Torned pockets and a missing button

There was a sense of melancholia during the workshop on Wednesday. Past memories and forgotten feelings were brought back to a present space through the ‘practice of poetry’, and during the post-workshop discussion there was a mix of excitement, sadness, and relief.

I held my first official workshop, This is not a Dress, with a group of eight at the Poetry Café. Overall the event seems to have been a success that resulted in self-reflection and unexpected observations. Most of the participants discovered something different and said they thoroughly enjoyed the process.

The group was mainly comprised of people who are familiar with creative writing; seven out of eight participants use poetry to express themselves on a regular basis. The majority of the participants found out about the workshop through my collaborator Alice Hiller. It was interesting to see how each individual responded to the topic and although they are experienced writers, the process still led them into unexplored and unexpected territories.

Most of the people brought an item of clothing with them, as instructed. Three participants, however, did not bring anything and only had a mental image of a specific item. Based on my observations and the participants’ own reflections, not having the physical item did have an impact on the overall experience and outcome; a sense of distance remained during the process. The process was experienced as more intense and beneficial by the participants who had brought the item with them. This illustrates the importance of the visual and tangible elements, especially during the main deconstructive process.

Only one person expressed that their item was directly linked to a person and their absence – as opposed to the first informal test workshop where everyone brought an item that was associated with bereavement. However, two participants discovered feelings of loss during the visual deconstructive process although their items were not at first considered to be connected with loss. For one of them an open buttonhole and missing button had a ‘potent effect’ and made them think of the ‘absence of an old lover’. Although most items were not explicitly connected with absence, a theme of abstract loss could be read between the lines; past events, forgotten identities, invasion of personal space, and a desire to bring back elements or make sense of that are long gone.

One person chose not to share much at all about the garment (which is stored in a box in the US), the emotions linked to it, or the workshop outcomes. However, afterwards she thanked me personally and said she thoroughly enjoyed the process and that she wishes she would have had the item with her.

During the closing discussion there were a couple of accounts that clearly show the self-reflective possibilities this method and process has. They said the process had made them ‘really sad’ but that they were ‘quite happy to be sad’. They did not write anything during the deconstructive exercise and mentioned that: ‘as a few of you know I write loads in workshops’. his participant had entered a state of intense self-reflection and said about his thoughts: ‘I’m just willing to let that be there and see what happens…’

Information during the workshop was collected by observation and field notes, audio recordings of the discussions, and interview forms filled out by the participants. Regarding the question ‘Did you discover anything new about your relationship to the item, your relationships to other people, or yourself?’ Six out of seven participants who filled out the post-interview form said yes. One participant found it ‘interesting’ how the ‘reflections revealed more about their emotional state at the time they wore it than about the object itself’. An observation that suggests they were perhaps surprised by the evocative properties of the object. Another participant did not feel that the activities did not make them connect with the garment more deeply and intensely than before and wrote that the experience was different but ‘still felt a bit superficial’ and that perhaps they ‘needed to go away, think, and come back?’ This may be an indication of the participant’s willingness to let go and explore their emotions, but it may also illustrate how important it is to leave space for the reflective process. During the first workshop the idea is to let emotions and associations flow freely; to embrace the wild and chaotic of your emotions and subconscious. The raw material that comes out of it can then be reflected on and discovered in different ways and to allow this process to happen as naturally as possible it is important to leave sufficient space between the raw material and the creative process; exploring the wild takes time and patience…

The second part of the workshop will be on Monday 5 November at the Poetry Café.

 

 

Pain, love and the ritual of creative expression

‘Pain is love, love is pain. 

And it’s out of pain that I create. 

…In my life I’ve turned my biggest heartaches into songs.’  – Lykke Li(WeTransfer, 2018)

In the process of becoming a mother and simultaneously losing people who were close to her, Lykke Li was also losing herself ‘as a woman and as an artist’ and that she felt like she needed ‘to start all over again (WeTransfer, 2018).’ Losing something or someone important to us, is not only about the physical and practical – the literal empty space – it also affects our identity; in the process of loss we lose parts of who we are, and we may need to find ways to recreate parts of ourselves and adjust to the now empty space.

‘Love is pain, pain is love. And it is out of pain that I’m reborn.’  – Lykke Li(WeTransfer, 2018)

These words by singer-songwriter Lykke Li can be linked back to a paragraph in a previous post about self-portraits and therapeutic photography, where I briefly discuss the ‘healing power’ of art referencing Cristina Nunez (2013) and agreeing with her that difficult emotions are the raw material of art. Tragedy and pain has fuelled many creative works throughout history (Langh, 2018). The concept of pain and raw emotions being a starting point for creativity and rebirth are also echoed in the philosophy of alchemy, as mentioned in the previous post. During a creative process, such as the one Lykke Li is describing, something complex and dark is strengthened through a careful process that results in a ‘purification’ or ‘rebirth’.

