had ever done, he said. I was extremely touched by this reaction to my art.
My friend Andrew also practiced the yoga. He also said that he had had a transformative experience. Taking the class with my heartbeat had made him think about life and existence. Several other people said that it had been a very moving active performance. They felt enlivened and touched by this participatory, extreme form of art.
My tutor from Anglia Ruskin, Veronique, came. She was a critic, assessing the exhibition for a module I am doing as part of my MA. She also seemed game to experience the art in itself, besides marking it, since she lay down in the meditative space for a long time and really immersed herself into the work. She also stayed to hear people’s reactions from the hot room, and wrote a lovely long comment in my comments book. I was grateful for her effort to come and experience my work, and I hope that she thinks that it was a successful site-specific exhibition. I hope I get a good mark.
But, besides and way beyond that, it was a successful event because everyone engaged with the installation-performance and came out of it with fascinating comments about their experiences whilst participating with it – in both of the 2 spaces. These experiences ranged from sinking into the vibrating floorboards and falling asleep, to meditating about existence, to feeling their own heartbeats follow, echo or differ from the recording.
Zeynep suggested I play it at other places. I should contact the yoga studios in London – perhaps Michelle at Fierce Grace? There is life for my heartbeat beyond its première at ETHOS. This is exciting. I certainly intend to engage with the same theme and technology for my MA major project at Anglia Ruskin.
I left a comment book on the table. After people had dried off and had a drink, they wrote down their thoughts in this book. We spent a while socializing in the studio. This was a dreamy time. I wasn’t tired, just absorbing the few remaining minutes of this wonderful event. I had an amazing time collaborating with the people who run the yoga studio. It was very different to showing work at a gallery. There were different concerns to deal with about organization – setting up the hot room for the yoga class, setting up the meditative space for the other part of the exhibition, and working out all the technology for playing the recording.
My audience – I mean, the participants – were mostly yogi-fanatics. But there were also some people who practiced in the hot room that have never done yoga before, and others who came to purely engage with the meditation. Participants were open-minded about considering their practice at this event as a work of art in itself. They appreciated my heartbeat as an installation artwork in itself, and they saw themselves as collaborating with this installation whilst they were performing in tandem with it. The consequent performance-installation was powerful and – for some – overwhelming.
There is much more to debrief, decompress, and take from The pulse of prāṇāyāma. It was a dream realized and made true. My truth. My heartbeat. As I said to the participants in my spur-of-the-moment one minute speech before it began, my aim as an artist is to ‘Seize hold of life’. This is a quote from Gilles Deleuze, whose Logic of Sensation guides my academic opus. I want to seize hold of life, but it is ever impossible to capture and will always run away, ahead of me. My art tries to express and sustain some part of this futural duration, so that I do not lose any further part of my existence. This aim comes from the time when I had total amnesia (after a chronic head injury and brain damage, from which I am now fully recovered) and lost everything. I’m trying to grasp hold of life so this never happens again. I realize that it is not possible to capture the essence (or any part) of existence. I can’t tie it down. Hopefully they won’t tie me down again. Let’s not tie anything down! But to express and sustain the glorious qualities the life presents, in its dazzling, synaesthetic beauty, is the point of being alive.
The pulse of prāṇāyāma is a recording of my heartbeat. I have it set. I can play it again. I will show it again. This does not tie down my heartbeat (so it can still keep on beating), but it means that a part of me has been chronicled and will remain beyond the singular event of this recording being played.
It presents, in part, something very personal – the noise of the motor that pumps my blood and feeds my organism. Turning this noise into a performance-installation has enabled me to express the rhythm and drive of my being. It is a tactile sound that beckons participants’ own hearts to correspond, until there is an equilibrium as everyone’s hearts beat together, in time to the exertive heat and exercise of Bikram yoga.
I should now criticize my exhibition. The meditative space was a bit cold. I should have bought more strawberries, and not so many tangerines.
But it is perhaps more useful to think about what I can do next with this artwork, and how will it influence my future works? I plan to record other sounds of the body, at rest, and in other forms of hot yoga (Fierce Grace, perhaps). I will contact other yoga studios in London and discuss the idea of taking The pulse of prāṇāyāma on tour and making other works around the same theme.For my MA Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin, I’m going to focus on the tactile quality of sound and make an installation which provides a tactile rather than purely sonic sensual experience. Sound that touches. This idea stems from the tactile hallucinations that I once experienced as a result of my brain injury. I want to reinterpret these psychotic incidents in a different light: reconstructive as opposed to destructive; nourishing and sublime, rather than punitive and desperate. I want to advocate an opportunity for touch that brings healing, new life and care. I hope to do this by engaging with recordings from the sound of my body functioning, and playing them at a low level bass, until they become tactile rather than purely auditory. These sounds touch the viewer, who enters and feels cocooned, held, softly hugged by this experience.
It would be great to show you the wonderful photographs that Julia Johnson took of the event. But I can’t yet — I’m waiting for permission from ETHOS. Here’s one of me, looking so content to have made art that touches people (one of my life aims):
Those who wish to practice will need to pay a nominal fee of a regular drop-in class at £15 (or free for ETHOS members):
The exhibition in the other studio is free for all but pre-booking by Thursday 8th May is required to provision for drinks and nibbles:
Prāṇāyāma is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the life force”. The pulse of prāṇāyāma is a performance-installation artwork which intends to capture this life force. It takes place in the hot room at the renowned ETHOS Hot Yoga Sports Studios in central Cambridge. The soundtrack of the installation is a recording of artist Lorna Collins’s heartbeat pounding with a constantly changing speed and volume, obtained from her own performance of practicing Bikram yoga. As each posture changes, so does the velocity and pitch of the heartbeat. The narrative of the whole recording follows the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises of Bikram yoga.
Mats are laid out in the studio. Participants can practice yoga during the installation, knowing when to change pose by following the change in tempo or volume of the heartbeat in the recording. The lights in the studio will change colour as each posture ends and the next one starts. Participants who do not wish to practice can still have an equally powerful experience, amplified in the heat of the room, by sinking into the mats and allowing their own heartbeat to synchronise with the recording. They have a beautiful chance to pause, lie down and absorb the vibrating force of the heartbeat. All participants then together create a very new kind of installation art, as the performance happens.
This performance-installation is a provocative piece of sound art. At times the noises on the recording of the heartbeat jar and are unrecognisable. Sometimes we hear Collins groan, as she pushes her body to the limit. The sound of (‘pranayama’) breathing in the beginning involves a warbling, as Collins sucks the air in and out of her throat. These sounds are strange and compelling. And then the heartbeat kicks in. It bangs on and on as the artist strains towards each posture, becoming so loud that it sounds as though the speakers are being spanked. This continues, and changes as she recovers and the postures advance. By the end the heartbeat has returned to its normal, steady rate. The whole piece is then a symphony, with 26 acts.
Making the link between hot yoga and performance art is an aesthetic innovation, whilst it confirms and advocates the medical benefits of practicing yoga and the meditative benefits of using this practice to make art. The recording could also be utilized to provide evidence of the cardiovascular benefits of Bikram yoga practice. This work also breaks new curatorial ground since it becomes an interactive installation which opens a new space for participants to feel their own bodies, whilst becoming saturated by the sound, rhythm and vibration of this artwork. Participants meet on the pulsating plane of prāṇāyāma that trembles and yet grasps us in this artwork – as the ineffable but here made sensual force of life.
When I see my reflection now
there is no vile rejection row
with putrid dire perfection vows
that only left me growls and blows.
Now I glow.
Gentle dimples rumple up
the flesh that sits upon my butt
and nourishes my face – a jut
that’s cut above the rut
since I can strut with guts
to skip across the sunshine.
Not whining of the smut I felt
but straining for the fit I get
the joy I jet
the toys I sweat
emitting pure redemption.
I quit the pit of darkness
and spit out threats of heartless
wrecks to pander whet effects
which nourish my true whole.
Flourishing with soul my goal
is strolling with audacity,
increasing my capacity,
thankful of my urge to forge
a reverence for surging
in this purely living body.
This is how I exist: my art feeds my life (not only furnishing it, but nourishing it), whilst my life depends upon my art (since it sets me free). The hardest thing about studying for an MA in Fine Art is that everything I produce is summatively or formatively assessed. There is ongoing and eternal judgement. So my art can’t set me free anymore (unless I achieve the mark I desire). And yet, it still does. This is because I utilise my art practice as a critical, sensuous, transformative and therapeutic method of material thinking. This is no longer confined to painting. I am experimenting in new mediums. Last term I made a 16mm analogue film, Touché. Now I am making sound art from the pulse of my heartbeat during 90 minutes of bikram yoga. This is going to be an installation piece. Next term, for my major project, I plan to create another installation — using sound that is amplified at a rate to make it tactile. I’m going to create a wall of sound.
Meanwhile I continue to try and boost my employability — ever hankering after that elusive job, in a a super-competitive market, with ongoing recession and funding problems meaning that it is almost impossible to find and make my career. I will to succeed (not necessarily confident enough to say that I will succeed, since I am so ambitious and I don’t know if I can ever achieve my dreams and goals, but I have desire, determination, persistence and pluck. I will — I have will (to power), which is a combination of hope and drive. This is directed towards my meta-need, which is that I need to feel needed. I can achieve this, I think, through finding a teaching job, establishing my career as a lecturer and a writer, and making art that really touches people. I would also like my art, my books and my words to help people who have experienced suffering. There is an ethos behind my entire research enterprise and my pedagogy as an arts educator.
Alongside the MA FA I am taking the PG Cert in Higher Education, to gain a qualification in teaching. I am also teaching part-time in the Art and Design department at Cambridge Regional College. My lectures and tutorials here concern the history of modern and postmodern art, with dabblings of contextual studies and theories from the philosophy of art thrown in to elucidate conundrums posed by conceptual or performance artists, the YBAs, or Dada (for example).
I have 2 books coming out this year, both with Bloomsbury. One is an edited volume, Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Visual Art (http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/deleuze-and-the-schizoanalysis-of-visual-art-9781472531131/) the other is a monograph inspired by ideas I began to develop my PhD, and from my deep understanding of the transformative, therapeutic and ethical effects that making an artwork can provide for us all. This book is called Making Sense: Art Practice and Transformative Therapeutics. So watch this space for launch parties!
I am looking for further teaching opportunities — in any field that has to do with art, art history, art theory, critical theory, aesthetics, philosophy of art, continental philosophy and/or modernist or contemporary French philosophy. I need to be observed as part of my PG Cert. and I want to expand my pedagogical experiences as a lecturer, tutor, supervisor or mentor.
I also want to help people who are suffering from eating disorders or other psychiatric illnesses. I want to show them how art can help us make sense of the world, and describe how making art can open a healthy way of managing life. Yoga also helps. I am a fanatic yogi. This is my performance art, and moving meditation. I am creating an artwork on this theme at the moment (from my heartbeat, as I mentioned above). Thus, as you can see, I have humanitarian aims as well as scholastic.
