The amazing tech team at QUAD have been busy building and installing our show Be Here, Now which will open in just a few weeks! More info on the FORMAT website.
As part of our commission we ran another safe space workshop, this time with GoldsQUAD, a group for people aged 50+ that visit QUAD in Derby. We weren’t quite sure what to expect at this workshop as each group seems to be different.
We settled in nicely with cups of tea and a good chat with those ladies that turned up a little early. The group knew each other well already so there was plenty of gossip to be had. As we introduced our project it was lovely to chat through about the soothing qualities of landscapes and many of the participants had places in mind that they visit to quell their anxieties.
It’s interesting that even within these workshops people predominantly turn to landscapes to be soothed. It seems universal that the sound of water, or the sight of an extraordinary sunset, or the act of walking are the things that humans can engage with to self-soothe.
There were a few participants who felt at the beginning that they weren’t ‘creative’ enough to engage in the activity. I always like to remind people that arts workshops are not about producing stunning pieces of art. They are about experimenting, the process, the freedom. And once people forget about the pressure to be great or to produce a masterpiece they let go and begin to engage in a way that they had never expected of themselves.
We did it! We were successful in our application for a Grants for the Arts award from Arts Council England. This means we can create further works for our exhibition using virtual reality technology and create a more immersive exhibition!
As part of the INSIDE commission Antonia and I will be running a series of workshops around our theme of safe and soothing spaces. These workshops are with specific groups of people that may experience their own set of difficulties. I had heard about Borderline Arts a number of years ago and was really keen to get involved, but since we’re geographically so far apart it hadn’t been possible. This was the perfect opportunity to provide a workshop for their users; those that experience the condition Borderline Personality Disorder. In our Build Your Own Safe Space workshop we looked at how we can visualise our fantasy safe spaces or replicate existing ones.
At the beginning of the session we brainstormed on what our safe spaces may look like. If it was a sound, how would we visualise that? What colours would be most soothing? Is it an open natural space or a small contained space to feel secure? Each participant had such unique ideas for their space and had brought photographs to personalise their spaces. For people with BPD, who go through extremely intense emotional experiences, a safe space is so important. Do we need to be contained and safe in our own spaces during periods of crises, or is safety found in freedom when our mood lifts? The workshop provided such rich discussions throughout the session, as well as plenty of laughs.
We’re really looking forward to running our next two workshops: working with youth on the autism spectrum and those aged over 50.
In the blistering cold we set off on our latest adventure to film beautiful beaches, armed with stacks of kit and bags full of thermals. As usual with no car we had a long trek on trains and buses and ended up in the beautiful town of Wells-next-the-Sea.
We arrived in the afternoon and the light was fading fast, but we got to recce a small part of the huge beach and briefly explored the amazing forest on the edge of the beach. We fell in love with the place instantly and couldn’t wait to come back the next morning to get started.
The weather was absolutely perfect, the sky was blue emitting a beautiful iridescent light on the surface of the water. We spent hours capturing different angles and just basking in the overwhelming feeling given watching the calm blue sea. Something neither of us had experienced before in England. This beach is a hidden gem with its large expanse of beautiful golden sand and bright blue water. We were amazed at how clean and well kept it was.
The route we walked took us along the coast to Holkham and back around to Wells. It was a lengthy stretch and we have a habit of stopping far too often to capture the beautiful light, or the detail of a moment that moved us. Edging the whole coastline is an amazing forest with the tallest trees, again something we were surprised to find in England. We walked along snaking into the forest and back out onto the beach.
Its fair to say we finished the day absolutely exhausted but cleansed and with a feeling of accomplishment. We both agreed how blessed we were to have to opportunity to spend time in these amazing soothing spaces and to capture them to hopefully give you a taste of the places we have explored.
Our second day adventuring in the Peak District started with a car journey to our next location, in search of more waterfalls. As Peter drove us through the incredibly stunning landscapes I was thinking about accessibility to nature and what impact that may have on a person’s ability to self soothe. I live in London and don’t drive. I’d like to, but somehow I’ve just never gotten around to it. There’s never been much need for a car where I’ve lived (Brighton & London). In London there are a lot of green spaces that are pretty easily accessible by public transport. But as we drove through the rolling hills covered in lush green grass, the light blasting down on us, I was thinking about realistically how it difficult it could be for people living in the local cities to access this landscape. Without a car this landscape is impenetrable. You know it is there but somehow it isn’t for you, it isn’t yours.
