Since it’s launch in 2000, October sees ‘Big Draw’ events take place all over the UK and Internationally to encourage drawing. Participating venues are encouraged to document their projects and submit them for one of twelve prestigious Drawing Inspiration Awards. Sponsored by the Barbara Whatmore Charitable Trust, the judges look for innovative and engaging events.
A unique collaboration between Maria Hayes, the School of Art (Aberystwyth University) and Aberystwyth Arts Centre presented ‘Energy Gift Exchange’ workshops as part of Hayes’s exhibition ‘Shedding Skins’ for the ‘Big Draw’. Sue Grayson Ford (Director Campaign for Drawing) and Bryony Matthewman (Drawing Inspiration Awards Coordinator) contacted Cath Sherrell, Education Officer at Aberystwyth Arts Centre to announce
’You are a winner! Yours was one of the best entries we received.’
For 12 days the ‘Energy Gift Exchange’ workshops offered a rolling programme of performers, storytellers, musicians and dancers to be drawn in the video projection space in exchange for a drawing of their movement. In addition there were Energy Gift Exchanges between members of visiting groups.
The Award ceremony takes place at the Courtauld Institute of Art on 17 May.
The last day of the Energy Gift Exchange was busy and varied.
The first group were from Coleg Ceredigion, adults with mild learning difficulties. Most of the group were happy to participate and worked in a focused and concentrated manner. Although not everyone had a go at the easel working with the hand in the projection, everyone drew. One member of the group had been in a previous workshop. He gently asserted himself as the ‘expert’ in the group and encouraged some of the shyer members to participate.
Writer and performer Amanda Rackstraw arrived in the middle of the day to work with me. Amanda had prepared a mixture of traditional stories and poems including some of her own work. We warmed up with poems, then she told two longer stories, one about the Finn Folk and the other, a transformational tale called ‘The Skeleton Woman’.
The final group to come in to the gallery for a workshop were students, also from Coleg Ceredigion. These lively young people are taught Performing Arts by Louise Ritchie, who is also doing a practice based PhD. I did an initial demonstration exchange with one of the students performing while I drew his movements. The process of performative projection drawing intrigued them. The students took over the exchange taking turns at drawing and performing. Students not in the projection activity practiced drawing-from-observation-but-not-looking-at-the-paper with materials provided by Aberystwyth Arts Centre for The Big Draw.
The students and Louise discussed how this method could be used as a form of choreographic scoring both to document and generate movement. They were communicative throughout the drawing process.
One of the last exercises involved two performers working with Mike Pearson’s ‘In All Languages’ movement vocabulary, which Louise has taught the students – and two artists, assigned to draw a performer each. As the four worked together an intense focus developed culminating in a tangible buzz of energy at the completion of the piece. They speculated on further possible applications of this performative approach and were stimulated by working across art forms. I look forward to seeing how they develop their ideas.
The Energy Gift Exchange is now complete.
A group from Gorwelion came into the gallery today. They looked at the exhibition and then participated in the Energy Gift Exchange, using each other as exchange partners. This group immediately identified with the movement and the emotional content of the exhibited work.
Some members of the group were hesitant to draw at first but by the end of the session everyone had participated. Comments on the experience included observations on how the process of drawing with the hand in the camera placed the group members in the present moment, which this group agreed is a preferable but difficult place to attain. They felt this was probably because the work required intense focus. It was noted how it ‘stopped you thinking’. This is perhaps an outcome of the right-brain shift, away from the language centred left-brain.
We also discussed alternative methods of drawing without either paper or technology – just by looking at the subject and tracing the observed movements onto the palm of the hand, or another surface, to make invisible drawings. This drew my attention to the central importance of the process, the embodied act of drawing, and made me reconsider the place of the physical outcome in terms of making a drawing, which then exists in its own right as an object.
I facilitate art workshops in ways that aims to immerse participants fully in a creative process; and I propose that an artwork of worth results from such an engagement. The quality of that artwork – whether it works or not in aesthetic terms, depends on the depth and quality of each participant’s engagement throughout the process as much as it rests with their skill with visual media. Furthermore, skill levels are developed and learnt during this engagement. This links creative processes intimately with learning processes. Drawings are complex combinations of expression, skill and meaning. They contain personal and universal codes of language simultaneously.