Ephemeral yet deeply felt
I tilt towards epiphany
when sounds can stink and touch my throat
remotely groping sanity.
Much of such rich synchrony
is wrinkling into symphony
of multiple personas.
“Disorder” springs and threatens me
when they snatch and take my freedom.
A wretch, now, I fetch the score
but will always-only fail.
My tale unrails the system,
when crystals crumble order.
Burdened here, I flounder,
ever standing under
the weight of wonder’s world.
Here surly, curled up toil
bars my route with tape
entwined around the nape
grinding up my neck.
I try to heckle faculties
that wreck my plans
and take my hope,
coping with ineptitude
(crudely stewed with blued-up mood)
that’s rudely reawakened.
Here I paint my universe,
its curses and reversals,
nursing all those plans that failed,
rerailed, rewound, and cast abound
so I had to start again.
My paint performs the consequence
and holds me ever after:
and crafting tents
that hint at lending starter-vents
which rent my tinted laughter
till it comes to graft new shafters
that support my thought
and hold its tautened rifts
until I find my voice.
Choice becomes permissible
through testing moistened icicles
as paint protrudes the surface-rules
and pokes right through my flesh.
A bush for meshed up messed up floss,
Glossy now, set free and tossed unto
the rostrum of a public view,
newly crude but stewed and glued
by stimulus for the senses.
There are spaces for their Interplay
where winter days’ sparse rays of daze
are gazing at the paintings’ phase
of blazing ingenuity
fluidly accessible if
one dares to grasp the oracle
and open up the eyes.
I have now finished editing my thesis-book and am ready to send it to Bloomsbury, for publication in the beginning of 2014. This means that I will have 2 books coming out next year, which should, I hope, increase my chances of setting one foot (of both) onto the ladder of finding my career as: 1. an arts educator; 2. an artist; 3. an art critic; 4. a critical theorist; 5. a poet. Hope that one of these avenues should finally work out in my favour is challenging, given the difficult atmosphere posed by trying to get a job (any job) in academia or the art world. Cuts, redundancies, apathy and immense competition for (very few) places means that having a PhD from Cambridge is not sufficient to secure my future by any means. My current work as an MA Fine Art student is thoroughly enjoyable and it confirms my love and need to practice as an artist and to teach in an arts school. It also confirms various premises that I theorised in my doctoral thesis, and which I refine in my forthcoming book. However, the MA Fine Art may not be the key to getting a job — either at Anglia Ruskin, or Cambridge Regional College, or any sort of art school (anywhere in the world) — as I had hoped. However, I will maintain my diligence and effort to try and sell my knowledge, skills, experience and passion for art. These factors may be running dry at present, when all my plans of action dissolve and have disappointing non-consequences, but I must retain my fighting spirit and keep at it.
FYI, here is my proposal for the latest job application — for a position as lecturer in sculpture/installation at Anglia Ruskin:
My teaching experience and knowledge of current trends in art (its practice, theory, history, education policy, criticism) develops from my career as an artist, writer and arts educator. This would be suitably directed towards the lectureship in Fine Art (Sculpture/Installation) at the Cambridge School of Art. My proficiency as an artist and a teacher begins from considering and applying every artistic act as an installation. I have shown my own installations across the world, and I have developed philosophical and practical understandings about this art form, as well as sculpture, painting, film and performance, which would enhance the syllabus and praxis developed for students at CSA.
I graduated from the University of Cambridge with a PhD in art theory, with a thesis that provoked and expanded art practice as a critical form of thinking and a transformative method of research. I’m currently working on 2 books that are due to be published early next year, with Bloomsbury. I decided to study for the MA Fine Art at CSA to increase my chances of securing a lectureship such as this one. I am flourishing here and it tempts my appetite for working in this kind of environment ever more. I have enrolled to study on the PG Cert Learning and Teaching (HE), which begins in January. Both the PG Cert and this lectureship are part-time; if I won the position I would then change my MA Fine Art to being part-time, in order to have sufficient time and resources to achieve a qualification in teaching, a qualification in Fine Art, and, most importantly, the lectureship I dream of undertaking. I am incredibly diligent, focused and hardworking, and excellent at multi-tasking and time management.
I was voted in as Course Rep for all the MA Fine Art/Printmaking students. This role has shown me how Anglia Ruskin University operates. I understand the student-focused ethos and the value placed on improving student satisfaction. I would focus on making the students’ learning a highly motivating, inspirational experience. I would do this by informing and stimulating the students in relation to theoretical issues alongside the practical needs of art (particularly in sculpture and installation, my chosen specialty), encouraging and animating talent and zeal, so that students can work together to create a dynamic, innovative and progressive department. My own work at CSA has taken place largely in collaboration with the 3D workshop, with Malcolm Evans and Alistair Burgass. My paintings are definitively sculptural (bursting into 3 dimensions); their exposition is an installation (opening a 4th dimension). My work in the 3D workshop, and my knowledge of how the machines operate, would put me in a good position for this lectureship.
My own research would make a significant contribution to the academic quality of research at CSA. My doctoral studies developed into a growing movement of thought, and series of annual colloquia, called ‘Making Sense’, which I founded in 2009. This lead me to organize and lead large-scale public events at the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, the Whitney Humanities Centre, Yale University, and The Metropolitan Museum, New York. These events were provocative and interactive installations of and for sense-making procedures. The different art theories, critical studies, media and practices that came about (as a result of my direction) continue to provide innovative and interactive source material. This could contribute to the research culture at CSA, particularly in light of its implications for the REF 2014, with such socially engaged artwork.
In this regard I am interested in how art can express, react to and transform social disturbances, collective traumas and group ‘norms’ associated with systematic violence. The mediums of installation and sculpture are particularly apposite to engage with these timely demands. My vision for this lectureship is concerned with the fabrication and distribution of knowledge, through learning and applying practical, tacit skills, and generating a reflective commentary, all the time engaging with three or more dimensions (through sculpture and installation, dimensions are endless).
From this background I have a proven record of achievement in international, cross-disciplinary and exceptional research. My aptitude for the position at CSA is also demonstrated by my teaching experiences in Paris and Cambridge, where I have developed my own syllabus, taught and examined research, masters and undergraduate work. I assessed students’ work, using both traditional methods of examination (such as marking essays, listening and oral comprehension tests) and also performative or creative expressions and interpretations of the different ideas and theories we covered in my classes.
The question I am asking is: should I include this chapter in my book, Making Sense: Art Practice and Transformative Therapeutics ? The content is a basic overview of what art therapy is and what it can do, which leads into laying down some case studies of particular examples of art therapy episodes, which I recount from my own experiences. This chapter is called ‘Making Sense inside the clinic: episodes of creative arts therapies’. In it I want to develop my central notion of transformative therapeutics and show how art can provide healing and relief in a clinical setting. I go on to questioning this setting, and sourcing a similar method of healing and relief outside the clinic, but before I get to that stage I need to set down a base understanding of what art therapy is. I could not think of a better example to use than my own experiences. But this is tricky territory, and I do not know whether I am taking too high a risk by including it in a largely academic volume. In my proposal (which was reviewed and accepted by Bloomsbury) I said that I was going to include vignettes of my own experiences of different kinds of art psychotherapy (painting, music, dance and movement, creative writing). Since I include narration of my own aesthetic experiences of viewing/making artworks, to also include a section on my using art to recover from illness is not so out of place. But what do you think? I want to make my book accessible to the public beyond academia, and to encourage and inspire my reader. But I also want to make it stand up to critique. Is that possible? Please read — it’s not a long chapter, and there are images…
Chapter 2. Making Sense Inside the Clinic: episodes of creative arts therapies
This short chapter is written in a different tone to the rest of the book and is based largely on personal reflections of my own experiences of different forms of creative arts therapies. I do not mean to digress into uncritical, merely self-reflexive anecdote, whilst it remains important to reserve a critical distance between these experiences and this book, which is largely an academic text. But I present them as (further) material evidence to demonstrate that art-making has the agency of transformative therapeutics, and I show how this can have a positive, clinical effect, specifically in relation to psychiatric illness. In this chapter the integration of my own case studies advances the thesis of transformative therapeutics by showing how art practice can relieve suffering and provide a coping mechanism in relation to psychiatric illness. This is situated in the clinical situation of a patient (in this case, myself) utilizing art during their admission in a psychiatric ward.
Thus I will here examine how the agency of transformative therapeutics, which is offered by art practice, occurs from a clinical perspective. By describing examples of different forms of creative arts therapies, I will show how making art in a clinical setting (during therapy groups in the psychiatric hospital) can be seen to alleviate forms of suffering and psychiatric illness. This will show how art is therapeutic, and transformative, in the way that the creative process communicates, brings to light and then alters inner feelings or emotions and problematic behavioural patterns or attitudes.
This chapter is split into two halves: firstly I lay a ground by defining art therapy, which will become useful in chapters 3 and 4. Secondly, I recount my experiences and consider how they open a method of Making Sense, inside the clinic. This will raise critical questions about the clinic, which are considered in later, more theoretical chapters. Here I wish to generate an empathic, psychological (rather than necessarily aesthetic or theoretical) sense of the ways that participating in creative arts therapies can help to relieve symptoms as they become manifested during periods of hospitalisation in the psychiatric clinic.
1. Defining art therapy
There are many different forms of art therapy, which conglomerate under the term of ‘creative arts therapies’. Examples of this term are different forms of psychotherapy that involve painting or drawing, dance and movement, music, creative writing, drama or sand play. The general term of ‘art therapy’ usually refers to sessions of painting and drawing images, or using clay, which I will define further. In the second section of this chapter I will also discuss other creative arts therapies, such as dance and movement and music therapy. To a large extent, the same principles apply across these different therapies.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses the creative process of art-making as a mode of communication between the therapist and patient. The clinical exercise of art therapy does not require any technical know-how or specific talent on the part of the patient, who is encouraged to express their feelings by using art materials in the safe environment of the art therapy studio. This space is often set apart from the ward in a psychiatric hospital, as a special place for art materials and where the patient can be creative, feel contained but also set free. Of course, art therapy also occurs outside of the psychiatric hospital, and outside of the clinical setting, but in this chapter I focus on its usage and merits inside the clinic. That being so, the art therapy studio itself seems to be a space outside (but inside) the clinical setting, because of the way it has special facilities for art-making and provides a haven for patients to go to, set apart from the usual rooms on the ward. It can in this way provide some form of relief from the (plausibly) hegemonic structure of time and space that often makes spending time on a psychiatric ward unbearable.
The overall aim of art therapy is to enable a patient to change and grow on a personal level through their use of art materials. A key factor in this process is the relation between the therapist and the patient, as mediated by the artworks (images, sculptures, or movements in dance, for example) that are made by the patient during the art therapy sessions. The art therapist is not concerned with making an aesthetic assessment of the patient’s products, nor are they necessarily trying to regard it diagnostically. The therapist uses the artwork as a method of communicating with their patient, since art therapy is based on the assumption that visual symbols and images are the most accessible and natural form of communication to the human experience. Patients are encouraged to visualize, and then create, the thoughts and emotions that they find difficult to talk about. In this way the artwork often expresses what is inexpressible in words. The ‘interpretation’ of this artwork, during its review, is a mutual conversation between the patient and therapist, which typically allows patients to gain insights into their feelings and work through these issues in a therapeutic manner.
The creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. The transformative therapeutics of art therapy is obtained through the phenomenological process of interacting with art materials and using them to create some kind of form that responds to what is on the patient’s mind. The consequent conversation and process of sense-making that the artwork prompts between the patient and those who see this work furthers its agency.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, art therapy has historically been seen as a useful method of interpreting symptoms of neuroses as they are manifested in the unconscious and drawn or painted in images by the patient. Freud discusses the drawings of Little Hans (1905) and in the case of ‘the wolfman’ (1916), which play a key role in the revealing, unravelling, understanding and integrating of repressed elements from the unconscious. The idea that dreams have meaning, which can be expressed and then interpreted through drawing images, has become one of the foundations of a psychoanalytic approach to art therapy. Freud writes: ‘we experience it [a dream] predominantly in visual images […] part of the difficulty of giving an account of dreams is due to our having to translate these images into words. “I could draw it,” a dreamer often says to us, “but I don’t know how to say it”’ (Freud 1916-17: 90). This idea, of drawing things that are impossible to put into words, provided the catalyst for the development of the different forms of creative arts therapies.
The therapeutic action of creative arts therapies can be understood from a psychodynamic model, where: ‘inner states are externalized or projected into the arts media, transformed in health-promoting ways and then re-internalized by the client’ (David Read Johnson 1998). In this reading of art therapy, the patient/client’s process of art-making involves the projection of aspects of the self onto the artworks that they create. As an ‘attributional’ process, the artwork then has a subjective or personal meaning. The psychodynamic model involves the concept of transformation, because this personal material, which is developed by artistic expression, is transferred and altered. This occurs with the externalization, representation and then expulsion of unwanted or painful aspects of the patient’s self, which occurs during the creative process. In this way, nonverbal expression through making an artwork involves the symbolic ‘acting out’ of inner feelings. Giving them some kind of form in the artwork made alleviates their emotional pain. The creative process, and its subsequent review, then leads to the patient developing insight into whatever is troubling them, whilst it also engenders verbal communication and plays a large part in initiating change.
We find a similar reading of art therapy in Schaverien’s work on Analytical Art Psychotherapy, which revolves around the concept of transference, whereby the art object transfers, holds, transforms and evokes attributes and states, causing growth and transformation for the person who makes this object (as we saw in Chapter 1). From Schaverien’s clinical perspective, the picture is ‘a vessel within which transformation may take place and this involves the picture as an object of transference’ (Schaverien 1992:7). Schaverien says that this happens through ‘a clearly defined treatment regime’, which involves the mediation of the patient’s experiences, through the creation of art object, and via the art therapist’s intervention, as it is takes place in a clinical setting (Schaverien 1995: 120). The picture that is made is not examined solely symptomatically or as a projection that illustrates a feeling; it is also ‘a formative element in the establishment of a conscious attitude to the contents of the unconscious mind’ (Schaverien 1992: 11-12). In this way, the artwork made in the context of an art therapy session is as transformative as it is therapeutic.
The transformative affect of art-making is generated when an internal, unconscious feeling is expressed and brought to light through the creative and material process of making the artwork. The manifestation and materialisation of elements in the unconscious contents of the self, during their expression in the artwork, develops a mode of thinking and a way of understanding that leads to transformation. The movement from unconscious pain to the emergence of conscious visualisation, separation and mediation, engenders healing, growth and change. It is a form of psychic epistemology, in that making produces an embodied and intuitive form of knowledge concerning what the artwork reveals about the person who created it. To some extent the fulfilment of this epistemology relies on the therapist’s surveillance, empathic response, and interpretative guidance in relation to the non-verbal communication vessel set up by the artwork. The therapist helps the patient put into words what they express in their artwork. This process develops insight and knowledge concerning their condition and state of mind.
This is a Jungian analytic psychology. Jung was interested in his patient’s images of dreams, fantasies and unconscious imaginings, because of their ‘endless and self-replenishing abundance of living creatures, a wealth beyond our fathoming’ (Jung 1946:14). He says that these images are impenetrable, and ‘are capable of infinite variation and can never be depotentiated. The only way to get at them in practice is to try to attain a conscious attitude which allows the unconscious to cooperate instead of being driven into opposition’ (Jung 1946: 14). The transitional process of delivering unconscious material into consciousness is what produces healing. The artwork acts as a ‘scapegoat transference’, whereby it splits off, changes and atones for the darkest elements of the patient’s psyche (Schaverien 1992: 30-61). In this way the patient’s use of art materials is an alchemical procedure: they mix and concoct different substances and apply them to a surface, until they are transformed into an artwork that may correspond to and then transform some aspect of the patient’s psyche.
We can see this in Schaverien’s psychoanalytic theory about the artwork as a ‘transactional object’, or an object through which negotiation (between the patient and therapist) takes place (Schaverien 1995: 121-140). Schaverien introduces the transactional object in relation to a case of anorexia in a male patient. She interprets anorexia as:
[…] an extreme form of denial of desire. The desire for food and so nourishment of the body is transformed, through a supreme effort of self-control, into abstinence. Desire pre-supposes an Other towards whom there is a movement; thus, it is to do with relationship. Anorexia is a turning away from the Other and, through a false sense of power, it is a movement away from life and towards death. (Schaverien 1995: 62)
The anorexic’s restriction of food is a method of ‘acting out’ unconscious and existential feelings, which are often to do with obsessive-compulsive fears of losing control, or strong emotions such as anger or shame. They control and restrict their intake of food to find a way to face the world and displace or repress these feelings, which have become too hard and painful to consciously express. It is possible to redirect this displacement and channel it through art materials. The creative act and the artwork that the patient makes then draws up the original feelings to consciousness, which begins the process of relieving them. Schaverien argues that the pictures that the anorexic patient creates act as temporary transactional objects, because they have the capacity to initiate a movement of unconscious feelings towards their becoming conscious and possibly transformed. As Schaverien says, ‘Art offers an alternative, a way of enacting and symbolising the inner conflict’ (Schaverien 1995: 133). In this way the anorexic’s restrictive or their ‘acting out’ with food, becomes an enactment, which brings this behaviour to consciousness. As a consequence, ‘The art process, mediated within the transference, may facilitate a journey from a relatively unconscious or undifferentiated state, through stages of concrete thinking, to the beginnings of separation’ (Schaverien 1995: 140). Once the patient is able to separate the elements of the unconscious that are causing them to have difficult and painful feelings, they are then able to move forwards with insight and grow a new healthy attitude and set of behaviours.
I will now think further about the growth and transformation that are made possible by engaging with different forms of creative arts therapies, in relation to my own case studies of suffering (and healing) from anorexia and schizoaffective disorder.
2. Case examples of creative arts therapies
We can see illustrations of a successful use of art therapy by looking at my own example of recovering from a complex psychiatric illness that was a combination of anorexia and schizoaffective disorder. Art was instrumental in the improvement of my psychotic and neurotic symptoms because of the way it enabled me to express myself and find a new language with which I could show and share my sense of the world. More than that, creating art provided me with a safe way of being in the present so that I could accept the here and now that has caused me such distress, and learn to grow away from the illness. Art helped me build a new life. This has developed, so now I paint every day and this practice helps me take stock of myself and my experiences of reality, as I learn to flow with the drips of paint and their swift connection with the present. My own experiences do not involve an actual art therapist anymore, since I practice my art independently, and whilst I was in hospital I usually worked on my own. But my practice was opened to me by a therapist, who encouraged me to dare to express myself, and opened a safe space where I could be creative. In this space I developed my art practice until it became a coping mechanism to help me deal with the symptoms that defined my illness.
I was detained in various psychiatric hospitals numerous times over a period of 12 years. During this time I suffered from anorexia, schizoaffective disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder – diagnoses that kept on changing as the doctors attempted to label, define and pin down an illness that was largely based on my acute hyper-sensitivity and neurological malfunction (as a result of a chronic brain injury. That’s another story.). This constant mis/re-diagnosis of the psychiatrists, and the structure of the system and the timetable in the clinic, was problematic. But participating in creative arts therapies proved to generate healing. During this time I would paint and write to relieve my suffering. I also participated in groups of dance and movement, music and song. These groups were facilitated by different therapists, and they all contributed to my being able to access some degree of transformation and therapy.
It might be possible to question the success of any of the art therapy groups I attended in the different clinics I spent time in, if my illness lasted over a decade and involved repeated relapses. Clearly art (therapy) has limits, and there were other important factors involved (such as medication) in my eventual recovery. But my experiences of different kinds of art therapy were and continue to be instrumental because they opened up a method by which I could later access the agency of transformative therapeutics from art practice, whether or not I was in a clinic or had access to an art therapist.
My own experiences of art therapy, when it took the form of painting, do not necessarily conform to the art therapy stereotype that was discussed in the first half of this chapter, since most of the painting art therapy groups I attended were largely undirected by the therapist, who did not interfere but allowed the patients to do as they pleased. There was no interpretive discussion or review about the meaning of my artworks. The therapist’s role seemed to be not to interrupt or direct me, but to provide an opening for my own self-discovery through the process of creativity. By laying out a multitude of different art materials and encouraging me to choose and play with whatever I felt like, the therapist was able to simply create a calm space where I could be myself, and pause there. Pausing with the self in a safe environment, and there being creative, was cathartic and healing because of the ways that I had the opportunity to give it some kind of form in the artwork I create. Responding intuitively to the tactile materiality of the paints, pastels, paper, and any other materials I could find (such as sand, wet concrete (from the building works going on in the ward), bark, or bubble wrap), I found that I could express my feelings in a way that brought me an embodied sense of satisfaction and pleasure. The art therapy studio was a safe place where I was able to bring form and living meaning to the pain and suffering that I felt.
My illness was about self-destruction. I had voices in my head telling me to destroy myself, and these strange tactile hallucinations that felt like I was being throttled with barbed wire . Sometimes I would paint or draw these feelings, and my doctor would interpret the image and then gain a greater understanding of my condition. He was then able to diagnose and medicate me accordingly. In this way my art became a clinical tool that was instrumental and transformative in my recovery from psychiatric illness.
Other times I would paint sheer gnashing (often dark) colours and agonising gestures, tearing the paper to pieces, bursting through the bounding contours of each page in my (broken) sketchpad. These works did not represent or symbolise anything, they were pure living energy from my (also broken) soul. Feeling the different materials’ textures through my fingers, and being able to apply them with digital mobility enabled me to stay still with my body and somehow feel connected to it. This was particularly important, since my problems with self-harm made it very difficult to inhabit my flesh. Art helped me sit still and focus, at a time when my body was so weak and wounded from malnutrition or self-mutilation that I was simply unable to concentrate or stay with myself.
