This 7 minute video gives a great overview of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project. It includes interviews with various participants and wonderful visuals of people engaging with the project.
Thanks to Nick Hand for making the film.
This 7 minute video gives a great overview of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project. It includes interviews with various participants and wonderful visuals of people engaging with the project.
Thanks to Nick Hand for making the film.
One of the key challenges we’ve come across during this project is how to communicate a message to a group of people the size of the town of Wisbech.
It seems a universal call to action doesn’t work across every constituent arm of King’s. We’ve found that a one-size-fits-all is not applicable to a population of 33,000, nor when the groups are as diverse as young students, cynical academics and diverse professional services staff. Instead, a message tailored to the specific audience is needed.
One of the main challenging aspects of communication for this project is trying to avoid the sense that 33,000 Everyday Artists is a top-down initiative, and is instead a bottom-up movement. Unfortunately emails directly to KCL accounts give this impression. Furthermore, the tone, language and style are of crucial importance.
The various target audiences who comprise King’s have differing dispositions and characteristics so not only does the message have to be tailored towards them, but the platform of communication as well.
For students, official university emails are not read or at least not engaged with. Social media (specifically Instagram and Facebook) have been the best means of communicating to this segment of King’s. For professional services staff, email has been the most successful mode. The hardest group to crack has been academics as email does not work for them because it is viewed a chore and something additional to do.
The one thing we’ve found that applies to the entire population of King’s is that face-to-face communication goes a long way. Hearing the project from a personal angle, being able to associate it with particular faces, and having a captive audience has had a significant bearing on the engagement with and uptake of the project. This is evident in that after a lecture drop-in or staff meeting there is a sharp increase in profile uploads to the 33,000 Everyday Artists website.
Communication has emerged to be a critical aspect of what enables and/or constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity. More specifically:
Fielding (2006) argues in his book Effective Communication in Organisations that there are different levels of communication in organisations. These include: organizational; mass; small-group; interpersonal; public; and intrapersonal. Furthermore, communication is made up of the following elements: sender; receiver; message; code; medium; and channel.
Going forward with the project, or reflecting on how we might have done things differently, it is potentially worth thinking in terms of these communication ‘levels’ and ‘elements’ to gain the impact needed to harness 33,000 people.
As we come towards the end of the first phase of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project, Jo and David have been finalising what the ‘intervention’ or ‘experiment’ from January to March will look like.
Based on consultations with stakeholders across King’s (students, academics, deans, professional services staff, Knowledge Exchange Associates etc.), Jo and David have decided on two main activities that will structure the three month intervention period (leaving opportunities for potential changes/additions as necessary). The two main interventions will be a crowd-sourced digital artwork and a 31 day creative challenge.
In their conversations, Jo and David have noticed how some people struggle to think of themselves as creative. They want to highlight whether it’s writing and drawing, researching and dancing, thinking and questioning, inventing and playing, everyone has something they’re passionate about – something uniquely creative, original and worth valuing. The Spring term will then focus on celebrating, encouraging and bringing to life the 33,000 Everyday Artists that already comprise the culture at King’s.
From January – playing on the portraits of the great and the good at the front of buildings on the Strand and Waterloo campuses – the project will start to build an interactive digital artwork celebrating and showcasing all of the extraordinary individuals that make up King’s. Students, staff and faculty will be encouraged to share their passions, inspirations and hobbies to create a growing repository of everyday creativity.
From January to March creative activities will pop up across King’s inspiring everyone to do, think and share their creative endeavours.
Then in March the project will launch the 31 day creative challenge – a series of simple daily prompts designed for every one of the 33,000 Everyday Artists at King’s. The 31 day challenge invites every one across the college to explore, document, design, question, make up, compose, play and reflect as a part of their daily life.
In order to be successful in developing creativity / creative learning, one has to ensure that the goal is holding the play-space open and not doing so for any extrinsic instrumental, goal-driven purpose or intention (see Amabile etc. on ‘how to kill creativity’). In other words the ‘goal’ has to be to hold the play space open and no more than this. This requires personally tolerating the uncertainty that the initiative or venture or learning won’t work – that it will be a disaster.