 

Resources

Langh, H. (2018) 'The photograph and self-therapy', Magical fragments: emotional objects as a source for self-reflective storytelling, 24 August. Available at: http://henrica.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2018/08/24/the-photograph-and-self-therapy/ (Accessed: 19 October 2018)

Nunez, C. (2013) The self-portrait as self-therapy, in Loewenthal, D. (ed.) Phototherapy and therapeutic photography in a digital age. East Sussex: Routledge, pp. 95-105

WeTransfer (2018) We Transfer Presents Work In Progress: Lykke Li. Available at: https://wepresent.wetransfer.com/story/work-in-progress-episode-3-lykke-li/ (Accessed: 19 October 2018)

Emotional alchemy

 

‘Everything comes from the One and returns to the One, by the One, for the One.’ (Klossowski de Rola, 1973, p. 14)

 

Alchemy is commonly known as a form chemistry of the Middle Ages that was mainly concerned with transmutation of matter, such as base metals into gold (Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2018). However, researchers such as Stanislas Klossowski de Rola have for decades argued that this is a much too simplistic view of the subject, stating that alchemy is a much more complex system which is understood only through careful examination. The secret science of alchemy conceals ‘the means of penetrating the very secrets of Nature, Life and Death’ (Klossowski de Rola, 1973). In other words alchemy was/is concerned with philosophical ideas and questions and is strongly linked to ritual and magical thinking. The Oxford Dictionary (2018) also defines alchemy as a ‘seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.’

Earlier during my research process I briefly touched on the topic of alchemy because of its close relationship with ritual, magic, and transformation. I also used alchemical illustrations as inspiration to define and structure the main subject areas and core of my research.

I have now returned to alchemy as a means to illustrate the deconstructive workshop process. Because the workshop method is somewhat complex and I am in the process of defining the mechanics of it, I decided to clarify the structure through illustration. Drawing inspiration from alchemy I created the following illustration, which shows the different stages and elements of the process. This also prompted me to read more in depth about the secret life of alchemy and I ended up finding several ideas and concepts that reflect the core ideas of the workshop method.

 

 

In the words of Stanislas Klossowski de Rola (1973) true alchemy, ‘fashions a most precious thing’ out of ‘a small quantity of vile matter’ (p. 13). Similarly, the deconstructive workshop method has the potential to take, not necessarily always or only vile, but raw and complex emotions and through a creative process turn them into something ‘precious’ for the participant.

The quote at the beginning refers to a loop of creation or symbol of eternity and is what the snake or dragon Ouroboros represents while biting its own tail (Klossowski de Rola, 1973). This quote places itself perfectly within the workshop process as the journey is about the individual; everything, the raw material, comes from the participant and returns to the participant in an altered form through a creative process. Furthermore, the process is done by the participant for the participant.

In alchemy, the practitioner has to overcome the obstacles and difficulties of an intricate process that culminates in the production of the Philosopher’s Stone (Klossowski de Rola, 1973). This is the so-called stone that has the property of transmuting basic matter into something precious. During the deconstructive workshop the idea is for the participant to go through a complex process of investigating feelings and identifying and editing different elements before arriving at a poetic outcome.

 

Creative deconstruction

As a result of the latest intervention and my concerns about the accuracy of the ending of my research question, I have edited the question in a way that is (finally) starting to reflect the research core and the information obtained through interventions.

How can creative deconstruction of emotional objects inspire self-reflection and affective empowerment?

I have been struggling to find the right wording for the part of the question that describes the purpose, and after talking to one of my tutors and psychologist Kelly Scott-James, I have re-worded the ending in way that describes the potential objectives of the research without entering territory in which I lack expertise. I was never pleased with the concept of ‘positive change’ as this is highly subjective and not necessarily the aim of my current research. I have wanted to avoid words such as ‘therapeutic’ and ‘mental well-being’ for the same reasons, and because I consider these to be terms which require more expert feedback than I can currently incorporate in my project.

As a result of the workshop method I am developing, I chose to narrow down the idea of creative storytelling into creative deconstruction because this is the concept and technique behind the workshop process; through a process of deconstruction the participants turn an item of clothing into a written piece that reflects the feelings and memories associated with the item.

