About being there

Testing my workshop method and planning the final presentation of the collected evidence has made me circle back to some of the resources I used earlier this year.

When I was reflecting on my project and deciding which aspects to pull out for the final presentation, I decided to re-watch Marina Abramovic’s Ted talk about performance art, vulnerability, and the impact and place of her own work in our current fast-paced society.

The connection between Marina Abramovic’s work – what likely also attracted me to include her work in my research – and my project is the idea of creating moments of self-reflection where individuals can connect with them selves and be truly present in the experience. As Marina Abramovic says when she talks about the her work in a contemporary context, there is a need for ‘people to actually experience something different’ (Abramovic, 2015). When I started my research, I did not set out to create something that people would find ‘nice’ or ‘interesting’, I wanted to offer people a chance to truly experience something; strong emotions, new thoughts, something different.

Abramovic (2015) says that the art of performance is ‘all about being there, in the real time’ and that performance is something you can’t rehearse.  Performance is about creating moments and experiences. What matters is the process and sometimes transformation that the performer and the participant go through. In a similar way – through active participation and discussions – the deconstruction workshop can result in small individual performances; moments where people perform by sharing their story in front themselves and the group.

In her talk, Marina Abramovic also mentions how she regards immaterial art such as music and performance the highest forms of art. Although I am not entirely convinced the question about what good art is can be answered this easily, her statement does say something about what the essence of art is: process and experience. And it is through process and experience that the transformational power of art and creativity becomes accessible.

As a result of her performance ‘The Artist is Present‘ at the museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010, an idea for an institute that seeks to blur the line between the performer and the public and invites the viewer to engage with immaterial works, was born. With the institute and a method she has developed as a result of her work she aims to explore the roles of artist and viewer. Similarly, my method seeks to explore the relationship between creator, process, and outcome by questioning the role of things such as subject, medium, and product.

Based on feedback and observations from my workshop method interventions, it is clear that the method needs more structure and that the tasks need ritualistic elements; participants will benefit from having specific instructions. Some further questions to be explored then, could be: How can the process be developed with other types of media and practices, such as drawing, repetition, and meditative elements. How can time/space within and between the tasks add value to the process of self-reflection and creativity? And where does performance happen during the process?

 

From ordinary to extraordinary: workshop iteration

‘The thing is to learn from your own art because it is much farther along than you are.’ (Marina Abramovic quoted in Richards, 2010, p. 68)

Prompted by reflections on the feedback from the second part of the deconstruction workshop, I decided to revisit some of my research from as far back as end of Unit 1. The second session of the workshop did not engage the participants as much as the first one, and although this was partly because these participants were familiar with activities that focus on writing, it did help me think about ways in which the second part could be made more interactive and how the overall workshop could be further developed.

I am fully aware that the workshop is only a very first version and needs much more development. Because the main objective of the  workshop is to explore individual narratives and engage with the creative process as an activity that derives purpose from within itself, it would be beneficial to include as many different sensory experiences as possible and to bring ritualistic elements into the process.

This brings me back to the research I did on the philosophy behind Marina Abramovic’s work during the first phase of my research.  A big part of Abramovic’s work is informed by ritual and ancient spiritual practices, which has resulted in a whole range of different exercises used for meditation, reflection, and creative energy. Her purifying rituals take a holistic approach to making and according to Abramovic, it is only by preparation of the mind and body that a true receptiveness and responsiveness to the flow needed for the creative process can be obtained (Richards, 2010).

During Unit 1, when I started working on shaping my final project, my first ideas for an intervention where that of a creative ritual. The idea was to create a workshop that comprised three different stages: stillness, making, and performance. The current workshop method does already partly draw on these three themes, however, prompted by the latest test of the workshop I am now returning to these ideas more in depth. The workshop method could benefit significantly from more ritualistic and meditative elements, both because it has potential to enhance the experience of creative flow and because it can help with the emotionally triggering topics that arise. Taking into account observations made after the visual deconstruction during the first part of the workshop, I would confidently say that a meditative exercise before and after would be beneficial for the individual process. Drawing attention to stillness could also help some participants let go of a goal-oriented focus, making it easier for them to engage with the process for the sake of the process.

‘…you go through the ritual and you’re not the same after; you learn and become different.’ (Marina Abramovic, 2016)

I am going to trace my steps back and explore some of the concepts Marina Abramovic uses in her method, such as ‘the power of repetition’ and ‘making the ordinary extraordinary’, and read more about the philosophy and inspiration behind the Abramovic institute and method.

I am also hoping to schedule a small session with a couple of MA students from Central Saint Martins to test an iterated version of the workshop method during this month.

 

Resources

Marina Abramovic in Brazil: the space in between (2016) Directed by Marco Del Fiol [Film]. Brazil: ELO Company

Richards, M. (2010) Marina Abramovic. New York: Routledge

 

‘Not an easy place to go to.’ (Workshop part II)

Yesterday I held the second part of the workshop at the Poetry Café. In terms of creative flow and new discoveries for the participants there was a little resistance and the atmosphere was not as enthusiastic as during the first workshop. However when it comes to the research and intervention development it was a very informative and valuable experience.