Making art played a significant role in helping me recover from body dysmorphia, which is a symptom of anorexia where the patient has a heavily distorted self-image, and cannot see a true picture of their own body. A somatoform disorder, body dysmorphia manifests itself in extreme concern and preoccupation with a perceived defect of physical appearance. When I looked in the mirror I saw an obese, laden woman, whilst I was in fact severely underweight. What I was seeing did not in fact bear any resemblance to my true appearance.
But I was able to learn how to see my body by drawing myself. With the help of physiotherapist Patricia Caddy, who asked me to look at myself in the mirror and draw what I saw, I was able to identify the difference between what I thought I was seeing, and what was actually there. I looked at my body as I would do a still life, and tried to draw an accurate representation of it. This exercise enlightened my self-perception. Gradually my drawings decreased in size as my vision of myself became more realistic. Life drawing in this way opened my eyes.
When I learnt to see how underweight I was, it became more reasonable and justified to begin the very difficult process of gaining weight. It also helped me inhabit my body: the quiet, lengthy process of staring into a mirror and sketching my reflection slowly sharpened my perception as I learned how to see what was there. This was an embodied time and I began to feel a sense of desire to see my own, gendered form taking shape. Art enabled me to develop these new senses of my body; it was in this way transformative and therapeutic.
I also took part in dance and movement therapy during one of my admissions at a general psychiatric ward. This form of therapy recognises body movement as an evocative instrument of communication and expression. With similar aims and foundations to the art therapy I defined in the first section of this chapter, dance and movement therapy is a relational process in which patient/s and therapist engage together in a creative process that uses body movement and dance to integrate and embody emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of the self.
These sessions began by a group of fellow patients standing in a circle, when we were encouraged to think of a single gesture or movement that expressed how we were feeling at that moment. I felt locked in my head in my illness, and my body became my enemy – a war machine – because it was a place I could no longer inhabit and felt that I must destroy. So I stamped my feet and thrust a dagger to my chest, wailing at existence. Other patients curled up into a tight, foetal ball, or fled into a sprint around the room, or simply covered their eyes and sunk down onto their knees. In this single movement we got in touch with our bodies and managed to communicate our feelings to the other members of the group. This lead to a sense of inhabiting the body and feeling at one with it, whilst we were able to express ourselves through these simple movements.
During this group we were asked to create another simple movement and give it to another person in the room, by dancing our movement in front of them; whereupon this other person would watch, receive and repeat your movement and create a response, then giving their movement to another person in the group. This exercise would go around the room until everyone had expressed and shared their movements with the group as a whole. This sharing developed a sense of taking care and building support so that we were no longer alone with our bodies of suffering; we collaborated and found a sense of lightness and growth in the interconnection we made by dancing individually but together.
Then the group leader brought out some props – swathes of cloth, lace, silk and blown up florescent balls – and we were invited to choose one of these items to help us make another movement to express to the group. I chose a long silky cloth. I felt enamoured by touching it, pulling it through my hands and around my body. It was as though the material was asking me to hold it closely, and I found myself dancing around the room. My movements quickly became jagged and violently sharp, as anger burst forth and I wrapped the cloth around my neck several times, pulled it taut, and then fell down heavily onto my knees, as if this was the only way to break free. My theatre was tortured by the voices inside me that told me to destroy the beauty of these movements. But during this group I could give the violence of my movement and the cloth to someone else, and they received it and took it away from me. Then they did their own movement with the cloth and through this gesture my pain was instantly transformed into a new person’s own creative feelings. Not everyone danced with destructive pain, but there was visible catharsis to all of our movements. It was liberating to move the body to express ourselves, share pain or suffering, and feel it recede in the caring and collaboration of the group.
My experiences of music therapy are based around the way that music triggers memory. During groups of singing and percussion I found that I was able to remember words and tunes from my childhood. When the group leader asked if anyone had any songs they’d like to sing I kept quiet because I couldn’t remember any songs at all. I was only doing this group because I was bored, I thought, and there was nothing else to do, locked up in this awful psych ward. I don’t like singing and I’ve got an awful voice. But then the leader of the group began to twang her guitar and murmur through a few tunes and I found myself listening increasingly intently. I recognised some of the tunes and before I knew it I found myself singing. Words erupted from my mouth and I did not know where they had come from – I couldn’t remember the words, or I could not remember remembering them, but something brought it back to me and here I was singing them, heartily now. It was fun. This distracted me from my illness as – after a while – memories grew out from these songs to distinct senses of where I had actually encountered and sung them before. This was more than mere nostalgia, since I began to feel a sense of wholeness in my hole-y soul.
Other groups of music therapy I participated in used a range of instruments. One in particular was held in a large room full of different instruments and we were encouraged to choose whichever one we liked and begin to improvise. There were a lot of percussion pieces like drums, bells or African instruments that I had never seen before, and also a piano, a guitar, and some other more well-known instruments. The beauty of the group was the way that the leader conducted us to improvise together. At the beginning most of the participants were too scared and shy to dare to make much noise, but gradually we began to tinkle with sound. We created together a cacophony that was at times sheer, ugly, loud noise, which was awful to hear, but then this developed into peaceful tingling and a communal sense of rhythm, companionship and harmony. All this was entirely improvised, since we had no music. It was the group leader who held us all together, the sound that built this ‘together’, and there we shared a moment of freedom. This moment was beautiful.
These experiences of art therapy provided me with ways to inhabit my body during times of desperation and suffering. They enabled me to communicate and share my way of being with the other patients in the group and the therapist, which lightened the agonising load that I carried with my illness. Art therapy in the clinical setting was instrumental in my recovery, because of the ways that it set me free from my symptoms, whilst enabling me to express and understand them. Creating different forms of art during my detainment(s) evoked an agency of transformative therapeutics that enabled me to grow and fundamentally change my sense of self and the world.
This process continues. The artworks I make now still provide me with an agency of transformative therapeutics. But they do not seem to represent or project symbols or archetypal forms from my unconscious mind, and nor are they interpreted by a therapist. I am not using them to communicate with anyone but myself. If my artworks were interpreted now, unconscious elements might be deciphered in them, but the important thing for me is that they enable me to create and evoke powerful expressions of the multiple senses of reality that I experience, in pure swathes of colour (rather than any representative or figurative form). They are expressive rather than hermeneutic.
From these case studies we can see how cathartic and reparative creating art proves to be, to the extent that it provides a clear medical instrument to improve my state of mind, and my bodily awareness, in relation to (and beyond) psychiatric illness. I am able to express my emotions through my body. This alters my feelings and my relationship with my body. In this way creativity is to some extent a homeostatic procedure, which means that it has a regulating, stabilising mechanism that gives me a clearer view of myself. As neuro-psychoanalyst Lois Oppenheim argues, ‘the primary impulse of creativity is homeostatic inasmuch as creativity serves to augment self-awareness and it is on awareness of self that homeostasis depends’ (6). Oppenheim argues for a homeostasis that is as much biological or embodied as psychic, cultural and social. As we can see from the drawings I made in relation to my body dysmorphia, art-making changes the artist by giving them a clearer view of themselves. In this way the artwork activates a process of transformative therapeutics.
The examples of creative arts therapies described in this chapter seem a long away from the stereotypical understanding of psychoanalysis, of the patient reclining on a couch, along with their Oedipus Complex. There are clear differences between (art) psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, based around the idea that the former is about cognitive behavioural methods of solving problems and offering ways of managing symptoms, whilst the latter concerns self-discovery, or locating the ‘why’ that explains a certain behaviour, by conducting a genealogy of the unconscious mind. My experiences of creative arts therapies were in groups, rather than one-to-one sessions, and these groups were incorporated into the strict timetable of the daily routine on the ward. Other elements in this routine included eating, medication, physiological health tests, occupational therapies, case management meetings, and individual time with the psychiatrist or the key nurse that each patient was assigned to. Participating in creative arts therapies provided some relief and distraction during the intense stress that was involved in conforming to this timetable, being a part of the patient community, and in the agonising suffering that lead to this being necessary.
There were indeed problems raised by the power structure and division of time and occupation in the clinic, but the creative arts therapies were to a certain extent autonomous from these logistical, practical and psycho-philosophical issues. We will encounter Deleuze and Guattari’s contestation of the clinic in Chapter 3. Their antagonism towards the clinic is based on the (en)closure Freudian psychoanalysis, which (they argue) causes, rather than cures psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia. In this chapter we have seen how activities in the clinic, by participating in different creative arts therapies, have countered the problematic elements of clinical practice, by providing a place of healing for the patient. I will advance this hypothesis further in the following chapter, where I again turn to art therapy, specifically in relation to opening a schizoanalytic and ethical model that expands the ongoing thesis of transformative therapeutics.
 Whilst anorexia has already been defined, by Schaverien, schizoaffective disorder is a psychotic illness defined by hallucinations, delusions and depressive mood symptoms.
 See Patricia Caddy, ‘A pilot body image intervention programme for in-patients with eating disorders in an NHS setting’. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, April 2012, Vol 19, No 4 190-199.
Plastique Fantastique All the Fantasies of the People
Performance at Wysing Arts Centre, 31 August, 2013.
I went to Wysing Arts Centre’s festival ‘Space-Time: Convention T’ yesterday, keen to schmooze and network with some arty people from the East of England (such as Aid&Abet and OUTPOST) and in particular because I wanted to see Simon O’Sullivan and David Burrows’s performance as Plastique Fantastique. I wasn’t the only groupie, and there were plenty of PF’s followers present at Wysing.
Before the performance we gathered by the door of the ‘Black Box’ space, lured by the smell and smoke of incense sticks burning in the drain outside. The background noise was equally enticing: a pseudo-spiritual intonation which, I saw as I entered, came from the PF accomplices, who made up a cross between the percussion section of an orchestra and a pop group, twanging sound and making rhythm fill the box-like room. Visitors walked in and seeped up the different senses: this ritualized sound, the dim lighting in the room (which added to the atmosphere), the smell of incense, the taste (of viscous air solidified with incense, ingested by breathing it down the oesophagus. It’s rather like swallowing massage oil) and touch (this malleable thickness in the air, which chafed the skin).
Suddenly Simon, who was sitting down in the corner, stood up. He positioned himself in a prominent but lop-sided position in the performing area. Upright, a firm plank amidst the groovy air-molecules that wavered with the smoke, and dressed in black, Simon gave the impression of a sage who was about to speak his aphoristic opus. Of course, this was partially comical, and yet highly serious. And we were not disappointed.
David, his accomplice, immediately began to coat Simon’s embodied clothing and any revealing bits of skin with flour, followed by sticky dollops of honey, and then black glitter. Soon Simon’s entire body, his head, and his limbs were simultaneously blackened, coated with powder and thick swashes of honey, and also shimmering as the minimal lighting (set by John Cussans a collaborator who was carefully holding a torch) reflected on the glitter.