I was also thinking about how insular city life can become. How little time some of us take to engage with nature, despite knowing that being within the natural landscape can be calming and have positive effects for our well-being. Even when I lived in Brighton I admittedly did not take advantage of how beautiful & positive the sea can be, despite living minutes from it. It is easy to become engrossed in the humdrum of urban life, forgetting about what surrounds us and what it can offer us.
It was another quiet day making work (photographs and videos). There was a chill in the air but the light was crisp, sometimes diffused by the trees above us, as we climbed to the top of the falls. As soon as I heard the sound of rushing water I instantly felt both excited and calm. As we made our way to the top of the falls we saw few people, a testament to how hidden away this little treasure was.
At the top the water crashed with ferocity against the rocks. I could have sat there for hours reading a book or just taking in the moment. We had split up to photograph and film individually but with each other in sight. I roamed for patches of light, details, minutiae otherwise unwitnessed: straggled roots, autumn leaves, the spattering of droplets.
It was a few hours spent just thinking as we made work. I couldn’t shake the concept of how water can be both violent and soothing, dependent on its placement and our relationship to it. As we traversed along the path there were times when I thought about how the current of the water could simply take me away, whilst at other points I wanted to stand in the middle of the pools and be surrounded by it.
In October we did an interview with QUAD about the work we were creating, originally posted here.
Daniel Regan & Antonia Attwood were in residence at QUAD in late August 2016, producing new work that will touch upon the theme of ‘Habitat’, and will take the form of still and moving image works. Their work will be included within the QUAD exhibition programme during FORMAT17, in March 2017, on the D-Lab website and at the LEVEL Centre, near Matlock, during 2017. We caught up with them to ask them a little about their process and influences.
1. What is your background?
Antonia: My background is in photography. I graduated from the photography course at London College of Communication 2 years ago. This is where my love for video came about as I explored how you could recreate how mental health conditions were experience through moving image and sound. Since then I have been freelancing and exhibiting work, meeting all sorts of amazing people along the way. Including Daniel.
Daniel: I studied photography both at the University of Brighton (BA) and London College of Communication (MA). During both of those instances my work and research was into the therapeutic benefits of the arts for people with emotional difficulties, using my own experiences as the initial stimuli. I come from a complex mental health ‘service user’ background and use photography to navigate my own difficulties, as well as run workshops and projects that facilitate creative expression for others also going through difficulties.
2. How did the project first come about?
A: We have both been creating work exploring mental health and wellbeing for a long time. That’s actually how we met. Daniel runs a website called Fragmentary (fragmentary.org) and around a year and a half a go he interviewed me about my work for the website. We ended up meeting up and hit it off straight away. We had very similar ideas surrounding our work and also really similar ideas about what we wanted to achieve within our practice. We have been working together ever since. This particular project came about on a Sunday afternoon Skype call. We were discussing the idea of Habitat and safe spaces and we just both loved the idea of working with video and installation so we came up with this project.
D: It was all very quick from our end. We work together very well and often just get what each other mean. We had seen the open call but were running out of time to apply. We bounced some ideas off of each other quite quickly on the Sunday afternoon before the deadline was due and just knew that the concept of safe/soothing spaces was a really interesting project for both of us. Plus the emphasis on pushing the boundaries of our practice was both really important to us. Antonia works primarily in video and I work primarily in stills so the idea of working together and learning new ways of creating has been really important for both of us.
3. What does your creative process involve?
A: My creative practice is now mainly in video, although I do still do a lot of photography as well. I am currently working on a project called ‘Manifestations of the Mind’ working with people that have lived experience of mental health conditions to explore how each is experienced individually. I am creating 7 short films created from conversations with 7 participants, depicting their stories through metaphorical imagery and sound. The project concentrates on the phenomenology of mental health. The aim is to get people to see mental health conditions in a different way, to try and actually experience what the person is going through. Rather than reading a list of symptoms.
D: A lot of my projects are in response to an human experiences; a hospitalisation, traumatic hair loss, the death of a relationship etc. I use photography to explore emotional experiences both positive and negative. It’s a way to help me deconstruct the experience and the emotions attached to it. There’s definitely an element of catharsis to the creative process and in some cases it’s highly therapeutic. I also use photography on a daily basis to help me to feel attached to the world. It helps me to focus and find beauty in the moments around me.