There may have been many reasons for the lack of creative flow but some of it was a lack of structured exercises and specific guidance; the participants felt they needed more instructions. I was aware that the second part was not as structured as the first part and that this needed to be addressed, but yesterday’s session gave me valuable insight into exactly how I might want to go about doing this.

Out of the eight participants who attended the first session only four could make it to the second, all of whom are poets. Because they engage in poetry and creative writing regularly, it may be more difficult for them to see the process from a different perspective to the one they are used to; the focus remains on the subject – in this case the clothing – the final outcome combined with the purpose of the outcome. People who did not bring an item with them or who did not engage fully in the visual deconstructive task, struggled with the second part of the workshop. This could be because the raw material created during the first part of the workshop lacks chaos and emotional substance. The process is partly about letting go and the deconstructive exercise is where ‘unthought thoughts’ may emerge. 

The workshop is intended as an autotelic activity; the process is the outcome and the material is created by the participant for the participant. However, to facilitate this a readiness to let go and embrace the chaos is needed and the process needs to move away from a linear perspective. Poems are not created like they are read, and when a readerly perspective is applied to poetry it can result in a predictable and sequential process (Davidson and Fraser, 2006). Further referencing Davidson and Fraser: ‘Readerly points of view tend to be product-oriented, forcing the premature creation of an artefact.’ In their article on poetry in Teaching Creative Writing (2006), Davidson and Fraser quote Stafford (1978) who argues for the importance of an intuitive approach to poetry which requires taking risks, allowing for mistakes, and essentially ‘writing poorly’. This will allow for a creation of a ‘palette of colours’ much like the one a painter will work with (Davidson and Fraser, 2006). The poetry making during the workshop is much like the process of creating a palette of emotions and associations that can be used for creative and self-reflective storytelling.

 

Issues discovered during the second session of the workshop

  • The participants experienced difficulty moving away from the garment (greater emphasis on the concept of an object as an access point to storytelling rather than the subject) 
  • All participants are poets, which was both problematic, challenging, and useful for the workshop intervention. It was useful to observe people who are used to express themselves through writing and get feedback from them based on their previous experiences. The challenge was that there were certain presumptions, expectations, and perhaps a difficulty for the participants to let go of their personal writing routines. The participants were focused on poetry as a writing exercise with a ‘specific outcome’ as the goal and did not perhaps fully let go in order to embrace the chaos of the creative process. This is a good reminder of how important it is to remember that even if people master a creative medium it does not automatically mean they know how to be consumed by the creative flow. 
  • The second part of the workshop also needs to be more structured and include some time-limited activities. Furthermore, one participant said that a small task between the two workshops may have been beneficial for the overall process. 
  • It became quite clear that the visual deconstruction – the part where the participants take photos of details in the garment and ‘read’ them – is a necessary step and has to be done in a specific way for the whole process to work. Participants who do not bring an item during the first session and/or do not write down associations prompted by the images, will struggle with the rest of the process. 

 

There was a difference between the feedback from participants who brought a physical item with them and engaged with the exercises as instructed, and participants who did not bring an item. Participants who had chosen a physical item discovered far more new aspects about their item and themselves during the process than ones who did not. One participant said she felt there was something in her item that needed to be explored and once she had extracted that content it was no longer in the item but with her. As she wrote in her open-ended questionnaire: at the end of the workshop ‘the emotions really “belonged”’ to her, more so than the garment. The opportunity gave her a chance to look at her chosen item in detail and learn more about herself (participant questionnaire response).  Another participant felt that the workshop led him to an emotional place that was ‘not easy to go to’ but appreciated the opportunity (participant questionnaire response).

One participant who did not have a physical item, did not bring any raw material from the first session to the second part of the workshop, and did not share anything about her process, experienced the workshop as somewhat superficial. Although part of the reason for the limited engagement may have been the absence of an emotional item, I could also sense there was some reluctance to let go of personal routines and perhaps some apprehensions about the workshop. 

 

Workshop development

  • A more detailed structure is needed for the second part of the workshop 
  • A more detailed explanation about the core concept of the process is needed at the beginning of both sessions; it needs to be made clear that there is no specific goal and that the overall process of investigation and embracing chaos is the main objective 
  • The visual deconstruction would perhaps benefit from printed photographs as this could enhance the investigative aspects of the activity – something I have already considered, but because this would add time and/or expenses it has not been included in the first test workshops 
  • A brief discussion to define the terms deconstruction, creativity, and poetry is needed at the beginning of the workshop
  • The workshop is not a creative writing workshop or traditional poetry workshop and this should be made clear from the start 
  • The latter could benefit from some exercises that are less focused on writing during the second session  
  • Taking into account Davidson’s and Fraser’s idea of creating a ‘palette of colours’, and observations and feedback from the workshop, I think the second part of the workshop needs to reflect the idea of creative chaos and intuition more. Especially when people have a tendency to focus on a final outcome as the main purpose of the creative process.