Therapeutic Thursday: SeaEscapes

Where do we go to escape the madness of the world, in order to feel calm and relaxed? Bed? On holiday? The seaside? Somewhere dark, small and cosy? An art gallery? Well, I think perhaps I ended up combining all of these ideas in the 'SeaEscapes' immersive installation at Manchester Art Gallery this Thursday evening.

Open during a Thursday Late, Therapeutic Thursday was an evening of talks, mindful marks, music and art activity designed to promote positive mental health in a beautiful, inspiring building filled with art.  As part of this thoughtful programme, I developed SeaEscapes, with the help of top troupers Ted and Brian, and also the enthusiasm and support of Louise Thompson, Health & Wellbeing Manager at MAG. I was approached by Louise to develop an installation for adults to relax in and wash away the tensions and stresses of a busy day, taking inspiration from the current Channel Crossings: English and French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism exhibition. 

As luck would have it, I had also recently travelled across France (from South East to North West) on a break away, and had the perfect opportunity to collect sea treasures along the shoreline of Dunkirk before crossing the channel back home. Another day outing to the never-ending Southport beach completed my coastal bounty as I headed home with a trove of ornate shells and salty-scented seaweed to add to the installation. This particular assignment involved many hours combing beaches and relaxing in late summer sunlight to the sound of seagulls and delicious sea breezes!

SeaEscapes was based on the monthly Mini Art Club I run at Manchester Art Gallery for families with young children. Sometimes the session incorporates a darkened, immersive space filled with light projections, sounds and objects which notably relaxes many who participate in this space. Louise thought that it would be great to re-create this space for adults and this is something that really interests me as I question the way different subtle interventions within space alter moods, behaviours and interactions. 

The softly-lit installation room contained light boxes, an OHP casting sea-themed silhouettes, and a calming video projection of beach scenes complete with a breeze and sound of the waves. People were invited to simply sit, relax and unwind or use mark-making tools and watery brusho inks to observe and draw the minutiae details of seaside objects placed under or on light sources, for inspiration. 

I was really pleased with the general response of participants who entered the space. Many took time to walk around, sit down, close their eyes, listen & look before adventurously sketching, drawing and inking impressions of the sea. Here are some of their responses to the space: 

'Loved the gentleness of the seascape room, painting & drawing with shadows and brushos. So relaxing after a busy day. Perfect environment.'

Tonight in 3 words: 'calm, serene, relaxing' 'unusual, creative, liberating'

I feel... 'I was at the sea for real.'

The installation was used by young children and adults the following morning as part of Mini Art Club, which also resulted in an extremely chilled session (with participants who are usually tearing around full of energy).

This definitely has to be the most relaxing, outdoor-focused brief I have responded to in a while, which can only be a hugely positive thing.

 

 

 

Drawing with Light: Tate Liverpool and CAMHS

As part of my practice, I create immersive environments that incorporate different sensory materials, objects, darkened spaces, a range of light sources and music or sound. I am particularly interested in the ways such spaces can provoke different behaviours: building confidence,  heightening a positive, relaxed mood and sense of fun, wonder and well-being.

As part of a series of workshops with young people from the Liverpool CAMHS network, I was asked by Tate to develop a concept around 'Drawing with Light', taking the current Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots exhibition as a source of inspiration. The aim was to set-up a comfortable, relaxed, darkened space which would encourage different groups of young people to come together, socialise, participate in creative activity and leave with a positive feeling and sense of themselves.

In response to key Pollock artworks, participants were encouraged to engage freely with action mark-making while listening to abstract electronic music. The marks then began to turn into drawings that could be projected onto different surfaces through different digital and analogue and projection devices within a specially devised installation space. Time was also given for the group to socialise and catch up on CAMHS news.

As there was a lot going on in the workshop, I didn't have the chance to document to the extent I normally do, so a photographer was brought in on behalf of Tate to capture the process on film. The only blurry snapshot I do have is of some smiling people at the end who took hold of some finger lights and began to move and 'draw' with light. The young people had initially come into the room feeling nervous, shy and anxious. However, as the session drew to a close (at the time this snapshot was taken), the volume of voices, laughter and smiles and congregated groups chatting, not wanting to leave, was a sign for me that the space had acted as a container of positive interaction. I'm looking forward to developing this space again soon elsewhere.

Nature in the City

Here's the final episode of spending time developing 'nature spaces' in darkened cupboard-like rooms listening to recordings of birds twittering away in forests! 

Yesterday evening's Thursday Late: Nature in the City at Manchester Art Gallery was a celebration of all the hard work carried out on the Thomas Horsfall Project with two schools (see previous blog posts) to create an interpretation guide and film for the Art for All: Thomas Horsfall's Gift to Manchester exhibition. It was also the chance for visitors to participate in art activities inspired by nature and also find out more about the exhibition and gallery roof garden!

I was tucked away in a (usually hidden) room right within the main entrance of the gallery. I created an immersive Plant Space, which encouraged people to try out drawing challenges and dispel the myth that 'they couldn't draw'. The specially created environment transformed a rather corporate-looking meeting room into an intimate, comfortable nature-inspired space! I wanted to encourage people to spend time looking and observing details within plants and natural objects under spotlights, while relaxing to a soothing forest soundtrack in a cosy, atmospheric space. 

Thanks to Emma Carroll, Joanne Davies & Meg Parnell for all their support on the projects!