Prompted by a discussion with one of my tutors and through further secondary research I also realised I need to rethink the use of the words ‘affect’ and ’emotion’. Although often used synonymously, it is important to distinguish between these the two terms. A task that can become confusing not only because of the wide range of terms involved and a history of debate around exactly how to distinguish between them, but also because of what they mean in the first place (Flatley, 2008; Lord, 2016). Trying to further define the two terms did make me more confused, and it seems there are many views on how these two words should be used. The online Psychology Dictionary (Nugent, 2013) defines ‘affect’ as the act of feeling a sentiment spanning from distress to extreme joy’,  ‘affective’ as something ‘with regard to sentiment or feelings’, and ’emotion’ as the complex reaction pattern that involves experiential, behavioural, and physiological elements.’

Further research shows that most sources will define affect as something general that resists being signified whereas emotion is seen as something personal that holds a symbolic link. Affect can be regarded as something that lies on a continuum from undifferentiated and differentiated, with positive or negative feelings being examples of undifferentiated affect and specific emotions being examples of differentiated affect (Ortony, 2009).

My question can shift depending on how detailed my definition of affect and emotion is and which direction I choose when distinguishing between the two terms. Drawing on the Psychology Dictionary’s and a few other sources’, such as Ortony (2009), Fredrickson (2001), and Lord (2016), broader definitions, and the fact that personal objects often are associated with an array of different feelings – both positive and negative – I have decided to define affect as a ‘superordinate term for different feelings that have one out of two values’ and emotions as ‘complex patterns of subjective phenomena’. Therefore I choose to use the term ’emotional objects’ in my research question to reflect the complex nature of objects associated with memories and feelings.

 

Resources

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001) ‘The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions.’ in The American Psychologist, 56(3), pp. 218–226. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122271/ (Accessed: 16 October 2018)

Lord, N. (2016) Thing Theory, Material Culture, and Object-Oriented Ontology Movement in the Motif: Semblances and Affective Criticism’ in Transformations: Journal of Media and Culture, 27, http://www.transformationsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Lord_Transformations27.pdf (Accessed: 13 October 2018)

Nugent, P. (2013) Psychology Dictionary. Available at: https://psychologydictionary.org (Accessed: 16 October 2018)

Ortony A. (2009) 'Affect and Emotions in Intelligent Agents: Why and How?' in Tao J. and Tan T. (ed.) Affective Information Processing. London: Springer doi: 10.1007/978-1-84800-306-4_2

 

 

 

Poetic closure

During the informal testing of my workshop method (latest intervention), the participants and I concluded that the process has to be broken up in two parts because of its emotionally intense nature. It is also beneficial for the reflective and creative process to leave some space for the participants to process the raw material extracted during the first part before attempting to shape it into a story.

Yesterday I tested the second part of the workshop with one of the participants from the informal test group. This gave me the opportunity to test the activities and structure of the second part, and my workshop participant the chance to continue with the emotional and creative process she had started. Because this method so far has shown it can bring unconscious thoughts to surface, it is important the participants are offered an opportunity to bring the process to an end.

The structure I had initially planned for the second part worked well, and the participant told me it felt like a very natural process and that she would not have wanted to do things in a different order. We started by reading some poetry to set the mood, after which we discussed and reflected on the material discovered during the first workshop – my workshop participant told me she had lately been sleeping in her garment as a result and as part of the process. After a conversation about relationships, identity, and the ethereal nature of memories, we immersed ourselves in a jumble of words by using different creative methods and started shaping a poetic interpretation from the raw material.

After a while my workshop participant stopped the creative tasks and said ‘I’m done.’ with a smile on her face. She then told me how liberating and amazing it felt to have put all these feelings she had been struggling to define into a creative process with a poetic outcome. Even though the emotions are still chaotic, she now has a new sense of control over them. With the help of the workshop she has both let go and held on to emotions and memories that until now had been difficult to process.

The evidence from the first part of the test workshop and yesterday’s events, show that the method I am developing has significant transformative and self-reflective properties, which supports my research question and shows there is potential for further exploration. And, like my workshop participant said, if it works for one person, it will likely also work for others.

Personally, I could not be more pleased. I want my project to have meaningful impact, rather than create brief moments of curiosity or pleasant feelings; even if it is only among a handful of stakeholders.

Methods

Somewhat to my surprise – and as a result of secondary research, intervention testing, and personal artistic experiments – my most recent intervention ended up becoming a workshop method. 

During the development of this method I found a book called Opening up the Wardrobe: a methods book, which helped me realise I have developed a new method from scratch that could potentially be applied to a number of research areas and/or stakeholders. For example, my workshop collaborator Alice is interested in testing it with people who express themselves through drag.