So how do we do this? Focus on play and playspace
Huizinga (1955:8-10) identifies 5 characteristics that play must have:
“Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means.” (Huizinga, 1980:13)
“Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays” (On the Aesthetic Education of Man — Schiller). It is interesting to reflect on the gendered nature of our project: are men or women ‘allowed to’ play more than each other? There is a lot to unpack here in terms of enduring Edwardian/Victorian values and the Protestant work ethic, for example.
Knill (who writes in a therapeutic context) says “The “doing as if” or the “we would now be…” in a play-space will always have temporal, spatial or situational aspects. These “spells” allow a distinction from the literal everyday space, time and situation and open up to an alternative world experience that offers unforeseeable and unpredictable options.” (p.88).
“Individuals’ or communities’ situations of change usually have ritual containers within which they are framed in space and time; we could say they have an “architecture”.” (Knill, p.76). Knill goes on to explain how some of the characteristics of these containers ‘depend on cultural traditions’, whilst others ‘seem to be universal’.
“When life lacks sense, when something or everything is missing or problems are closing in so much that no relief or solutions are in sight any more, one speaks of being stuck, treading on the same spot, being against a wall or cornered, having reached a dead-end, being at the limit or being in dire straits. These metaphors suggest limits and boundaries that restrict the possibilities of finding ease” (Knill, pp.77-78). There is an ‘agitated immobility’ or ‘lack of play range (Spielraum)’ (p.78).
Another writer, Turner, has written about the ‘liminality’ of play. Turner describes liminality as a “temporal interface” through which “meaning” can be generated “between established cultural subsystems, though meanings are then institutionalized and consolidated at the centers of such systems”(Turner, 41). There are many different types of playspace in which such meaning is generated (and this will be highly context specific). It may also be, however, that there are some common features.
I have just been reading a paper by Statler et al (2009), which is titled ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’: Taking Play Seriously in Organizations’. I think it is wonderfully helpful in thinking through some of the challenges of the relationship between creativity and play (though creativity is not its primary focus). On the one hand, it reinforces my sense that play is the ‘ordered’ space in which creativity happens – and this occurs through opening up the possibility of first imagining ‘other’ ways of doing things, and then ‘discovering’ them (which is consistent with my CR definition of creativity).
On the other hand, the paper emphases the autotelic nature of play, meaning that as soon as you impose external goals on play it ceases to be play (and so the idea of getting people to play more so that they become more ‘creative’ is simply not going to work. There is here what I would refer to as the paradox of intentionality. Were we to make recommendations for positive action in the form of interventions at KCL that intentionally promote more play for more creativity, these would fail. However, finding ways of holding the playspace open for more people, more of the time and tolerating the uncertainty of what outcomes these would have is the way forward. Of course, this is a difficult message to convey.
[Reflections on literature by Nick Wilson]
64 Million Artists co-founder and 33k Everyday Artists leader, Jo Hunter, was interviewed by Jessica Ball at Prowl House. Jo sets out her vision for “creativity to be owned by everyone.” Read the original article here: http://prowlhouse.info/3530-2/
Below is a copy of the interview:
Where did the idea come from?
I was working at Battersea Arts Centre as Head of Strategic Development but I realised that I had stopped being creative, I never had my own ideas, I just developed other peoples. I made the decision to take a month off work and I asked friends and colleagues to set me various creative challenges to do every day. The response was amazing, I got loads of diverse challenges and immediately I knew that I had to leave my job and do something different.
The reason that we started doing 64 Million Artists – and the reason I live and breathe the mission – is absolutely about helping other people be creative too. But it’s become really clear that we aren’t just doing it because we want people to be creative, we are doing it because we want people to have self-worth, to have agency, to make decisions in their lives about themselves, and have purpose. So the creativity is kind of a method for that, rather than just creativity for itself.
Why do you think creativity is so important for our society?
To me, I think creativity is so much the essence of who we are. When we stop people from being creative it’s actually really damaging; we are taking away part of who they are. What we have done in this country is create a culture where art is what artists do and it’s a very top-down, hierarchal culture. As a society we have made culture all about skill and talent and activities, and actually to me, creativity is nothing to do with skills and expertise, creativity is about risk and vulnerability. If we can shift our culture to be more about creativity and risk and vulnerability then we would have a much more inclusive, less hierarchical society in which more people feel that they have agency.
