Real World Nostalgia

It’s been there, at the back of my mind the whole time; the philosophy and culture of punk. Breaking away from structures, connecting with a community through individuality, and the process of making (DIY), were prominent parts of punk culture; aspects that also link to emotional well-being and art therapy. Punk fashion is also an excellent example of dress and clothing being used as a medium for storytelling. 

I started searching for things related to 70s punk and the philosophy behind punk culture, and came across an article about using elements from postmodern punk rock in art therapy – Creating a Culture of Connection: A Postmodern Punk Rock Approach to Art Therapy by Jessica Masino Drass. I have been wondering if the philosophy of 70s punk DIY culture could be a potential source of inspiration for my project, and I had a gut feeling that something like this must exist out there. The concept of ‘punk art therapy’ links to my previous ideas about using costume, clothing customisation, and performance as therapeutically expressive tools.  

I also saw a link between the embroidered jacket by Agnes Richter, created when she was a patient at German mental institution in the late 1700s, and the heavily customised jackets of the punk era. 

In a way one could perhaps say that punk was trying to express emotions in a  world that felt like the confinements of a mental institution with an uncertain future. Much like Agnes Richter and her embroidered jacket? 

 

And yes, the title is two Buzzcocks songs put together.

On art making and the desire to let go of structures

Yesterday I went to a ‘creative expressive art group’ organised by a recently graduated art therapist. The group is not art therapy although it is loosely based on the process used in art therapy. It’s meant to be a safe space where adults can tap into their creative side and forget about the business of the outside world.

Although I did of course engage with the creative process myself, I mainly observed how the event was structured and how the other people connected with the process.

Observing the seven others in the group, it became quite clear to me that they are all are looking for ways to deal with their individuality, emotions, and the surrounding world. The most valuable things I gained from yesterday’s experience were the stories the people shared during the evening; there was pain, uncertainty, childhood memories, and a strong desire to let go of structures. There was also clearly an interest in three-dimensionality and mixed-media, which suggests that there could be an interest for using a combination of different art forms as a therapeutic and self-reflective process.

I also noticed that if these people had been given more time to express themselves the process may have had a more intense and ‘healing’ impact on them. The expressive art making started at 6.40PM and ended at 7.30PM, leaving less than an hour for the creative process. And it was noticeable that everyone was just getting started.

For an expressive workshop like this to have a stronger impact I believe it would be important to have enough time for exploring, creating, and reflecting. I would also pay more attention to the overall atmosphere and perhaps include sensory elements, such as sound and smell, to stimulate and inspire the participants.

Yesterday’s experience made me circle back to ideas about a meditative and reflective workshop, process, or method that I had during my research for the Dream/Nightmare project and WWHI projects. 

Although there were plenty of materials to work with the expressive art group was still limited to drawing and painting, which links to my observation that most art therapy is very one-dimensional. In what ways could a broader range of artistic media and materials open up further possibilities and help the participants challenge boundaries? And how would the overall experience be affected by including the body and artefacts in the process?

 

Narrative

Some key thoughts and questions so far…

There is a strong link between mental well-being, forming meaningful affective connections, and engaging with emotions and the present moment. Stories and narratives connect us to and help us ‘make sense’ of the world, and thus one could argue that storytelling and narratives are crucial to our mental well-being.

People form affective connections between objects, moments, and other people through personal storytelling. Objects become part of our narrative identity and they can hold especially significant meaning in difficult times.

Observing someone else’s creative process instinctively connects the observer with the process at a subtle neural level (Franklin 2010, p. 161). Which means that including the viewer in the creative process can create a moment of empathy between the artist and the viewer.

Most art therapy forms seem to be quite one-dimensional, usually focusing on only one medium such as painting, sculpture, or drama.

How could artistic expression help people suffering from poor emotional well-being connect with themselves and their surroundings while also raising awareness about mental well-being in the general public by helping them empathise with the creator of the art? 

How could then co-creation between artists, people dealing with emotional distress, and the audience be used to create moments of self-reflection and empathy? 

How could fragments of peoples’ affective stories be turned into a narrative landscape with an immersive nature? 

What kind of therapeutic possibilities could combining several art forms in a self-reflective creative process open up? 

How could a combination of narrative creation and different creative mediums such as costume, performance, and photography be used in a therapeutic way? 

What could a therapeutic process of creating personal portraits and/or narratives with costume, objects, and performative elements look like? 

Or, how could creating personal symbols and narrative landscapes support affective well-being…?

‘Far more things nearly happen than happen…’

However, the following things did happen.

A few weeks ago I attended an event in ‘nearlyology’ at The Poetry Café. After the event I spoke with the Director, and some other people, from the Poetry Society about my research project, possibilities for collaboration, and emotional narratives in general. The Director said that they are happy to help me find useful contacts and provide space for events.

Last week the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Poetry Society emailed me two contacts that may be useful for my project. One is Chris Meade, a writer, who would be happy to talk to me about his research process for his PhD in digital writing and the book he wrote as part of his research. In addition to the written text, his book includes soundscapes, songs, reader-generated stories, artworks, workshops, and live performances. It redraws ‘the boundaries of a book to include the total experience of time spent in and around its story world (Meade 2018).’ As someone who is exploring different ways of creating and expressing narratives and collecting people’s affective stories, I think talking to him could be useful for my own research project.