Thus warmed up, Simon began to speak. I did not understand everything he said, until he said There is not now and never has been anything to understand. Up to this point, I had missed that point. Here were All the Fantasies of the People. Simon pronounced (slowly) ideas that seemed to play and rejig the sense of capitalist consumer conventions with a schizophrenic, dare I even say (and remember, there isn’t anything to understand) polymorphic vision of reality. His speech was set alongside the backdrop of a video projection with images, characters and words that danced and moved in synchronicity (and, obviously, divergence) with Simon’s persuasive enunciation.
So what was it about? Clearly there was a scientific theoretical hypothesis occurring (rather than being represented) in this performance. Something to do with anti-signification and the gap between signs and things. But it would be boring and imperceptive to think that PF are primarily concerned with rupturing thought à la Deleuze et Guattari (or not). Indeed, as the heat was rising in the space, the air turned into a hazy fog (that was almost a smog) of burning, choky odour. Amidst the dim there was the occasional spark of light, which glistened off the crystals of glitter that David had plastered onto Simon’s skin (particularly on his face).
Although I was not quite sure what to make of this sensuous, visionary, experimental performance, it was deeply affective, serious and amusing. Towards the end the orchestra had transposed their spiritual intonation into very loud bangs. Soon the space was throbbing. Meanwhile, Simon stood as still and stiff as a post, continuing his mantra.
All The Fantasies of the People[!]
Subkast Koffke (or Starbucks)
By now Simon was shouting, even yelling. With all the banging, I could hardly hear what he was trying to say. I looked at his hands, holding his script – he was shaking. Such intensity.
I could see wrinkles on his forehead, from cracks in the black glitter and his tight grimace (frowning) as he spoke.
Faked up crystal energy for the coffee table
All hail to the great gobbah!!
Immense intensity – I began to have deeply tactile sensations as the sound, aura, smell, and smoke reached a crescendo and pummelled my sense organs. These were quasi-synaesthetic and palpable multi-sensuous experiences.
Simon by now was practically hyperventilating, although so calmly. He was in a trance. We were all in a trance. It was epic.
Then he reached the end of his speech. Two of his accomplices put a mask with wooden branches mask on Simon’s face, covering it entirely. We couldn’t see his face. In fact, we couldn’t see anyone’s face, since they were all wearing masks. This was clearly a theoretical position, on the one hand, in relation to Deleuze’s ideas about faciality and the probe-head. In brief, faciality is all about the signifiance, subjectification, coding and totalitarianism. It’s not a good thing. But a probe-head is ‘a living block’ that dismantles nasty faciality and opens ‘a rhizomatic realm of possibility effecting the potentialization of possible.’ I think the masks of PF, and particularly Simon’s one at the end, were all probe-heads, and they were supposed to set us all free (although, Simon’s had tree branches, which is an arborial (thus teleological) rather than rhyzomatic logic, surely)…
So, did they set us free?
The video then stopped and it said on the screen:
Someone opened the door, and we all went out to get some clean air, which was a relief, but also a disappointment. I wanted to see (and sense) more…
‘Plastique Fantastique is a mythopoetic fiction – an investigation of aesthetics, the sacred and politics – produced through comics, performances, text, installations and shrines and assemblages.’
Wysing Arts Centre provides alternative environments and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production, out of which emerges an ongoing programme of exhibitions, public events, family and schools activity.
Our large rural site near Cambridge includes a gallery, education and new media facilities, artists’ studios, project spaces and a 17th century farmhouse.
I have just returned from a week-long Bikram yoga retreat at Göcek, which is near the coast of Fethiye, in Turkey. This was a beautiful location — up in the mountains, where the crickets rattled maracas in the heat all day long, the sound of a male tenor voice signalling the call to prayer of Ramadan echoed through the valleys at 3am each morning, and the tinkling bells on the necks of goats rang out as the herd wandered across the dry dirt and sparse grass around the mountains. Meanwhile the heat was a duck-feathered wall that comforted, held and revived me. Reaching 39 degrees on one day, it was an excellent excuse to work hard on losing my pallor by (meditatively) lounging by the pool at the commune. But most of all, the Bikram yoga practice was magnificent. As Hasan said (in ‘Balancing Stick’): ‘Like a ‘T’ for Terrific, the Terrific Turkey Troupe, not a broken umbrella!’.
The renowned Bikram guru, Michelle Pernetta, was our leader. Her instruction and inspiration, in particular, was an enlightening experience. She also has a wicked, wry sense of humour that was constantly insightful, sometimes hysterically funny or satirical, and always witty. Here are some photographs, a poem about how my yoga practice felt at the peak of this retreat (during the final class, to music, with Michelle, on Sunday evening), and the plans I will take forward in response to the things I learnt during this epic holiday.
Michelle told me some very scary stories about how much harm my addiction to aspartamine and other sweeteners is doing to me. Did you know that sweeteners can cause brain seizures, and cannot be digested by the body, so they remain lodged in your gut?!
I also learned about different yogic practices, homeopathy, massage techniques and ‘ayurveda’ (I am a ‘Vata’ type, which means that I should eat certain types of food to regulate my basic constitution).
Most of all, it was a wonderful holiday. I learnt that I am taking too much medication. The caffeine detox (I decided to give up coffee, tea, diet coke and all sweeteners) left me so drowsy that it hurt to keep my eyes open, I felt dizzy some or most of the time, and my drishti blurred so it was harder to balance and maintain each posture. But I return to England feeling strong, energised, refreshed and enlightened. I have thrown away every product in my flat that contains any kind of sweetener. I return to the hot room tonight, at the 5 o’clock class in Cambridge (with my dearest comrades Jennifer and Theo, who (as Michelle said) have taught me so well). I will put to the test what I learned about how to practice from Michelle, and exercise my newly refined postures and extroverted, energised will to power.
I have been invited to submit a proposal for a transgressive-sounding interactive conference, organised by the artist/curatorial group ‘Life-Agency’ (established by Anna Clifford, Ciarán Wood and Miloslav Vorlíček). This conference will be held at the Barbican Centre, London, in August. It follows the theme of Life (Bildung) and aims to amplify multidisciplinary collaboration , creating experiments that encourage dialogue between otherwise disparate practices.
Life (Bildung) is a project composed of a series of 3 minute events – trailers – followed by 3 minutes of critical feedback. Artists, experts and practitioners will engage in a continuous dialogue, presenting a wide range of practices in quick succession. The project brings experts from multiple disciplines and specializations into contact not only with one another, but also into involved conversation with the audience, creating a non-hierarchical environment of exchange.
Here is my proposal:
I am a painter, poet and arts educator based in Cambridge, where I completed my PhD in French philosophy, as a Foundation scholar at Jesus College. My philosophical and artistic journey strives to ‘Make Sense’ of my existence, and source my embodied place in the world. This notion of ‘Making Sense’ is a vocation, activated and fuelled by art practice. By creating artworks (using colours, words, moving meditation, and experimental media) I find a method of sharing an essence of life with others and I build a community. Thence my solitary ‘I’ becomes a ‘We’, building into a group of artistic activists who gather to effect social change to source and express the zeitgeist of life itself. ‘Making Sense’ is a profound artistic movement, which is instigated through direct collaborations with individuals who come from diverse fields: artists, architects, psychologists, neurologists, people working in prisons, patients who have been detained in mental hospitals, farmers, and all those who use art as a proactive, sensuous discipline of reform. We meet, create and perform at annual colloquia, to produce a language and knowledge that is sensuous, invigorating, accessible and politically active. The events provide international, interdisciplinary and experimental moments of mutual creativity, empathy and meaning, during the sensuous activity of creating art and debating timely issues about the present. This aesthetic process reaches beyond the gatherings of each colloquium, and stretches into the working, daily lives of our participants. Making Sense becomes a way to live by using art to heal, connect with others, and find a meditative harmony that both makes life more possible and reveals its inherent beauty.
In this presentation I propose to introduce participants to my project of ‘Making Sense’ and conduct an experimental, collaborative dialogue that generates an unexpected, but inherently creative and multidisciplinary vocabulary of outcomes. I would instigate a spontaneous poetry performance, where each member of the audience invents either one word or one phrase each, and together we create a communal piece of literature and, in doing so, build a new fraternity of working together. As a lively form of collective psychography, a hyper-accelerated game of Surrealist automatic writing, an ‘Exquisite corpse’ poetry performance, individuals must spontaneously continue the poem and invent their own phrase to continue the stanza. We go around the lecture hall so that everyone has a turn, whilst I keep track of time. The locomotion of this exercise is impetuous and swift. The resultant poem, which we all compose and perform together, is surprising. It may be nonsensical, or at the edges of sense, whilst its creative process of manufacture provides a powerful agency that brings participants together and expresses a new mode of Making Sense. This 3-minute poetry performance will be impulsive and fast-paced. It will build into a discussion about what the unexpected outcomes of this conceptual and sensory exchange reveal about life in the present, and defining what form of zeitgeist we can all make and take from this collaborative experience.
I must remember my mantra: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. I just have to remind myself of this, every day. A DAY AT A TIME. I am sure many of my friends can relate to the trials and tribulations that such a journey — to believe, and realise possibility — faces.
A Making Sense colloquium
The morning after the night before! The day is upon us! Here we go! Bring it on! This morning I feel ultra-alive. I’ve just had a cold shower. Brrrrrr!! Now my heart goes ping, my mind does zing, and I’m brim full of joy to start the brand new day. Emotions are running high and there’s a lot of tension and pressure in the air. Xéna and I prepare provisions and material for our performance and direction of the day’s event. Ahem:
This year’s theme concerns how art can inspire, saturate and activate the different ways that we perceive the world. Do we have 5 senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste? Or 6? What about emotion, empathy, imagination, memory, and how we exist in time? We intend to experiment and expand our sense stimuli today, and build a collective interface that redefines how art stimulates us. Participants are not passive listeners, but invited to act out, perform and react with an active participation. Rather than listen, we invite you to collaborate. We will do this by offering performance, presentation, interactive workshop, exhibition, installation and dance in multiple dimensions. It is the participants’ job to activate and utilise the crescendo of insight that we are offering today, in order to build a creative and ground breaking method of understanding how art helps us to make sense of the world. We have a jam-packed day ahead, with no room for deviance. It’s going to be intense. I promise you’ll be knackered by the time we get to our colloquium dinner later. To kick things off we have curator, critic, artist Robert Storr, who is one of the most influential Americans in the art world. Dean of art at Yale since 2006, former curator at MOMA and director of the 2007 Venice Biennale, Storr is going to speak about the dynamic aesthetic experiences he created in Venice, under the rubric of ‘Think with the senses, feel with the mind, art in the present tense’.
