Chance and Creativity

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Using the notion of chance in art and writing  has been a useful and popular tool in creative wellbeing sessions. Participants like the way feelings can be expressed indirectly, for example by using pre-existing text and cutting it up to form their own poem, or drawing with eyes closed.

This group piece was created from pages of a picture book. All participants were given the same photocopied page and circled words they wished to use, blacking out the rest of the text. On another occasion, a dice was used to choose a word from each sentence on the page.

Using these processes introduces an element of fun as well as chance, allowing artists to bypass inhibitions of the conscious mind. It was interesting to see the way that different people working with the same limited text produced different tones and moods depending on how the words were placed.

The technique was promoted by Tristan Tzara, a Dada artist in 1920s Paris. Here are his instructions:

To Make a Poem

Take a newspaper
Take a pair of scissors
Choose from the paper an article as long as you are planning to make your poem
Cut the article out
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag
Shake gently
Next take each clipping out one after another in the order in which they left the bag
Copy conscientiously
The poem will look like you
And there you are — an infinitely original author endowed with a charming sensibility though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Hans Arp was another founding member of Dadaism. The Dada artists experimented with new approaches to art that could undermine the existing cultural mentality and confused logic that had led the world to the edge of annihilation. “Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.” – Arp.

Arp used chance through methods such as circling words at random in a newspaper, or drawing them from a hat. Similarly, William Burrough’s use of cut-up composition, and some of Bowie’s lyrics.

“What I’ve used it for, more than anything else, is igniting anything that might be in my imagination. It can often come up with very interesting attitudes to look into. I tried doing it with diaries and things, and I was finding out amazing things about me and what I’d done and where I was going.” – David Bowie

Bernadette Mayer is a wonderfully innovative contemporary poet using chance techniques. Mayer’s record-keeping and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative are two trademarks of her writing, though she is also known for her work with form and mythology. In addition to the influence of her textual-visual art and journal-keeping, Mayer’s poetry is widely acknowledged as some of the first to speak accurately and honestly about the experience of motherhood. For examples of her writing experiments see here.

city music

 

she heard city music rising                                         a queen knows love

everything cooked                                                         like a fish knows beauty

her instrument was fire walking                                language plain as a noble king

she put on a pair of kisses                                            not one tree shone that year

and went to ask him his price                                      like home, mother

 

in the theatre of toys                                                       winter unkind

the horned man is sleeping                                            warm wing of spring

the dust of forgotten stories in his eyes                        she soars through the cutting edge

continuities     improbable as life

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Printmaking in the Hub

United Welsh Housing invited me to run some printmaking sessions centred around the theme of reconnecting with loved ones through card-making. Libraries in Llanrumney and Ely are transforming into multi-purpose hubs, with a view to connecting and supporting the local community, and we were able to encourage service users of all ages who were there to access other services, to give the printmaking a try.

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Participants reported that they found the process of creating their own card designs, inking them up and printing them, very satisfying.

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Some of the cards, created using styrofoam pizza bases, etched into and cut out.

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Alchemy and Healing

Catherine Lewis has taken over the gallery 1a Inverness Place,  an empty shop, as part of her wellspace residency.

Cat works with materials that she gathers from her local environment  –  natural, local plant materials, and uses sustainable print processes and recycled cloths.

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Catherine had collected water and wood from a nearby healing well site, and was using it as part of the residency, encouraging visitors to draw and write using her wonderful inks made from walnuts, beetroot, hibiscous, turmeric.

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The spring, which still exists at The Oval and which was the principal reason for the arrival of St. Isan in the area in 535AD, is known as Ffynnon Llandennis. Ffynnon Llandennis is one of a number of healing springs in Cardiff which were considered to be holy and endowed with powers of healing…

‘It rises out of the soil with great force, and immediately forms a pool of considerable size, which is overhung with trees, and teems with aquatic growths of various kinds. The scene is one of wild and romantic beauty…’ (John Hobson Mathews, 19C city archivist).

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The well-tree dressing has echoes of the clootie well tradition, which are places of pilgrimage in Celtic areas. Strips of white cloth or rags are tied to the branches of the tree as part of a healing ritual.

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Catherine has created a well-ness space for slow making and recovery; a space that houses her urban ink making lab, using the well water and materials found whilst walking between the well sites and the gallery. She invites visitors to bring ink ingredients to her and also donations of old bottles to store ingredients and finished inks.

 

 

 

Creative Journeys

In the creative wellbeing sessions this week, I asked participants to create collages and sculptures to represent aspects of themselves. Searching through old magazines for words that resonated seemed to be conducive to both reflection and supportive conversations about elements of participants’ lives. I don’t initiate these conversations, as I am not an art therapist; they arise naturally, just as elements of participant’s journeys towards wellness often manifest in the artworks. I work with individuals who may be coping with conditions such as OCD, paraplegia, anorexia, anxiety and depression, but the emphasis in these sessions is always on the creative process. The classes are a safe, confidential space to share, join in with creative activities, or just take time out from other concerns.

When the sculptures were placed together, there was great potential for narratives about the characters and objects that had emerged from the clay. Participants wrote wonderful short pieces, linking  sculptures together in often stream-of-consciousness poetry and prose which was afterwards shared.

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The Other Side

The bat told them of a flower

beginning to unfurl

so the tree walked along the ridge

with a basket to collect the petals and the tears.

When it came to the river’s edge, the tree

stood there for ten years.

One day a terrapin cracked the water’s mirror,

bearing a golden seed in its beak.

This is you, it said.

I will take you to the other side.