The other contact is the supervisor at The Poetry Café, who is interested in helping me set up something for collecting stories from people about the affective connections they from with the surrounding world.

I have contacted The Poetry Café and Chris Meade and I’m waiting to hear back from them.

 

Meade, C. (2018) Nearlywriting Nearlyology - A practice based PhD incorporating what didn't quite: A novel of nearlyology by Chris and the Ifso. Available at: https://nearlyology.net/the-story-so-far/ (Accessed: 23 July 2018)

Pathological emotions

On Saturday I spent the afternoon at Bethlem Museum of the Mind. It was a fascinating and powerful visit and gave me plenty of new inspiration and knowledge.

Look closely and you’ll see why this is not an ordinary dress

A few thoughts I had while looking at their exhibition:

It’s bizarre to think that throughout history different types of constraint have been used to treat mental disorders when very often one of the symptoms is feeling trapped by the body, emotions, or thoughts.

How does one’s perception of an artwork change if they become aware that it was made by someone struggling with ill mental health?

There is a strong and curious relationship between mental disorders and the body…

A significant part of the brain is dedicated to the hands and to visual perception (Franklin 2010, p. 161).

I talked to two people who may be beneficial contacts for the development of my project. One was a psychologist from King’s College, who came up to me when she heard me talking about my project and wanted to know more so we ended up discussing the value of creativity and human connection. The other lady works at the museum and has a background in storytelling and objects. I got their contact details so we can meet up and discuss the topics further.

The visit made me realise that I may have been afraid to truly move outside my comfort zone. I think I’ve known which direction I want to take but this would mean coming face to face with other people’s distress as well as exposing my own vulnerability. This is not an easily accessible area outside my comfort zone…

At first, when I started thinking about mental wellbeing, I decided that I don’t even want to try to look at mental health because of all the ethical and moral aspects involved. So I decided to look at emotional wellbeing from a more everyday angle.

However, what I truly want to focus on and where I see a need and potential for more creative interventions, is mental ill health. There are people who will never really know how to cope with their own emotions and the world around them; people who feel too much and don’t know what to do with all those emotions they cannot find words for, people who will never quite feel like they belong but are constantly looking for someone who will understand their story. Art therapy has great potential as a therapeutic tool but still seems to be underutilised and quite one-dimensional. I’m certain there is much more room for exploring multi-disciplinary and immersive ways of using creativity and art as a therapeutic process. But what would this look like in practice and how could it be used to raise awareness and empathy for a topic that sadly still seems to be a taboo?

Franklin, M. (2010) 'Affect regulation, mirror neurons, and the third hand: formulating mindful empathic art interventions', Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 27(4), pp. 160-167. doi: 10.1080/07421656.2010.10129385

Not quite there, but almost..?

Yesterday I had a Skype call with my tutor. I told her I’m stuck in panic mode and not quite sure how to move forward. (Part of the reason is the heatwave, which seems to be draining me of energy; making me sluggish and distracted.) The main reason I am stuck is because I haven’t been successfully connecting with people who could give me more insight into arts and emotional well-being, so that I can develop my research question and start shaping some of the outlines of my project.  The issue is that my project is still in a bit of a confused state. It’s not ‘tangible’ enough and this makes it difficult for me to communicate successfully with stakeholders.

My tutor and I agreed that my project is not quite ‘cooked’ yet and that’s precisely why I am feeling stuck. I am at a stage where I have the ingredients and a few ideas on how to combine them but I need to figure out in which order to start placing them in the pot.

The issue I’m looking at is organic human connection, empathy, and emotional well-being. An important part of maintaining emotional well-being is connecting with other people, the surrounding world, and the present moment. All the research I have done so far links to the idea that through storytelling and empathy we form connections between our own emotions, other people, objects, and space. I’m interested in the roles the creative process and objects can play in the narrative of affective connections and well-being.

My tutor also recommended going to Bethlem Museum of the Mind, which houses a collection of archives and art related to mental illness. There are a couple of tours on tomorrow, so hopefully I will gain plenty of new information and inspiration.

Embroidered jacket created by Agnes Richter while in a mental institution. I have this image on a Pinterest board I created for the visual part of my research.

Connections

I created a survey in hopes of getting more primary research about how people connect affectively with the surrounding world.

https://goo.gl/forms/lfNUh3XGhkDWUzHB3

So far 42.1 % of the respondents don’t really feel connected with other people, 21.1% answered ‘not sure’, and 36.8% feel connected to other people ‘most of the time’.

When it comes to questions about connecting with their surroundings and their own emotions, and reflecting on these things over half replied ‘most of the time’. So far no one has said they don’t feel connected with their emotions.

When asked what the last artwork that had an emotional impact on the respondent most of the answers were related to music. What all of the answers to this question have in common is that they all include grand, powerful, or controversial elements.

Similarly, the responses to the question about what kinds of things make you connect with and reflect on the present moment, were mostly related to something that has a strong or unexpected impact on the person’s ‘state of consciousness’ in that moment.

In conclusion, the people who responded to these questions do not feel very connected with other people, however this does not seem to be related to a lack of self-reflection, or the desire or ability to connect affectively with the surrounding world. Things that have an affective and self-reflective impact on the respondents are intense, immersive, and unexpected.

 

I have also contacted experts, such as anthropologists and art therapists, but so far I have had an extremely low response rate to my emails.