My role as facilitator is to gauge, direct and ensure the maximum engagement possible for each individual throughout the process of art making. If I do my job properly, engagement with the creative process will produce an outcome of value and worth by default. The artwork produced will be the expressive outcome of a meaningful engagement with the world in visual art terms.
The physical drawings then exist to reflect the process of engagement back to the viewer. The viewer has the opportunity to relive the act of drawing in reviewing drawings made in the Energy Gift Exchange.
Students of the School of Art have been assisting me with groups but had not yet tried the projection drawing. I offered them an opportunity to play, which they embraced. Tom, in the projection, moved in ways that demanded Jacks corresponding drawn response. Tom was performing the drawing he wanted to see by realizing the connection between the type, quality and place of his movements and the drawn outcome.
In the afternoon John Harvey joined me for a performative Energy Gift Exchange.
John is developing performances of sound artefacts – he generates sonic environments. Into this I projected my hand and drew his movements as he worked. We were both improvising and discovering ways to interact or to move in a call and response mode. It took time for us to enter each other’s energy and find the place of connection. John couldn’t see what I was producing so he was working on less external information and stimulus than I was.
I decided to try to work on two drawings and in two drawing modes simultaneously. With my right hand I continued to draw John’s movements from observation, while with my left hand I began to respond to and interact with the sonic artefacts John was producing. In practical terms I had to draw the sounds around the image of John making the ‘sounds’ appear to frame his figure. I discovered that in order to not simply switch between modes and hands, but to genuinely be doing both, I had to begin drawing with the right hand and eye co-ordinated responses and then introduce the left hand and listening. It was a struggle to maintain this simultaneous working, perhaps because I am unfamiliar with it. The difficulties I encountered when learning to play the piano after years of playing violin and flute is the closest experience I can equate it to. I was so used to reading a single line of music that to read two lines at once and play two different lines of music simultaneously was almost beyond my capacities. It was a struggle and one I didn’t successfully overcome despite many hours of practice. The effort to draw with two hands and in two modes was more successful but not continuously. I had to keep returning to the point of entry.
John and I discussed how the act of drawing shifts focus during enactment. My marks document how my eye moves across the subject, sometimes they trace the subjects’ physical presence, outline and/or movements, and sometimes they are pure energy lines – as the energy transmitted between the observed and observer is perceived in that moment.
John reported being able to sense this energy exchange even when he couldn’t see it. We discussed how a mirror or monitor to feedback to the performer what the drawing projection is doing might alter the experience for the performer.
There were two exchanges today – the first a virtual exchange, the second a real time one.
Artist Cathy Fitzgerald transferred a copy of her video ‘Transformation’ to me over the Internet. This was saved to my laptop, which I then connected to the video mixer and data projector and mixed my hand into the image in order to draw it.
Cathy’s piece documents the beginning of a process she has instigated to transform a conifer forest into sustainable woodland. She writes ‘This is a slow art practice, in forty years the forest will be ecologically and economically more valuable; the predominant species will possibly be ash, with oak, alder and other native species and some remaining, large conifer. Although with nature calling the shots, nothing is certain.’
I ran the video several times in order to learn how to draw into it. Some areas of focus reasserted themselves on each playing and I noticed how I paced my responses, gaining a rhythm of looking and mark making that grew increasingly synchronised as the drawing progressed.
You can view Cathy’s video here http://cathyfitzgerald.ie/
Louise Ritchie brought Maisey in to the demonstration space. Maisey, a two-year-old rescue dog, was full of energy and ready for a walk. But before her walk she attended the Energy Gift Exchange and willingly chased a ball for us in a confined space. I attempted to follow her traces of movement and sudden bursts of energy as she played with the ball Louise threw for her. It was a totally different engagement from drawing into the Cathy’s video. Where that was meditative, this was vital. I had to be ‘on the ball’ to try and keep up with Maisey and anticipate where she might go. I tuned into her energy in an empathic mode and became ‘dog’ for a few moments. Maisey didn’t seem to mind.
At 11 minutes past 11 o’clock on 11:11:11 Busnoys and I were setting up in the Demonstration space of the exhibition. The date may or may not have been auspicious but it was certainly a special day.
The audience were few but appreciative and absorbed in the immersive atmosphere generated by the event. Busnoys consists of Martin Pyne (vibraphone and electronics), Jeff Spencer (bass guitar) and Trevor Davies (drums). Martin’s compositions allow space for each of the musicians to improvise and it is apparent how much they listen and respond to each other as they play. The experience of drawing these consummate and intelligent musicians was inspiring, involving and focused.
