Access/engagement in see (through): practice conversations

I have started to deposit and reflect on the series of three events and all their attendant conversations and encounters, and I know these reflections won’t conclude by 4 April, the date of my final SYP submission.

I tend to audio note first, then listen, then draw out my thoughts in writing; sometimes the writing is in a sketchbook, sometimes typing is more useful (sometimes in evernote, more rarely, like now directly as blog post).

There is plenty in terms of insight around how these events were set up as practice encounters, how the activities (and a/folders) worked and how the digital space became agentic in the sessions.

What occupied me a lot in planning was who they were for (a bit similar to the a/folders too)? — were they for fellow artists? fellow students? my friends and colleagues who are interested in methodology, though not necessary in artistic practice? where they for people wanting to learn art? for other interested publics? — that really places the question over audience, engagement, and ultimately the relational aspects of my artistic practice back at the centre.

I assessed that in all likelihood the making events were for artists/art students/researchers, at a push those with a substantive interests in site-based work, mobility studies or perhaps also leaning towards the relational questions raised; but if they were concerned about creative activity, the hurdle of a practical workshop was going to be significant.

Nonetheless, I chose to set them up with minimal artistic requirement: curiosity, a couple of simple tools were stated as needed, doing so I hoped to make them accessible to non-artistic researchers; the process-focus to encourage output-focused art students to decentre towards a research perspective.

The activities were practice-led enquiries investigating movement and distance and relating these back to the research, with 15-20 minutes inputs to my own work; two extended making activities and if time allowed a small group activity to explore site/work in these activities and people’s own practice.

I didn’t expect the camera experiments to work so well and to create such an interesting video channel (and that people were so open to experiment with these). I also was surprised as to the insights the simple activities created about moving-with and contextual distance; notably the kaleidoscope activity was generative and insightful in a way that expanded on my own research investigations as part of the degree work.

There were two access issues:

  1. My joining instructions for the first session, moving-with ended up in many people’s spam folder; the eventbrite page had been disabled but pretended to know how to join (only that it didn’t); so a workshop with 18 places booked had six, then four people trying unsuccessfully to join and I started to pick up a series of confused, then irritated messages on three DM platforms and per email. Two joined later, four gave up. Holding this access barrier while running the workshop, where two of eight hadn’t received the joining and preparation info was demanding.
    I picked this issue up afterwards: a comprehensive email and a different set up for the following workshops.
  2. One of the participants (who attended all three sessions) in the first workshop seemed to struggle with not having found the preparatory email, the instructions, the way to work with the camera, and possibly in general the idea of practice-as-research, there were a lot of questions and what I picked up a lot of being bored in that grid position
    I have enough of a facilitation practice to know these difficult roles are generally group roles, someone slips into them, I facilitate to afford them leaving this role. It didn’t quite work though (and it now returned to me in the feedback; as well as a curious wanting to pick my brains for a facilitator for a session which was pretty much my topic, only to tell me that several weren’t after all interested).
    The feedback then was: boring, not novel, tiring. And it curiously got to me (as much as I know the above as structural set up).

From the testing in my crit group and the OCAEU group I know how the work I make activates an edge, is easily perceived as difficult, uncomfortable, not accessible: it often articulates as distance: too abstract, too removed, the site isn’t in reach, the instruction opaque. That for the first session the platform conspires and locks half my eager participants out is quite something, and quite true to the first experiments with the a/folder series.

There is something about trust and commitment in the work. And how it gets criticised accordingly. I will take this to further reflection and further development.

I am incredibly grateful to have explored a creative facilitation practice that isn’t art instruction or output focussed but instead offers my own methods for appropriation and exploration (and also: abandonment and critique). I find the first access issue (spam-foldered instruction and eventbrite circuit of nowhere) quite easily addressed, the follow-up for that was successful, and several attended the later meetings or watched the videos. The latter is trickier and speaks also to the very specific OCA student cohort and expectations within that (and my own impatience with it).

In the greater scheme of feedback, this is one negative in currently five feedback form responses and more than that unprompted follow-ups post-event by email or DM. Yet: if I want to make space and hold it for divergence, I should attend to how to better hold these critical, difficult roles in making workshops (which I can hold very well in academic settings), where my own position seems more exposed than in my usual facilitation practice.

Thanks so much for this evening, Gesa!  Great to hear you speak of your work, and also John and Susan.  I’m thinking about drawings I made of my heartbeat, which I stored in a box (archive?) with new eyes.  Lots of things to think about!  I only picked up your mail below on Tuesday morning, but hope you had fun on Monday evening?  I love drawing machines and blind touch drawings (some of these have become an important part of my practice) so such a shame to have missed it.

Thank you very much for organising the workshop. It has been eye-opening for me on many levels but mainly it made me  question why I do things the way I do them and how to pay more attention going forward.
I couldn’t attend the first sessions but I did the exercises mentioned in the first session after I viewed the video. I’ve tried to upload my images to the Padlet in case that would be helpful for you.
May I please ask you if you could forward me the link to the second session recording? I would be interested to listen to the conversation between Susan and John.
Thank you very much.
Wishing you success with the assessment!

Hi gesa. Was lovely to see you! I really enjoyed the workshop.looking forwards to Wednesday. X

Here is the PDF from the feedback form responses (updated 5 April 2022, 7 responses):

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