Well, that was the plan. In the end I improvised my introduction, bumbled out something slightly irreverent/irrelevant, and then my hero took over (thank goodness). His presentation was immense. He talked about the opposition and binary between what is known as ‘Outsider art’ or ‘Art Brut’ and insider art, or art and culture intertwined in the academy, museum and art world. This is particularly relevant because Outsider art is given prominence at this year’s Biennale in Venice. Now, he said, Art Brut is defined by what it is not. It was termed as such by Dubuffet in 1951 as an anti-cultural position. To invigorate art is to de-culturate it, so it is untainted by culture. There is a purer state of creative need. And yet this supposedly anti-cultural group, who established Art Brut, was created and embraced by highly cultivated people who were embroiled in what they are reacting against. This is full of contradictions.
For me, Lorna (i.e. this is my thought, not necessarily Storr’s), the source and purpose of art is to found an interface between contradictions. A surface trajectory that paves a path between opposing phenomena, ideas or substances, which provides neutral, interactive contact with them both, offering a new way which is freedom and truth. Storr talked about art without a method, which is compelling for those who create it and compulsive to those who look at it. Art in spite of itself, helplessly created. Pure creative energy, if expressed without dilution or overlay, is preferable to the art made by those conscious of conventions in which they work.
More inspiring utterings continued. Storr discussed De Kooning’s figure drawings, done at a time of possession by psychological illness, and asked: is his art his art, if psychological illness is such an important factor and changed his work so much? There is diminishing control over his work, building a new understanding of art, and a new understanding of his (lack of) conscious self. Is it the mind who is master of the creative impulse, or a reflex eruption of creativity? In Storr’s opinion, there is always a method of judgment involved in (good) art. De Kooning and Pollock’s works, for example, look like whiplash spontaneity, a flair flare, when in fact they were very reflected. There is muscle memory, which disposes control over pressure or speed. It looks like it is improvised on the spot, when in fact it is automatic, and trained over and over again. Art Brut, or Outsider artists depend on automatic chance, whereas Insider art is programmatic. But this binary is false, since there is bleeding and interaction between chance and intention on both sides.
You choose the arbitrary in order to control the undetermined, but not to be arbitrary. If you have an impairment, you work around it. All artists are intelligent, self-conscious people. This was a somewhat controversial statement and lead into rumbling concerns regarding who or who is not an ‘artist’, and the binary split that remains between art made and exhibited inside or outside of the academy or (capitalist) art world. There are many different methods of artistic practice. In my mind, following Joseph Beuys, we are all artists, and I would not like to restrict the liberating possibilities of art practice according to a selective, judgmental hierarchy, whereby only a few ‘intelligent’, trained individuals qualify to make the grade. But this is not what Storr was trying to say. Everyone may be artists, everything may (potentially) be art, but there are different modalities, merits and failures of art.
There are different kinds of art, for different audiences. We all have an opinion, which is unique and perhaps contrary to another’s. At the colloquium these diverse opinions were raised – for example, in Storr’s and O’Cain’s talks, they think very differently about Richter, and there were other conflicting tastes, thoughts and views.
But this is one of the aims and intents of the Making Sense colloquia: to present a safe and proactive space whereby various dissimilar or unusual sentiments, attitudes and reactions can be expressed. Rather than imposing a hierarchy or dictating a certain view, resolving conflict, or offering timely resolution to arising oppositions, our purpose is to provide a platform for issues to be opened. Here is the opportunity to state your case, react to others, and think anew. Since the colloquium took place plenty of participants have indeed expressed their views, in an email exchange. Some of these views are revelatory, being gratified, inspired and stimulated by Making Sense; others are disgruntled, disappointed, with noses turned up at the problems they perceive from how we managed the day and its contents. This exchange is insightful. On the one hand it demonstrates the success of our venture, which is to provide an interactive and accessible forum for difference, and make multiple viewpoints and sensibilities accessible and possible; on the other it points out problems with the organization of the event, which we need to address.
Meanwhile, in response to an ongoing question that was raised throughout the day, I listened to my intuition: Who is an artist? The artist creates out of a necessity. I can’t do, or be, otherwise. Whether or not I have been trained or exhibited my work, inside the art world, I can call myself an artist because it encompasses, feeds and drives my passion and my vision for being in the world at all, after all, at last.
At the colloquium the second keynote speaker was Frank O’Cain, who presented after lunch. He was eloquent and a stimulating orator, surrounded by a swarm of followers, who came to kowtow in adoration from the Arts Students League.
O’Cain said: When I see great art it keeps me alive, it gives me purpose. The creator is the shaman of our time. He did a demonstration, which involved drawing the figure with charcoal on a large piece of watercolour paper. The line is a shaman, you become magic because you do it. All great art is built on space and light. Rembrandt understood the integrity of space. At this point I felt a bit diminished, since I’m not terribly good at figurative drawing (at all), and I disagree with the idea that this is the base for all artistic utterings. Surely there is more to understanding the world than figurative drawing! What about new media, or other ways to express synaesthetic and fractal dimensions, that won’t fit into form? O’Cain told us that Richter was ‘silly’, a ‘criminal’ who plays with ‘smears of paint’. This opinion was a direct contradistinction to Storr. How subjective.
And yet, surely this is the great gift of art: it allows everyone to have their own opinion, state it and differ with others. The artwork enables an interactive platform for this meeting place of different opinions. Such a platform is a surface plane, not for guerrilic conflict or destructive antagonism, but somewhere for debate, discussion, expression and creativity. This is why art is liberal and liberating.
Unfortunately there were technical difficulties at the lecture room we hired at The Met., which hampered Leon Tan’s otherwise profound, responsive and provoking presentation, in particular. In fact this video screening and talk, Making and Unmaking Sense, was powerful because of the way that Tan presented the clinical and ethical problems with pharmacology and the DSM. With his colleague, Virlani Hallberg, Leon based the talk on a screening of excerpts from Receding Triangular Square, in which habitual relations between moving image and sound are disrupted in order to facilitate seeing and hearing anew. In some ways the minor technical difficulties we were having aided this new method of seeing and hearing, since making sense in the gap between what we saw and what we could hear promoted a new and different mode of contact with the world.
Any problems which arose in the organisation of the event did not deter our overall game plan. By raising them the colloquium achieved one of its aims, which was to offer a space for debate and reaction to the ways that the art world and the real world (which is different) manages, dictates and markets a so-called (selective, hierarchical, binary, judgmental and punitive) ‘vision’ of what counts of and can be done with art, per se.
Before lunch was a treat: John and Annette Lee’s beautiful, fleshy roundtable Smell, Taste and Touch. They brought gustatory, olfactory and tactile offerings for us to chew, swallow, sniff and stroke. It was a breathtaking, simple, raw experience of country life, pure life in its elemental form. We guzzled all the crumbly biscuits, sniffed the herbs, fondled the leaves and twigs and enjoyed exercising our respective, often mal-stimulated sense organs. Such a calming and nourishing opportunity provided a sublime aesthetic experience that centered and restored the colloquium, reviving our spirits that had been feed, roused and disgruntled during the morning’s proceedings.
After lunch was O’Cain’s talk, and then two concurrent workshops. These were interactive and we all became collaborators in performances. I flitted around between the two of them, and enjoyed each tremendously. One (Terri Suess, Birgit Matzerath, and SYREN Modern Dance: Music, Dance, Draw!) involved a recital of poetry and a piano recording of some beautiful music, which the dancers responded to, improvising and floating into extraordinary, corporeal, graceful dimensions across the studio space. Participants were given some paper and coloured pastels, asked to sketch their reaction to such beautiful stimulus. I quickly scribbled some dashes of yellow and bounding lines in my notebook, feeling inspired by a sudden rush of energy that alighted from the interaction between the music, poetry and dancers.
Then I rushed into the other workshop (Jack Becker: Collaborative Labyrinth). This involved creating and then meandering meditatively through a labyrinth with sound-cancelling earphones in a completely dark room. Sensory deprivation. This was a very moving and compelling experience. Upon leaving the darkened room we had to write down three words on a Post-it Note. Mine were: lightening, thunder, prison. In more detail, I heard thunder in my head, that rumbles of those darkened times which shook me to my core. I saw flashes of lightening on the shells of my irises, and it felt like being constrained in a metaphysical prison. It frightened and compelled me.
My reaction to the rest of the colloquium was somewhat carnal and Joyce-an in its expansive, non-literal stream of consciousness:
Michael Delacruz’s presentation was an operetta with SYREN dancers, set against a skylight carving tones with space, moving clouds of taste, basking in the warmth of emanating strength with lengths of limbs that bring me forms that sing, tingling with sensations, long for intrepidation, decrepit torn out thorns of sadly groaned soliloquy, with darkened mourning shapes, restated and reborn, newly shorn. And the figures’ shadows paint through the light of the projection and paint movement and gesture on the video. I hear their breaths and feet sliding on the carpet as the bodies shift and mime in pain at war and sadness and in conflict amongst the wails and wilting flower heads. Instead they stroke the floor and heave in air. The energy is set in time a moan of Persian. Clapping rhythm, a children’s game in time to doge-al funeral chants. It’s meant to unrelent, cast pain, but then, create pure beauty and a consonance, an elegance, a community called freedom. Sound – video, colours, song, music, moving image, verse, tragedy, sincerity, fuzzy, blurred, pixated screen, water ripples. Three women dance. Separately but so together, a triptych. Touching the audience – so close, whilst their shadow touches the video image. Woe is thrown around the floor with grace that weeps at epic gates of judgment, hell, damnation on the edge of lamentation. What is lost and what lost there is emotion in the turmoil. Misery overcome, flowing, shedding tears and descending into darkness. And so: ‘preserve us unshaken in peace’.
How melancholic, but so powerful. This lead into a roundtable discussion, where we discussed ideas such as organizing a multi-sensual art fair, partnering with museums and arts organizations to bring experiential art lessons into schools, online and into the public space.
Soon it was time for the artists in residence and philosophers in residence to present their tokens, which provided a Making Sense of Making Sense and tied up the day. First off was the courageous Janice Perry. Before I knew what was happening I realized that she was stark naked! She’s taken off all her clothes! Now this was a political statement. Perry wished to bring back the body, and specifically the woman, into proceedings. She pointed out that the keynote speakers, and all the speakers, in fact, had focused on and applauded (or demised) male artists. No mention of female artists. What does it mean to be a feminist, and a woman, in the art world, in the world itself, today??? Are we still ignored or excluded? Perry wanted us to sit up and notice her, as a woman, a female artist. And queer as well. Certainly, this was a surprise. Although her body was actually hidden behind the lectern.