I have worked with Martin in many ways over the years in our collaborations but this was the first time I focused on performing observational drawings of the musicians. I usually draw the sound.
This time, working within the digital projection system I focused entirely on observing their movements as they played. Musicians move more than they probably imagine. Especially Martin. The music literally moves him.
Music resonates in the body and generates energetic responses in terms of movement – it makes us want to dance. The body hears, responds to and is impelled to movement by the music. It has always been this way for me, and I was aware of moving in ways that were dance-like as I drew.
Perhaps music is created in our bodies in terms of energy even before we hear or make it? The physical production of sound or the movements involved in playing an instrument are only a small part of the making of music. Music arises in us, bubbles up, until it is expressed. You can literally see this in musicians as they play. I attempted to observe and draw the being moved to make music as much as the physical playing of the instruments through movement. In order to draw this I tune in and listen with all my senses. It is a heightened multi-sensory method of drawing.
Due to the restrictions on space there were gaps where the projection couldn’t reach and I had to work between eyesight and lens looking. I found it tricky but began to learn how to do it without getting too disorientated or distracted from the task in hand. Keeping my attention and eyes focused firmly on the musicians and not on the drawing was important.
Then I began to notice an interesting phenomenon. It was as if the volume was slightly turned up on the playing of whoever I was looking at and drawing. At first I thought it was actually happening and that it was just a coincidence when I experienced this, so I tested it out a few times. It happened again. I wonder if there is any scientific basis for this? Does looking at a musician playing within an ensemble enable you to hear them better? How and why might this occur?
Trevor later sent me an email saying “Anyway just wanted to say what a lovely day I had Maria – your work is fantastic and that Selkie connection with June Tabor blew my mind….It was such a lovely ambiance to play in and I think you took us to new places we have never been before – hope we can do some more together soon. Thank you so much for the picture…”
Busnoys took me to places I had never been before either. The act of drawing deepens in those moments. Being immersed, connected and in conversation – exchanging energies – are the times we make sense of living and the moments that bring us to life.
Other artists from the School of Art came in, taking the opportunity to draw. They were mostly drawing the music. The noises we made as we worked on metal and paper with various materials and tools added another subtle layer to the rich sounds being given by Busnoys. This Energy Gift Exchange was a transformative experience for me. I hope it was something like that for those who witnessed and participated in it.
Julie Murphy, Ceri Owen Jones, Michael Harvey and an eager audience all arrived at the same time this morning. It takes me 15 minutes or so to get set up so everyone else sorted themselves out with drinks and looking at the rest of the show until I was ready.
This wasn’t meant to be a performance for Julie and Ceri – more an informal space to try out their new work together. However, Julie casts a spell over her audiences with her magical voice and there were many moments of intense focus, listening and exchange. It seemed that a loop of listening gained its own momentum as the morning unfolded. The musicians listened to each other and the audience, while the audiences quality of listening played back into the music. It affected both the music and the drawing and I could tell the audience were moved. The combination of drawing, music and listening deepened everyone’s experience not only of the performance but also of each other.
When Julie first sat at the piano she remarked on how the set up reminded her of her grandfather and his piano. He used to play for silent movies – the projector and the piano. The angle of the projector on Julie at the piano meant I had to peep around the corner of the easel to see her. The position Ceri sat in meant the harp threw a shadow over his face. This made drawing in the projection impossible and I noticed that switching between projection drawing and sight drawing was disorientating. I asked him to move for the second drawing to give me a better angle to draw into.
Their music was wonderful and their CD will be out in the New Year – check Julie’s website for details.
Michael Harvey and I have worked together off and on for over 15 years but not recently. In the short time before lunch we had time to try out a few ideas with each other. Michael stepped into the space and we focused on allowing a story to emerge. It gave Michael the opportunity to see how working in and with the projection could inspire, distract and develop. Sarah, a recent Art School graduate sat in the space with us and drew.
After lunch a group from Ysgol Penweddig arrived for a short workshop. I split the group in half. One half went to look at the exhibition while the rest came into the demonstration space to draw Michael telling the Branwen story in Welsh. Later they swapped over.
