Earlier during the independent study period, after setting aside my worries about creating interventions and pleasing tutors, I was able to focus on what is important for my research at this stage by going back to trusting my own process. Additional secondary research helped me organise and shape the things I had previously researched and observed. It was obviously very difficult to identify the next steps and tangible ideas when I was not finished shaping and strengthening the core of the project – to borrow from the philosophy of Pilates: it all emanates from the core.
The heart of my research lies in exploring the affective connections people form with objects and how these can inspire self-reflective storytelling. I have focused particularly on the moments and relationships people associate with things they wear. I am not, however, only interested in the affective narratives themselves. I am interested in further investigating the creative and therapeutic possibilities of self-reflection through narrative objects. Why do the emotions we associate with objects matter and what possibilities lie within the raw material?
Personal stories act as a framework for creating meaning, communicating with others, and connecting with our own experiences (Ellis and Bochner, 1992; Skultan, 1998; Walter, 1999; Simmons, 2013), all of which have been shown to affect our mental well-being (NHS, 2018). Furthermore objects can act as points of entry when reflecting on one’s own narrative identity and offers the potential to open up new layers of internal dialogue. So what are the healing possibilities of extracting personal stories from objects?
Based on the secondary and primary research I have done so far, I would argue that the affective connections we form between inanimate objects, people, and moments hold creative as well as therapeutic possibilities that are underutilised and could be explored further.
During my research journey my research question has naturally evolved from:
‘How can dress and performance art be used in a self-reflective and transformative way to enhance emotional well-being?’
‘How can creativity and self-reflective storytelling support affective well-being?’
‘How can affective objects and creative storytelling inspire self-reflection and positive emotional change?’
and finally the current one
How can creative storytelling through affective objects inspire self-reflection and positive emotional change?
The foundation of the question is similar in all four versions, which shows that the research has shifted and developed but the foundation blocks have remained the same.
There are existing projects and literary works that explore the narratives people have in their wardrobe; such as Worn Stories by Emily Spivack and Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman. Few of them, however, seem to further investigate the self-reflective and therapeutic potential of exploring these stories creatively. There are also projects that consider the therapeutic properties of dress and costumes – such as costume drama therapy – but these methods do not focus particularly on the personal wardrobe or the self-reflective possibilities of it.
The primary research I have done so far suggests that exploring the affective and mnemonic qualities of one’s wardrobe can result in a highly reflective personal journey. The topic also clearly attracts people who are, or have been, seeking ways to explore and express complex emotions. The visual and tactile characteristics of objects make them ideal mnemonic and therapeutic tools. Visual material is highly conducive for emotional transformation because the visual and emotional systems are extensively interconnected (Tamietto and de Gelder, 2010; Karlsson, 2013).
The first intervention I developed is a series of self-reflective exercises – referred to as ‘intervention scores’ because they were inspired by performance scores from the 70s (Shiomi, 1975) – have shown elements that are conducive to personal reflection and internal dialogue. For this to happen a certain amount of time and commitment is required from the participant. The more time spent, the more intense the personal exploration becomes.
My second intervention, which was developed based on the intervention scores and secondary research, sought to bring this moment of reflection into one interactive space. The result was an event exploring personal narratives and emotional connections through clothes swapping, poetry-creation, and a self-portrait studio. The objective was to observe what kinds of mnemonic and affective relationships people have in their wardrobes, and what happens when people are invited to share their stories in an interactive space.
The key findings during the second intervention happened in the self-portrait studio. At first people did not seem attracted to the idea, but after being encouraged to try it the response was positive surprise. The objective of the self-portrait room was to create a quiet and intimate moment with the camera and observe how people interact with this concept. A female participant in her early 20s experienced a moment of novel creativity which caused her to reflect on the way she sees herself as the subject in an image. This obviously raises thoughts about the nature of the self-portrait in a digital age.
The storytelling methods
My personal interests and experiences, and secondary research led me to choose photography and poetry as storytelling techniques. Both provide powerful tools for giving shape to emotions that may otherwise be difficult to express. Poetry is defined as the intensity of emotion and has long been used to express feelings and complex thoughts. It is not uncommon for people to use poetry – both the act of reading and writing – as a tool for healing. Poetry can be very self-reflective because it sends the creator on a creative journey in search for words.
Photography has similar qualities as poetry in that it provides a tool for expressing emotion, and self-portrait photography can create a particularly therapeutic space for expressing difficult emotions (Nunez, 2013). By objectifying repressed feelings in a photograph, we can momentarily separate ourselves from things that hurt and create a chance for internal transformation (Nunez, 2013). My secondary and primary research indicates that a deeper exploration of self-portraits may be beneficial in inspiring personal change in an increasingly digitalised age where the concept of the self-portrait is rapidly changing shape, and perhaps even losing some meaning.
Additionally, with dress and the act of getting dressed we are constantly creating a type of dynamic and transcendent self-portrait that we carry around with us.
My next objective is to explore in more detail how affective objects can inspire therapeutic self-reflection and test how this process could be complemented and enhanced by photographic and poetic approaches. The plan for the next intervention is to further investigate the creative and self-reflective possibilities of emotional dress in form of a poetry workshop in collaboration with a poet.
What is a self-portrait and how does it manifest itself in people’s wardrobes? What is the role and importance of emotional objects and self-portraits in an increasingly digitalised world? How can the emotional value of objects help us create healing stories?
Karlsson, H. (2013) ‘Photography and Neuroscience: marriage, cohabitation or divorce?’, in Loewenthal, D. (ed.) Phototherapy and therapeutic photography in a digital age. East Sussex: Routledge, pp. 159-164 NHS (2016) Five steps to mental wellbeing. Available at: http://mergefestival.co.uk/merge-events-2018/2018/6/8/requiem-for-crossbones-emily-peasgood (Accessed: 8 June 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 Shiomi, M. (1965-75) Spatial Poems [Performance scores] Simmons, M (2013) ‘A creative photographic approach: interpretation and healing through creative practice’, in Loewenthal, D. (ed.) Phototherapy and therapeutic photography in a digital age. East Sussex: Routledge