Opening up the wardrobe covers a range of different methods used for exploring the contents and experiences of wardrobes. Most of them however, look at clothing and wardrobe behaviours mainly from a materialistic and aesthetic point of view. Even when there are self-reflective and emotional elements included, the premise is to examine and influence the behaviours of people as users and consumers, rather than agents of their own narratives.

Opening up the Wardrobe shows each method in form of a set of questions about its background and applications. After reading the methods that were most closely linked to my research topic, I decided to apply the same questions to my own method as I thought it might be useful for clarifying the structure and potential applications.

Below is my method explained through the questions asked in Opening up the Wardrobe: a methods book.

 

Where did you get the inspiration from?

The method is based on a complex structure of interdisciplinary research and artistic exploration. The main inspiration comes from concepts within phototherapy, Barthes’ ideas about the Punctum and ‘essence’ of the photograph, and poetry as a tool for emotional storytelling and healing.

What aspect/question/entity does your method explore?

How affective objects can be used to trigger creative and self-reflective storytelling, how subconscious emotions can be accessed by deeper investigation of memories and emotions associated with a specific item of clothing, and how the participants benefit from this process.

How do you go about using your method?

The method is realised in a workshop format with a group of no more than 10 people. Due to its emotionally strenuous nature, the workshop is designed in two parts. For the first session, each participant is asked to bring with them an item of clothing that they have an affective connection with. The clothing and its affective associations are then explored through an investigative process that combines written, tactile, and visual elements. The raw material discovered during the self-reflective process, which starts during the first workshop and continues afterwards, is then used to create a written piece that represents the feelings found embedded within the piece of clothing.

How is your method different to others?

This method differs from other ones mainly because of its deeply investigative nature, with potential to reach previously ‘untought’ thoughts. I am not aware of any other methods that use a combination of photography and poetry to explore the affective and mnemonic properties of a specific item of clothing. I am also not aware of any therapeutic methods that use this approach.

In your experience, what insight does this method generate?

This approach can give both the participants and the researcher valuable insight about the affective lives of clothing and the transformative potential of exploring them, as well as facilitate new discoveries about individual identities and relationships with other people. The method can also offer insight into the creative process in general.

How have you used the data your method produces?

The method has informed the development of my MA research and my PhD proposal. It will be a useful tool in identifying target groups and potential applications for my research.

 

References

Fletcher, K. and Grimstad Klepp, I. ed. (2017) Opening up 
the Wardrobe: a methods book. Bollington: Novus Press

Exploring emotional narratives through clothing: a workshop

The date has been set for the official workshop, and it will be 24 October (2.30-5.30 at The Poetry Café in Covent Garden). This workshop will give me a chance to test my research thesis and the idea of ‘affective archaeology’ with a larger group. The event is open to everyone over 18 because I want to see what type of people the workshop attracts and if there will be any patterns or linking theme among the narratives shared during the afternoon. The group is limited to 10 people due to the sensitive nature of the process and based on Alice’s previous experience with poetry workshops, and because a smaller group is also better in terms of observing change and finding new knowledge for my research.

https://poetrysociety.org.uk/event/this-is-not-a-dress-exploring-emotional-narratives-through-clothing/

Would you like to investigate the feelings and memories 
your clothing holds through a creative storytelling process, and find the poetry that is stitched along the seams? 

Come join a two-part workshop designed for poetical exploration of clothing and discover your personal narrative in a new way. During the first session we will extract the raw 
material from the clothing, while the second workshop 
(optional) focuses on turning your personal findings into a story. The workshop is part of designer/artist Henrica 
Langh’s MA research and is being realised in collaboration with writer/poet Alice Hiller.

My collaborating partner, Alice, has shared the link with some of her poetry contacts. She told me there has been ‘lots of positive feedback’ regarding the workshop, and five people have already registered so we are off to a good start. 

'Dear Poets

I'm going to be collaborating with Henrica Langh at 2.30 on 24 of October at the Poetry Café on a free workshop working with clothes and memories. I'm facilitating the writing processes and Henrica is leading the workshop.   We have trialled one together already and I got an interesting poem afterwards from the material that came out of it.

For those of you who came to the Stanza Bonanza - Henrica did the performance art piece around a meeting that may or may not have been a meeting. She wore a black dress and had long auburn hair. It comes out of research for Henrica's MA. Henrica is also a fashion designer and performance artist. I'm interested in developing it to work with people who express alternative identities through drag at a later stage.'  - quoted with permission from Alice Hiller

P.S. I have also created a new blog, which will act as a more official record of my research, because I did not want to link the event page to my learning log.