You can see more talk about this more in a new mini documentary commissioned by WEX Photographic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNTkdy-hJvE
4. Where have you found inspiration whilst working on the commission?
A: Everywhere, but I think the thing I have enjoyed most is getting out of London into the countryside. We recently came back from the Peak District and it was so beautiful. Just to be back in nature, exploring beautiful landscapes. You can see why people find so much peace and tranquility there. Spending hours down a ravine filming a waterfall, there’s something very therapeutic about that. Having the time to spend just looking and being makes the work much more profound.
D: For me I’ve often thought about the project and the idea of safe and soothing spaces when I can feel myself getting anxious. I’m quite hyper aware of my feelings and surroundings and in relation to the project I’ve had a lot of thoughts about how as we get older we learn what feels safe to us and where we can go to be soothed. I’ve realised that being out in nature and especially the act of walking (and photographing) is quite important to me. It slows me down, helps me to engage mindfully in the world around me. Being able to go to some beautiful places and create work has been really inspiring simply because it’s so different from my day to day experience in London. We’ve both realised the impact that nature can have on wellbeing which is ironic considering we both live in London!
5. What have been the biggest challenges of the project so far?
A: Definitely getting around. We find these beautiful places hours from any town, just tiny villages with 1 train station. Neither of us drive so it’s been difficult. Living in London you are so used to waiting 3 minutes for a tube, that you forget life isn’t that faced paced anywhere else. But we have managed it and we only nearly got stranded once when we took hours walking back from Padley Gorge. We were stopping to take photos and videos along the way. It started to get dark and we did fear we would be stuck in a field all night! Luckily we made friends with the one taxi firm in the area and they came to the rescue.
D: Travel! I need to learn to drive.
6. Where else can we see your work?
A: My work is available on my website (antoniaattwood.com) I am also exhibiting my Manifestations of the Mind project in January at Freespace Gallery in Kentish Town.
D: You can see my work at my website: danielregan.com. I keep a visual scrapbook (http://scrapbook.danielregan.com/) where I post my diary images, thoughts, ideas, reflections etc. I also run Fragmentary.org, a web initiative showcasing and interviewing artists that explore mental health and wellbeing within their practice.
I’m currently exhibiting a constellation of images called Lights in the Reclaiming Asylum exhibition at Bethlem Gallery (copies of those postcards available here: http://www.danielregan.com/shop/lights-postcards/)
Though we had lots of initial ideas that were inspired from the research questionnaires we received, it was clear that nature was a very strong theme throughout ideas of safety and sanctuary. We decided to explore the local area of Derbyshire — known for its natural beauty — to begin our shooting and start think about how to bring natural elements into the project and subsequently into a gallery setting.
Getting up at 4.30am, before the sun rose, we began at Kings Cross and made our way up to Sheffield and beyond to a small and silent village in the Peak District. Physically leaving London always signals, for me, a change in the pace of life. As we traversed the countryside I could feel the pressure of various work projects, to do lists and life decisions simmer down as my thoughts became a little more spaced out. Life slowed down. My eyes excitedly watched the sun rise in its colour-shifting splendour and I longed to connect with nature, to order my thoughts and become absorbed in the unknown landscape before us.
After we dropped off our bags we began our first jaunt. Surrounded by lush green hills I was struck simply by the colour contrast of the city versus the countryside. Back home concrete envelops me. Here, it was greens and browns and yellows as summer began to turn to autumn, my favourite time of the year. With camera in hand it wasn’t long before I began to be drawn to miniscule details that emphasise the beauty of slowing down and really being present. I studied the dew on blades of grass, bubbles of light trapped in mini water worlds. Photography for me is a very mindful practice. This notion of really looking, beyond how we usually navigate the world.
We had come to our first stop which was a hidden away waterfall. As we made our way down a steep and muddy ravine I began to feel a little disappointed. If there was a waterfall we’d hear water, I kept saying. Yet as we got lower and lower, slipping and sliding over slimy roots, the sound of crashing water echoed throughout the space that we entered. It was a beautiful sight that instantly felt magical and secluded. Setting up our cameras we spent hours engrossed in the rushing but soothing sound of the water falling from above us. At times there was a great silence between us and during those periods I thought more about my relationship to water.