But she made a statement, raised a point, and in so doing utilized the powerful platform provided by the Making Sense colloquium. Here is the poem, of ‘aphorisms spewed out by the speakers throughout the day’, which she recited, in front of a backdrop video showing a Met. security guard walking down the hall looking at children’s self portraits:
Desperate fear is different
Backlash against intellectual rigour
Retreat to individual insight
(Make a) Conscious decision
(He’s) Playing a game with himself
Tearing apart the beauty of womanhood
The mind and the hand
It all happens at the same time
(It’s) Highly intellectualized
All of the above
Roll the dice
(Take a) Leap of the imagination
(To the) Psyche of the viewer
Remove the idea of the Artist
The thingness of things
(The) sound of sound
Anti-art does not abolish the complicated
(It’s the) Process of culture-making
Reset the point
I know his process, I saw the movie
You don’t want to become the author of the next locked position
Artists who didn’t produce any work of consequence
Executing an intention
Art makes the ordinary
The power of the ordinary
Art picked me
The psychology of local people
I accompany her when she does ceremonies
You can easily lose yourself
I heard a lot of nonsense today and I enjoyed it
Then it was our dancer in residence, Rachel Tess. Time for some more stream of consciousness rambling (it was an incredibly moving performance):
contorted angular shapes
clothes fold and fling
with abrasive sounds
molding time and breath
she shakes on line with
stretching shifts of bones
that slide and glide across
we come closer:
we come closer:
the dance is bigger and
I hear the heat
a feat embracing
tastes now racing
as the heart beats on time
to sing with every movement
rhymed the to to-gether
and futures never
of bones that mime
coming ever closer
soon we will
disbanding all inconsonance
singing in a circle
To sum up, philosophers Rita Peritore and Florian Forestier came from France to deliver their pensive reaction to the day. Rita talked about how sense is natural, in excess, and shared. As such it promotes justice. There is an explosion and opening of sense through the symbol and through speech. Our perception is the narrowing of a lens in amidst the flux that incorporates duration, a backlash against intellectual rigour.
I am now in the middle of Central Park, where Caroline Wendling is leading a meditative walk around or amongst the elements. It is raining, and drops blob onto my notebook, gently smudging these words I am writing. This is a peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful occasion. I get to inhale scents and see different colours. I stroke and crush a leaf with my fingers until it releases its smell, which seeps through my alert nasal glands and beckons comfort to contain me.
After Caroline’s wonderful, calming walk amidst the greens and light rainfall in Central Park, we went out to dinner. By now I was shattered, so this was fairly uneventful. So I made my way back to the apartment (via rain now pouring, wet feet, and losing patience waiting for a non-existent bus, an expired metro card and eventually resorting to a taxi (which I never do)), feeling ready for bed.
Now it is time to process what happened and the sense made at this year’s colloquium. It has raised a large degree of feedback, some applauding and very positive, inspired by the event, others feeling that it had failed to achieve its supposed aim of stimulating ‘the six senses of art’. This has been hard to hear at times, but the fact that the colloquium opened a space for all kinds of reactions is an achievement in itself. It was important – and difficult – to raise problems and questions. We can learn and grow from their statement.
This we intend and have already begun to do. Next year we hold our colloquium in New Delhi, India: Making Sense of Crisis: Art as Schizoanalysis. This will be an exhibition at KHOJ International Artists’ Association and a colloquium at the India International Center (IIC), New Delhi. The exhibition and colloquium will adopt the theme of art-making as a means of responding humanely and critically to social crises and traumas.
There is more processing, learning and action to be done. We have not finished thinking about the sense that was or was not made at this year’s colloquium. It was a powerful, moving experience. It has raised important questions and opened a space for debate, discussion and difference of opinion. In that way the colloquium engaged with and created an interface upon which reform, and freedom, become possible. This is the purpose, and truth, of art. Here the world makes sense.
Elated. Proud. Grateful. Hot. Powerful. Athletic. Happy. These words describe some of the things that I feel tonight, after completing the 30 day challenge of Bikram yoga, at Ethos Hot Yoga Sports Studio in Cambridge. This involved taking a 90-minute class of Bikram yoga every day for 30 days, in a room heated to a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The point of Bikram yoga, in my mind, is to stretch and build up your body’s utmost, supple capabilities; toning and stretching muscle memory; massaging and exercising your internal organs; and relaxing your mind so it can inhabit this body’s new, pristine state of prime poise with a performance that is ever seeking immaculate perfection. This end is never possible, but striving to contort and stretch the body towards it engenders a method of living that is energising, rejuvenating and purposeful.
My path on the 30-day challenge began way before the official Day One, and if truth be told I actually did about 40 days in a row, and sometimes twice in one day. I tend to overdo things, that is, I don’t do things by half. Being committed to practice every day without fail, and having my name on the board, was at first invigorating and it became exciting to mark a cross on the chart and compare progress with other competitors in the challenge. Since, peaceful relaxation aside, there is something inherently competitive about this challenge. This is probably one of the reasons I shone through it (born to try to win, although in this competition to win is to lay still in savasana, letting the body absorb the work and allow perturbing pensive ambulation to pass by, letting go). I mean, I didn’t ‘shine’ as such. Although I always position myself on the front row (as near the heaters as possible!!), I tend to fall out of the hardest poses and I often feel ashamed of my body’s clumsy ineptitude.
I felt tired, jaded and frustrated at times, throughout the challenge. One day I kept falling asleep every time I sat down on my sofa. It was hard work. But I found better food. I bought a blender and made what I christened as a ‘power food smoothie’ to up the protein: coconut water, chia seeds, blueberries, banana, matcha green tea powder, all whirled up – whirled my energy levels up, ready to work hard with my writing and painting, and work out even harder in the hot room!
And, the more I practiced the stronger I felt. My postures improved, and I gained energy and an inner power, which I tried to direct towards each of the gruelling tasks that Bikram presents. My body gathered muscle memory. I hadn’t noticed much of a change in my shape, although I know my weight has not changed. It has remained exactly the same. I’m proud of that, for I practice Bikram in order to retain my weight, rather than to lose it. I’ve gained muscle. Kate, a fellow Bikram fan, said to me today that I have ‘a body to die for’. I was shocked! And delighted. No one has ever said something like this to me before. ‘Be proud, go out in New York and flaunt it,’ she said.
For tomorrow morning I leave Cambridge and travel to New York to organise the Making Sense colloquium at The Metropolitan Museum. This event is one of the most momentous of my life. So my elation and triumph in the yoga studio is a great way to start this epic trip.
I’m grateful to the teachers at Ethos, especially Theo, Jennifer, Jaquie, and Hassan. Their help, support and patience has been inspiring and a gift. What next? I need to practice – especially on Awkward Pose, Standing Bow and Half Locus, and all the poses really. The more you practice the further you want to go, and the harder the end result (i.e. perfection) seems. But along the way my body improves, strengthens and becomes more inhabitable. Meanwhile, my mind is calm, and satiated by the moving meditation. I can sit still in savasana. (For a short while. I’m still always the first one who gets up at the end…)
Here is an outline of my revisions to the plan I propose for the book I am writing, which is based on my doctoral thesis. My proposal is currently being considered for publication with Bloomsbury, and has undergone rethinking my original work and including new material, following recommendations from the Readers who reviewed my original proposal (and previous comments from my unsuccessful application for publishing this book with Edinburgh University Press). But the point of Making Sense remains, I hope? Tell me what you think…
This book is divided into two halves: the first considers how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics in a clinical sense (that is, either inside or outside of the psychiatric clinic) and in terms of healing for the individual subject. The second part of the book considers how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics in a larger, social context, as a critical method of thinking and epistemology about the world we inhabit. Both of these viewpoints then define how art helps us to make sense of the world.
In the introduction I present the main terms I use throughout the book (sense, making sense and transformative therapeutics) and also my methodology for establishing my central thesis: how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics that helps us to make sense of the world. To establish the critical and practical position for Making Sense I pave a path between contemporary art practitioners and poststructuralist aesthetic theories through psychoanalysis. The aim for this project is to instigate a process of (and desire for) discovery and healing (or ‘transformative therapeutics’), which is applicable to the reader who connects with and learns about themselves and the world by engaging with the investigative and critical approach, through the agency of art practice, that forms and fuels the content of this book.
The introduction begins to develop an understanding of how we can use art as a method of healing and as a critical method of research (the two ways by which I define ‘transformative therapeutics’). Firstly this is considered in relation to the subject, and an individual’s healing, which can take place both inside and outside of the clinic. I begin by using specific cases of art psychotherapy, with examples where making art has been therapeutic in a clinical, psychiatric setting. I then consider the therapeutic agency of art practice outside the clinic, via Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of schizoanalysis, which destroys the clinic (although I question this) and open out how art practice can provide an agency of transformative therapeutics on a larger scale that can instigate social change. At this point I develop Making Sense through making art as a critical method of ‘material’ thinking that can provide a sense of politics, territory and a real epistemology, beyond the subject who performs the act of creating or viewing an artwork.
In the introduction I also define my position with regards to the suffering, illness, or pain, which art is said to alleviate, heal or cure. Defining cure does not involve a teleological (mis)understanding of progress, but a neurodiverse understanding of self-awareness, and a politics of care. I am not approaching cure from the viewpoint of a clinician (although I go through pharmaceutics in the final chapter). I do not want to impose psychological normativity. Here I engage with Lucille Holmes’ work on art and perversion, and build a schizoanalytic (rather than psychoanalytic) trajectory.
Part One: Transformative Therapeutics as Healing for the Individual
1. Making sense of transference: how art can nourish the senses
This chapter considers what happens when we interact with an artwork and asks the question: how and why does art affect us? The purpose of this question is to begin laying out how an artwork can stimulate the agency of transformative therapeutics, which is seen in this chapter through the ways that an aesthetic encounter ‘nourishes’ the senses. I interrogate the sensory experience of visual perception, which happens when we look at an artwork. This involves considering phenomenology (through structuralist and poststructuralist thinkers such as Bergson and Deleuze), neurobiology (through Barbara Stafford), and the judgement of taste (through François Cheng and Kant). By using the sensuous example of viewing and being affected by a selection of paintings by French neo-Romantic painter Jean-Bernard Chardel, I show how encountering an artwork can nourish the senses and in this way provide an agency of transformative therapeutics.
I then consider how making an artwork can nourish the senses. This involves examining the psychology of the process of art practice, and considering what happens when, say, we paint an image. I develop the concepts of transference and countertransference, through Joy Schaverien, to understand how an artwork can transfer, hold, transform and evoke attributes and states, causing growth and transformation for the person who makes this object, and for the viewer who encounters and perceives it. I consider the picture as a ‘scapegoat transference’ and a talisman. I then situate this as an agency of transformative therapeutics, particularly in relation to French photographer Jean Frémiot’s work with disadvantaged adolescents. Frémiot shows how making art can provide special attention, a new worldview, and, indeed, an ethics of taking care that nourishes the senses and creates a new mode of existing.
2. Making sense inside the clinic: episodes of art psychotherapy
In the second chapter I situate the agency of transformative therapeutics of art practice as it may take place inside the psychiatric setting of the clinic. This chapter is about art psychotherapy, which I introduce and describe how it can help people overcome difficulties, illness, and suffering. I do this by including vignettes of my own formal experiences of art therapy and psychoanalysis, showing how art practice involves desire and subjectivity, and leads to growth and transformation, with the influence of (and problematic dependence on) the art psychotherapist. This enables me to further consider and define the concepts of healing, growth, transference, subjectivity and desire. In theoretical terms I use Joy Shaverien (via Jung), Lucille Holmes (via Jacques Lacan) and Griselda Pollock (via Kristeva) to analyse my experiences of art therapy in terms of its clinical setting. This setting raises problems, and at the end of this chapter I question whether art’s agency of transformative therapeutics is dependent on the clinic. My critique here raises Deleuze and Guattari’s efforts to destroy the clinic and, in particular, psychoanalysis with their practice of schizoanalysis.