I gave a brief talk and demonstration about the work, the task of drawing movement and the projection technique then handed over to the students. They coped very well and although there was some reticence about standing up at the easel, the students who were brave made very good drawings. They confirmed that it was easier to use the projection for the task of drawing a subject in movement than to draw from pure observation. The students that did use the projection technique appeared to sink deeply into the experience and I felt torn when I had to stop them in order to offer others in the group an opportunity. There is no escape at the easel and in the projection – you can see (as can everyone else) when you are ‘on’ the movement and when you are not.
Once the students left Michael and I had a quiet space in which to work more experimentally. Michael wondered about storytelling without words. He raided my stone, bone, feather and skin collection and set his ‘stage’. He silently internalized responses to the objects and began to move and interact with them intuitively. I drew. The awareness of each others activities and focus heightened our attention. Small interactions between the drawing and the silent stories intensified. I became aware of stories forming in my mind as I drew – not as a linear narrative or evocative of stories I knew, but as snippets, ideas and connections. The energy generated in the space between us reached a peak before tailing off as the connections and conversation lessened, until we reached The End.
I call this working with the energy arc. It is a bit like conjuring. I notice it when I work this way alone as well as in collaboration. It is to do with a quality of listening that you cannot fake, you really have to be there. It also has a time span – perhaps because of the intense focus required. Meditative and generative, it brings me into the present moment and requires that I remain there for the duration.
However, the coda to this particular End is another story. I rewound the tape that had recorded my drawing of Micheal’s wordless storytelling then switched it to another camera. Next I projected the video, mixed it with the easel camera and invited Michael to draw into his own movements. My recorded drawing hand danced a duet with his live projected drawing hand as Michael re-viewed his performance. He drew into himself to draw another aspect of himself and another performance out.
‘Shedding Skins’ begins on 17th October and is open until 18th November 2011.
View the work and read more here:
I hope you will be able to join us in Aberystwyth for the show, but if you can’t I hope you enjoy seeing some of the work here.
The Energy Gift Exchange is about presence, drawing and presents. You give me the gift of your presence, I will draw your movement and make a gift of the drawing to you. I have invited guests to come and participate, but there will be plenty of opportunities for you to participate should you wish to.
The Energy Gift Exchange is an important event that runs throughout the show and I will keep you updated about how it goes. The current event timetable looks like this:
Jane Chapman (yoga)
Lynne Denman (singing/storytelling)
Annie Suganami (flute)
2-4pm Annie Suganami (flute)
8pm-9pm (Private View)
Dafydd Roberts (actor)
Esyllt Harker (singer/storyteller)
Julie Murphy and Ceri Owen Jones
Michael Harvey (storyteller)
Jill Piercy (Qigong)
John Harvey (Sonic improvisation)
Annie Suganami (flute)
In contrast to yesterday, today was a very busy day. I began by drawing into another friend’s video. Vivian sent me a film of herself making her young child ‘fly’. ‘Kaat’s first flight’ is the result of me working into this short video 5 times to make the final drawing.
The rest of the morning was spent with a group of MA students from the School of Art. They readily participated in their own energy exchange, modelling and drawing each other. I encouraged the students who were modelling to talk to the drawer and the rest of the group as a way to dispel their inhibitions about being ‘on stage’ and observed. We began to discuss the consequence of being lost in the act of drawing and not being able to hear or respond to the model speaking properly. I feel this is due to a right brain switch. Something about working in the projection makes the switch effective. It seems to induce the right hand brain state faster than usual observational drawing modes. I’m not sure why this happens at the moment, but sense it could be important to investigate this phenomenon further.
As a group we also discussed how drawing in the projection makes the mark making decision process explicit.
In the afternoon Coleg Ceredigion arrived with a group of 20 students. I split the session in two and half the group were in the demonstration space trying out drawing with the projection and half looked at the show and then we swapped over. The students were curious, involved and engaged. They were responsive and asked questions.
Just before their session was finished, Esyllt Harker and Gerry Gold arrived. Gerry got out his trumpet and students had the opportunity to draw him playing in the projection.
After the students had gone Esyllt, Gerry and I experimented with improvised sound and storytelling performance drawing. They listened and responded to each other and I drew their movements. Nothing was prepared; no one knew what was coming next. Moment to moment we played and drew each other out. There were some intense and beautiful sections. Esyllt told a haunting version of the ‘Selkie Bride’. In the second piece, I projected a video of the sea into the mix and we responded in a more abstract way to each other and the sounds and sights that emerged.