Although I am a huge fan of water and its sounds the actual feeling of being in water can be terrifying for me. After I went scuba diving at the age of 12 the enormity of the oceans and seas left me with a huge fear of what lies beyond that which my eyes can (and can’t) see. Now, when I’m in the sea, all it takes is a small thought of how small and inconsequential I am versus how huge and powerful water is, to make me want to escape immediately. Yet watching large bodies of water instills a calm in me like no other. In my last suicide attempt in 2008 I attempted to drown myself in the sea. I expect during a moment of madness it was a way of bringing together both the chaos and violence of the uncontrollable seas and the peace it may have brought to my mind at the time. Having such a history with water, both positive and negative, feels paradoxical at times. It is curious how a natural element can simultaneously provide both sanctuary and sadness.
After a few hours spent reflecting at the waterfall we moved on to our second location of the day. Beginning in the vast open space of the Peak District, we looked out over sandy coloured fields that reflected the autumnal weather. I marvelled at the simplistic beauty of ferns blowing in the wind and the distant sound of water trickling through the nearby gorge, elements that both of us continued to stop, photograph and film. There was something about the colour of the burnt orange landscape ahead of me that I really took to. I began to think about how important walking is in my therapeutic photographic practice: to walk within the landscape and how my eyes are drawn to colours: those that stand out, those that contrast each other. Some people find walking an exercise in clearing their mind of thoughts. I find walking, as an artist, an exercise in really seeing and being, it is an opportunity to become hyperaware within the landscape and seek the details which excite me. Some of these I captured on our walk.
As we continued to follow the water the light began to fade. We caught the last few glimpses of light, filtering in through the trees and illuminating the intense greenery of the landscape around us. I always think there is something exciting about both dusk and dawn, the way that light is in flux and the day transforms from night to day and back again. With that we made our way back to the village, waiting for what tomorrow had in store for us.
When Antonia and I first decided to apply for the commission we realised that we wanted to avoid political interpretations of the theme habitat. So much of both of our works is about emotional experiences in relation to well-being. The concept of safe spaces is so important in retaining control in a world that is becoming increasingly demanding. We wanted to think about what safe space means today in our fast paced society, not just for people with mental health difficulties, but for all of us. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs security is cited as one of the fundamental human needs, required before humans can move on to secondary or higher level needs.
As someone that has been living with mental health difficulties, a safe space has been crucial not just in times of crises but in day to day life. During my first hospitalisation in 2004 I took refuge in sleeping in the bathroom under the sink. As a child contained spaces have always felt safe to me and I would find myself hiding in wardrobes and cupboards to self-soothe. Water has also played a huge impact on safety and security for me. Whether being by the sea or listening to the sound of the shower running, water has a transformative and soothing effect on my psyche. It is as much about my relationship to the physicality of water (ironically I am scared of being in water) as it is about the sound that water creates. With running water it is something about the continuity of the sound that is repetitive and becomes meditative, and in return soothing for me.
I tend to think that as I get older I am more in touch with what is a safe space for me. I no longer rely on my instincts to find safety (back to those cupboards etc), but to carve how what is safe for me and go to safety. The more I become in touch with how I feel, what is helpful for me and what is not, the more I feel I am able to provide safety and security to myself in those times of need. As someone that grew up with a lack of effective self-soothing techniques I am often left wondering what other people do to self-soothe, at all ages. How do children learn where to go for security and how to cope with difficult emotions? How do adults continue to carve out their safe spaces in the world?
The first part of our research for the residency was to enquire about what safe spaces meant to other people. We created an online form for anyone to fill out, anonymously, asking about the following in relation to safe spaces:
We had an excellent response that gave us a diverse range of information to work with. In the studio we started to collate that information and think about not just our own relationship to safe spaces, but what others do and where they go to feel safe.
I was surprised at the responses that we got. Not only did people connect safe spaces to place: in nature, at home etc. But they also connected it to people: with a partner, children etc. There was a huge range in the amount of sounds that people found soothing. Anything from running water to the calm breathing of a sleeping horse.
We spent the next few days brainstorming the structure of the exhibition itself. We both want to create an immersive exhibition experience by combining stills, video, sound and installations. As a photographer I find that most of my work ends up at 2D works on a wall and I’m recently excited with this commission to create something 3D that is a very sensory experience. We also started with some initial filming and shooting to get the visual side of things going.
Now that our initial research period is over we’re looking at how to visually and sonically interpret some of our ideas around safe space. Watch this (safe) space!