3. Making schizo sense: destroying the clinic
This chapter is about Deleuze and Guattari’s project of schizoanalysis, and the concepts of ‘counter-actualization’ (which is a synonym of healing) and the ‘desire machine’ (the motor and fuel of counter-actualization). Deleuze and Guattari’s intent with these ideas is to destroy the clinic, which they argue causes rather than cures psychiatric illnesses. In this chapter I define schizoanalysis, going through Freud, Klein and psychoanalysis, and Kant, questioning how this is a useful or applicable practice beyond its task to destroy Freud and the clinic. Schizoanalysis wishes to source ‘a place of healing’, or agency of transformative therapeutics, by engaging with the schizophrenic and liberating them from their clinical detainment. There are problems with Deleuze and Guattari’s argument for this position, with their dependence on (and exclusion of) the schizophrenics Artaud and Schreber. I raise these problems, and then use Deleuze’s morality in The Logic of Sense to resolve them and source the transformative therapeutics of art practice, using the example of the schizophrenic artist Adolf Wolfli, and the movement of Art Brut.
4. Making sense outside the clinic: Lacan’s sinthome
Now that we are outside the clinic I show how art can take the place of the analyst for the ethical treatment of the symptom. This chapter is about Lacan’s concept of the ‘sinthome’, which he raises in his work on James Joyce. I engage with another schizophrenic artist, Kyle Reynolds, who uses painting as a method of healing that has enabled him to evade hospitalisation and manage his psychosis for over a decade, outside of the clinic (and without any formal intervention of an assigned art psychotherapist). Lacan’s sinthome helps me to define how art practice makes sense outside the clinic. The inclusion and application of Lacanian theory is potentially problematic to Deleuze and Guattari (based around Lacan’s defining desire as a lack, whilst Deleuze and Guattari define desire as inherent production), although Guattari was trained by Lacan and his influence is still apparent in the schizoanalytic project. I use Zizeck here, to question and resolve the difficulties of juxtaposing Lacan with Deleuze and Guattari, and to continue building the independent agency of transformative therapeutics. I then utilise another example, from Brazilian psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik, who talks about how she initiated an episodic practice (and healing) of schizoanalysis, by the intervention of Deleuze, outside the clinic.
Half way through the book we are outside the clinic and can build, transfer and expand this agency of transformative therapeutics beyond providing care and healing for the individual subject. Now we can establish the transformative therapeutics of art practice as a critical method of research on a larger scale, which can instigate social change and help us make sense of the world at large.
Part Two: Transformative Therapeutics as a Critical Method of Thinking
5. Making sense of territory: the painting event
In the fifth chapter I propose art practice as a method of ‘material thinking’ (via Paul Carter), which is informative about how the world exists and is territorialized. In this chapter I examine art practice as a critical method of research and develop the concept of ‘the painting event’ to define the process of creating any artwork. I show how this process marks territory and, in so doing, provides a method of thinking (or practice as research) that offers a transformative therapeutics. I look into the movement of ‘Process art’ and Robert Morris’ ‘Anti-form’, to move our understanding of how an artwork has its affect away from the final object formed, and onto what might be achieved or provided, as a method of thinking in itself, during the process of its creation.
This chapter offers the dual perspective of the aesthetic (or the reception, consumption and reflection of artworks) and the artistic (or the production and the creation of artworks). Between both these perspectives lies a way of thinking about sense that helps us to think about territory and how we inhabit the world. Here transformative therapeutics is sourced from art practice as a method of thinking about and marking territory. In this chapter we use art to learn how we inhabit the world. We consider our place in the world through the process of making art. In this sense, meaning is practice-based and it provides an aesthetic ecology. I establish these ideas by utilising Simon O’Sullivan’s Deleuzian-inspired work on ‘geoaesthetics’, through the paintings of Caroline Rannersberger.
6. Making political sense: String Games
In Chapter 6 I consider how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics through the technology and politics of play. To start, I examine a new media performance-installation by the Canadian artist Vera Frenkel. During the creation of this work in 1974, String Games: Improvisations For Inter-City Video, there is a sharing of the sensible, an invention, improvisation and transmission of meaning, and a technology of play, which is how I demonstrate that the artwork makes political sense. Playing String Games provides inter-personal (and inter-state) healing that demonstrates topical social change. This is political sense.
During the event of this work Frenkel choreographed space, time and the senses through playing a game of cat’s cradle, via inter-city video, between two rival cities in Canada. I show how the process and installation of this performance makes substantial insight through its political sense: we learn how to improvise language, with its gaps for expressing the dissensus and difference of identity, and create a holistic sense of space that forms a ‘community of sense’. In this way Frenkel’s artwork provides a transformative therapeutics and a political community for its participants. The work is set in relation to the capitalist monopoly of the medium, governed by Sony’s overbearing control with this elementary form of ‘Skype’, and also in the economic rivalry between the two cities, Toronto and Montréal, which Frenkel here engages diplomatically, on each side of String Games.
I use Rancière’s notion of the ‘partage du sensible’, or the ‘distribution of the sensible’ to consider the boundaries of our active participation and place within the world. Rancière helps me think about what is fundamentally at stake in Frenkel’s art performance, seeing its political sense as a sharing of the sensible and in terms of its technics – the technology of the game and of the inter-city video facility. I then show how such a technics provides transformative therapeutics, which demonstrates how this artwork offers a Making Sense of, and in, the world. The point is to find a method and way of thinking that helps us understand and extend the emancipatory potential and transformative, therapeutic power that can be gained from the political sense of Frenkel’s work.
Donna Haraway’s work on playing string games becomes a useful way of thinking about politics and the primacy of technology and game-play in our definition of politics. In all these cases I develop how the artwork offers an affective therapeutics and transformative sense about the world. The psychology (and transformative therapeutics) of play involves Joy Schaverien’s work on Sand Play and helps us understand the political sense and opportunities for transformation provided by playing and performing String Games.
7. Making sense at the limit
In this chapter I show how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics as a method of palliation, mourning, and ‘being in the present’. Firstly, I consider how an artwork can offer us an intimate sense of the ineffable threshold of existence, or an experience at the edge of our existence, at the limit of what is real. Secondly, I demonstrate how the process of making an artwork can provide a form of therapeutic palliation, as the capacity to enable a method of ‘being in the present’ in relation to this limit. By examining an encounter with Sophie Calle’s installation Couldn’t Capture Death, Calle’s artistic process, and then turning to American video-installation artist Bill Viola (who also works on the threshold), through the aesthetic theory of Jean-Luc Nancy, this chapter aims to develop the ongoing hypothesis that engaging with art can provide the transformative therapeutics that defines our Making Sense of the world.
In theoretical terms this chapter aims to open and develop the dimensions of Nancy’s aesthetic theory on how an encounter with an artwork presents the ‘threshold of existence’, and also how an artwork provides a ‘technique of the present’. With critical reference to Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and by examining the enclosed space and aura of works by Calle and Viola, set in Robert Storr’s curation of the 2007 Venice Biennale, this chapter thinks about how encountering these works provides a poignant sense of our finitude during and beyond their event in Venice. We gain a sense of how an encounter might provide a making sense of the world at the limit, our limit. Then I open this discussion onto how the process of making these artworks provides an ethos and technique of existing, or ‘being in the present’, by using direct interviews with Calle and Viola, and developing a discussion about technology through Jean-Luc Nancy and Heidegger. I also utilise the psychoanalytic theory of Darian Leader, which considers art in relation to mourning and the mother figure, and helps us to understand the transformative power and therapeutic sense of Calle and Viola’s works. We discover how art practice can provide transformative therapeutics in the way that it offers a way of life, and here conclude with Foucault’s hypothesis of seeing the artwork as a ‘technique of the self’.
8. Making sense with the Pharma
In this chapter I use the term ‘Pharma’ to account for pharmaceutics and the drug industry, and also the ‘pharmakon’, which is a dual sided concept that can indicate both a poison and a cure. Sourcing the curative pole of the pharmakon is the object of this chapter. Stiegler partakes in this search in his What makes life worth living: Pharmacology. The title of this book captures the extent of our situation: Stiegler says that the misery of the present (the ‘disenchantment of the world’) has led us to lose the sentiment to exist, and now we just don’t know why life is worth living. This situation introduces our need for the curative pole of the pharmakon.
The search for cure leads me through Winnicott and Schaverien on the transitional object. Winnicott shows us how we can use an artwork to supply a resource for re-enchantment and the curative situation of the pharmakon. We see how art uses creativity and play to define meaning, sense and healing.
Winnicott’s psychanalysis raises the clinical setting and leads us to consider the role that pharmaceutics has to play in the search for a cure. Although, by now in the narrative of the book, we are supposedly outside the clinic, healing and therapeutics might seem to rely to some extent on the drug industry, which can resolve the ‘chemical imbalances’ that are said to cause some mental illnesses. Here I consider whether, as Stiegler argues, the use of psychiatric drugs is amplified to make people functional members of the workforce, so that ‘normality’ is controlled or manipulated by capitalism and consumption (via Stiegler, and also Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma). This continues my critical questioning of psychological normativity, healing and cure. I use Stiegler’s pharmakon to build a politics of care, Taking Care, which employs a neurodiverse perspective that is fuelled (again) by art practice as a sensuous, hands-on process of transformative therapeutics. In relation to this pharmaceutics are still necessary and important, although controversial and problematic. Making Sense has limitations: it can’t replace drugs, but it can still occur outside the clinic, independent of the professional, and be applicable for everyone.
Conclusion: Making Sense of the World
In this book we have developed an understanding of how an artwork can have an affect on us, and we have been through different kinds of art psychotherapy that provides healing, psychological self-awareness and growth. We have then located therapy outside of the clinic, and our agency of transformative therapeutics has extended beyond the individual case examples to provide a critical method of thinking about society that can affect the world at large. At the end we question the remaining disenchantment of the world, and the influence and dependence on the drug industry, which pose limitations to Making Sense. But we have still located and begun to understand how art practice can provide both a method of being in the world, understanding it, and an agency of transformative therapeutics that is applicable to all.
The purpose of this book is to inspire and stimulate this accessibility and encourage the reader to experiment with art practice as research and locate this agency. The proof of its potential to offer a way of being in and transforming the world that is universally accessible depends on continued stimulation and experimentation, which is an on-going, nascent inquiry that extends beyond the confinement of this book.
My conclusion is that we are all artists and we can all access and stimulate the desired-for growth and transformation that is provided by art practice. At this point my book launches a new and equally-accessible aesthetico-therapeutic paradigm. Here the world Makes Sense.