Making Space for Reflection

Posted by: Beth Ramsay on May 7, 2014

I have been asked by Artsadmin to offer some reflections on the Make Space Summer Project facilitated by Nic Green which I attended last year to shine some light on how some of the practices covered in the workshop have continued to have a life in my own art practice…

So, the Summer Project lasted 28 days and involved 13 participants, who were challenged to share and evolve their ideas of both physical and more internalised personal spaces, engaging in a reflective process bringing into question the things in our lives that we make space for.

Nic introduced a ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out’ at the start and the end of each day where each person in their own time, at their own will, offered a reflection to the group. This allowed the both the speaker to name how they felt and for the rest to listen. This encouraged us to be present in the process and commit ourselves to the day. It formed an open trust between us, helping us to work openly together, in light of knowing where each other was ‘at’. I remember sharing with the group that I had come to the workshop feeling like I had been living constantly in fifth gear….

Whilst I am aware that my gear metaphor in that moment was perhaps rather clichéd, it helpfully referred to the feeling of being in constant action whilst being under a very particular kind of pressure, having just graduated (in Fine Art at Newcastle). The Make Space project allowed for a time to stop and reflect on this. The culture encouraged by Nic on Make Space supported my resistance to cultures of unquestioned habit and unexamined choices. It also fed into my interest in ideas of “progress” and ways in which these things are systematised. I often find that the most exciting things happen when working in various capacities with other creative practitioners, which is why the collaborative nature of the course really excited me.

Nic’s facilitation of the course was conducive to participants developing their own sense of individuality and putting it into practice within a group process. For me, the solo really embodied this practice. The solo draws from many indigenous cultures whereby you take a vow of silence for a designated amount of time whilst in a chosen space, usually outdoors in nature. In the case of this workshop we were given a 3 mile radius, setting off at dawn, with no phone, no money, no food and returning at 2pm (or as close to this as possible with no clock). Nic invited us to choose an intention for our solo, even if this was to have no intention at all. This really helped to focus my energy throughout the silence and to gather various reflections I hadn’t formulated yet. I found it liberating to explore the given territory and to build a map in my head of where I was located and how I related to the space.

The following day we were asked to share our story with the other members of the group, which is where we really put our skills of uninterrupted listening to the test. I found this process really insightful and have continued a practice of self-reflection, whether this involves recording my dreams or writing down my thoughts, it has definitely helped my ability to articulate myself. Interestingly, the spaces in between - the tea breaks, the moments of silence, or the bike ride home - conventionally seen as “time off”, allowed for really important reflections which I have continued to bear in mind.

The non-scripted nature of the workshop was based on authenticity, reflection and feedback allowing for a culture of mutual respect, recognition and insight into different creative approaches. I felt that the undetermined “outcome” of the course encouraged participants to be active and realise their unique role in the process and how the workshop would unfold. I see this very deliberate approach of facilitation as a statement of trust in process, intuition and the willingness to be challenged. This approach encouraged me to really question the belief in my own creative processes whilst considering what my role might be in a more facilitated scenario.

At the core at the workshop was an emphasis on process and experiential learning which both connected to and questioned my own attitude and comprehension of artistic outcome. I found that the facilitation of the course nourished a culture for trust in process itself, and gave me the confidence to accept that we would all walk away with different “outcomes” of the process which would become realised naturally in their own time. As participants, we were never held under any expectation that the workshop would result in a “show and tell”, but rather if we were to share something with an audience it would be true to the nature of the process itself. This element has continued to feed into my own artistic practice and catalysed a deeper connection to the context of where and how the work is made and therefore where and how the work is shown.

Built into the heart of the Make Space process was a strong culture for listening and being heard. Not only does this refer to the relationships between the people involved but also an inquisitive engagement with the spaces themselves. We contemplated whether the space had a ‘voice’ and if so what might it be telling us? As Nic put it, what’s the sky going on about?

The workshop began at Toynbee Studios, a more conventional space often used for performance and then moved onto Hackney City Farm (which continued to function as usual for the duration of our stay). The farm was a familiar and welcoming space for me as I have a lot of experience working on and with community farms and gardens. I am fascinated by the types of ecology these places nurture and have always been driven by environmental sustainability and ways in which we can be more deeply connected to nature. The workshop got me thinking, what does it mean to cultivate space?

At the time of the workshop I was becoming curious about how these interests of mine related to my art practice, or whether they even did. Being given the opportunity to engage with this particular outdoor space didn’t exactly involve interacting with conventional theatre props or art objects. Instead we worked with and shared what was available to us - hay bales, wheelbarrows, local residents, birds, pigs and Larry the donkey. The space functioned as both the transmitter and the receiver of our process and provided us with a field to play in. It feels important to explain that emphasis was put on listening and responding in an authentic way, rather than imposing something prescribed or premeditated into the space. It was really interesting to develop ideas in an environment that existed partly beyond our control. For example the rain may start pouring down, or the cockerel would cockadoodledoo. I have taken away from the project a further interest in the potential of these more unpredictable spaces.

This further catalysed some thoughts about how artistic processes, particularly the development of live work, can give a voice to non-human agencies and offer visibility to the overlooked or undervalued. I have been thinking about what it means to be part of a community, or wild spaces and how this alters ones sense of identity and how it can be embraced within art practices. So, if I can use my check-in metaphor one last time, Make Space has helped to not only initiate a much-needed change of gear, but has actually provided a catalyst for opening the door and taking a walk somewhere new.

Since being part of Make Space in 2013 Beth has continued to develop her practice and research through courses including Natural Change for Facilitators, a permaculture course and assisting Futurefarmers on their latest project at Pollinaria, she will also be assisting on this years Make Space Project.

If you are interested in taking part in this years Make Space course please then click here to see how to apply.

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