You need to have three things to have agency: you need to have self-worth, your relationship with you needs to be okay; you need to have purpose, know what your relationship with the world is and what you want it to be; and then you need to have a platform or permission. Or sometimes if you have enough of the first two, you can make the third happen and you don’t need someone else to generate it for you.
What’s your ideal outcome for the project?
Yes, and ultimately my ideal outcome, ideologically, is that I want us to shift from a culture that thinks about art being what artists do, to creativity being owned by everyone. And so I feel that we are constantly going to be experimenting with the best way to do that.
Just that act of saying ‘I’m going to do this’ for me sums up being an artist, and I think everyone has that opportunity. Art isn’t about skill and talent for me; it’s about being someone who says ‘I would like this to happen and I’m going to do it.’
According to a study conducted at Harvard, creativity is one third genetic but two-thirds a learned skill. The researchers argue we need to practice, experiment and ultimately gain confidence in our capacity to create.
Creativity as a muscle has led the rest of the team to ponder on the notion as it’s a rich metaphor in which to explore creativity in the 33kEA project:
Through 33,000 Everyday Artists, we hope to communicate (and embed) the message that creativity needs to be developed and nurtured regularly, just like how we build muscle through an exercise programme.
As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
With a research project like 33,000 Everyday Artists, which has a number of team-members, stakeholders and participants, there are invariably a lot of meetings. Rather than capture these important conversations and often inspiring discussions in the usual meeting minutes format, or in the form of research notes, we’ve decided we’d like to capture them in a creative way so in keeping with the ethos of the everyday artist experiment.
Some ideas for different methods of capturing meetings in creative way that I’ve come up with so far include:
So far we’ve done the post-it note and freeze-frame method which were both enlightening. These methods really do convey something about a meeting that would not have been articulated otherwise, and often get at the heart of what was discussed. The creative methods can also demonstrate how differently each person feels a meeting went and so is a useful way of noting attendees’ varying responses. The fact that it’s fun is important too as it ends a meeting on an active and enjoyable note, rather than with people shuffling or dashing out of the room as they normally do.
This photograph shows the results of the ‘freeze-frame’ method we used yesterday at the end of one of our meetings. We all came up with very different physical responses then explained them which was extremely illuminating.
Nick was impersonating David and his sling from the famous biblical story of ‘David and Goliath’ i.e. facing ‘the beast’ and overcoming the odds to be successful. The stance also captured the discussion we had about disrupting the rules and challenging the status quo when conducting research which was a key point that came out of the meeting.
53 Million Artists is an action research project and social movement that is both about and emerging out of everyday life. 53 Million Artists seeks to address constraining attitudes, practices and behaviours of the monotonous everyday to incite people to be more engaged and imaginative through harnessing creative agency.
By suggesting a range of ‘creative challenges’ (from photography to going on a walk), participants are encouraged to upload a post describing their experience, with a photo or video if they wish to, onto the 53 Million Artists website. This straightforward process has been captured in the following instructions: “Make time. Do Stuff. Think about it. Share it.” By making an intervention, we are critiquing institutional discrimination on a societal level, and the everyday habits on an individual level that reinforce the status quo, though promoting creative practice as force of for the potential transformation of everyday life.
53 Million Artists was created by two former arts organisations leaders who were frustrated with the direction in which the ‘the arts’ was going. One of them took time out from her everyday job and dedicated time to ‘creative challenges’ set by family, friends and co-workers. It was during this time of ‘defamiliarisation’ (Lefebvre, 1991a) that she was re-enchanted with art and recognised herself as an artist who had lost her creative disposition and tendencies. Perceiving art as a universal human capacity, rather than belonging to the gifted few she worked with in her everyday job, she sought to establish a movement that would inspire the whole population of England (53 million) to identify as artists and experience the personal transformation of everyday life that had so profoundly affected her.
