My first day – eek! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. As I walked from the subway a whole array of scenarios began to flash before me – most of them involving me making a tit of myself.
Luckily, I had nothing to be worried about. I found the atmosphere in TouchBase to be relaxed and fun, and that was before I even spoke to anyone!
The first part of my day was with Theresa who is a peripatetic arts tutor at Sense. Originally studying printmaking, Theresa’s practice now covers a wide range of media and styles. In the various art studios I spotted, among other things, clay sculptures, silk paintings, and wire work from previous sessions.
Theresa is currently focussing on narrative and storytelling in her sessions, which often means the work blends from visual art into performance and role-play. Alison Sommerville, arts director at Sense, explained to me that although many classes focus on a particular art form the tutors allow the creativity to come out in whatever form feels most appropriate at the time, meaning that a music session can become an improvised dance class and vice versa. This multi-disciplinarary approach is something that attracted me to Sense’s arts practice originally, and fits well with the style of work I make within my degree course.
I met 8 people in the first group. Theresa began to suggest ideas to the group, and the idea of hat making took hold. Members of the group began to pick characters for their hat, including a Fireman, a Witch and a Princess.
The different group members began to develop their characters in different ways. One woman chose a piece of material to become a ghost costumes, and began to move through the space physicalising the ghost. She then began to introduce voice work into the movement. I was working mostly with a man who was creating a fireman’s hat. The story developed as I draped myself in a red scarf and became ‘fire’, my collaborator using sparkling paper strips as water to ‘put me out’.
It was also very interested to see all the different art styles in the room. One man who was creating a policeman’s hat used black pen to created detailed line drawings, whereas someone else was creating big blocks of strong colour in paint. I am intrigued to see how these styles develop during my placement, and how willing people are to stray from the preferred styles.
In the afternoon I worked alongside a member of the morning group, playing with clay and pens. we developed a rhythmic exchange of passing objects to each other, and copying each other’s noises. I really enjoyed the musicality of the communication, and how this was a communication, despite no verbal language being used. Once we’d got a bit more comfortable with each other we lost the barrier of the table and began to use the rest of the space, looking at a hula hoop and other items around the room.
All in all I had a great first day, and I am so relieved that my presence was easily accepted. I had been worried that a new person may have upset routines or cause some people to feel threatened, but in fact it was the total opposite. Touch wasn’t an issue, and a lot of the morning group members took my hands or made contact in other ways. It was a great relief to let the fear of spooking someone go and just to be creative.
A question I will be carrying with me next week is how much input I should be putting into a piece of work. Obviously if someone is struggling to pick up a paintbrush, I would help them out. But where do I stop – do I guide their hand to the paint, or place it on the page, or get my own brush and start painting? When is the work theirs that I have helped with, when is it a collaboration, and when have I taken creative control? It’s a tricky balance, and one I shall continue to research.