Creating a platform and campaign to communicate this message has brought on board a team of helpers, as well as researchers to record and analyse the development and success of this movement. As the name suggests, the focus is on being an artist, rather than the artwork. As such, the slogan “just do it” is significant in simply encouraging people to challenge themselves and do something different from their everyday life, without focusing on the result and whether it is ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ or not.
The project asks the simple question, what would life be like if we spent more of our time and energies living as artists – seeing, hearing, and feeling the world more deeply? The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre argued against the separation of art from life and the general fragmentation of human activities in favour of a revolutionary aesthetics of humanist Marxism. He interpreted Marx as expounding a particular artful or aesthetic disposition:
He imagines a society in which everyone would rediscover the spontaneity of natural life and its initial creative drive, and perceive the world through the eyes of an artist, enjoy the sensuous through the eyes of a painter, the ears of a musician and the language of a poet. Once superseded, art would be reabsorbed into an everyday which had been metamorphosed by its fusion with what had hitherto been kept external to it.
It is through this re-absorption or ‘re-habituation’ of art into everyday life, through initiatives such as 53 Million Artists, that dis-alienation can be achieved and lead to human flourishing and thus a transformation of everyday life.
53Million Artists is a practical, applied, theoretical, lived, everyday initiative and communication with a growing public. At a grassroots level, 53 Million Artists has made an intervention at two work organizations based in London, and run workshops, during the four-month pilot phase. The next stage of the project will be expanded to reach a greater diversity of people in terms of age and background as well as geographically, by going into schools, prisons, residential homes, hospitals, businesses and so on. At a national level, it is hoped the project will continue to stimulate conversations and debates about what ‘art’ is and what it means to be an artist.
In the pilot phase, resisting and reclaiming terms such as ‘art’, ‘artist’, and ‘creative’ has been somewhat achieved by calling attention to the privileging of this discourse by pre-existing, occluded or invisible structures and institutions, in what we have identified as ‘artism’.
Ana: Well, I was very shy as a child and I envied all the kids who had this super confidence on stage and did acting and drama. During my teens I tried to follow up some sort of training or workshop or something to do with drama, and I remember at the time I was still very nervous and still very shy and I just bailed out of it. So it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do from a young age, but I just didn’t have the confidence to do it when I was younger. It was only about two years ago I started mingling with more actors and actresses and stuff, and going to the theatre a lot. Then I got involved in some small productions that my friends wrote, and around that same time is when I found the details of Cardboard Citizens. I actually saw one of their plays that was performed at a soup kitchen around Christmas time. At the time I was volunteering for the soup kitchen, so this is way before I became homeless. Then became homeless and then I became a member of Cardboard Citizens.
I use creativity for various reasons. I mean I’ve always been self-aware of my creative abilities and I’ve always been attracted to more than just one art or craft. I’ve done visual arts as well as performance arts. I’ve done a lot of creative studying, and worked with different creative people and worked in different creative workplaces as well. But with the acting and with Cardboard Citizens, it’s different because it’s got this twist to it. It is a charity for those who have been in difficult circumstances, and so you’ve got that moral support as well where you’ve got some people who are still facing those difficulties, or have come on the other side of that and still show peer support. But I think it’s really good, the skill of acting or dancing – because I do dancing here as well – it’s not just about expressing things but it’s also good for building up your self-confidence and building up your social skills. I know people here who struggled with their lines on the first day that they were here, and now they’re just reciting things off the top of their heads.
I remember the first rehearsal that I came here. I’m not ashamed to say that I suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, but I had a panic attack on my first audition, and I said “oh I’ve messed it up” [laughs], and they were like “no, we want you to come back, how can we help you?” So you’ve got the fun side of it where things can be playful and it can be animated, but there are real people here with real issues, and what’s great about the company slash charity is that they have staff members, all volunteers, who are there to help with the other issues that the clients may be facing. That’s why I like coming to Cardboard Citizens, and it’s different from other theatre groups, because usually they’re more rigid or you have to sign something to say that you’re going to be committed for a certain amount of time, whereas here they give you more flexibility because they’re aware that the clients have difficult issues that they might be facing. So people can have that flexibility where they can dip in and out of it as and when they’re ready to.
But I also like the element of, a lot of the topics or a lot of the subject matters that we perform are based on real social issues as well. A lot of people think theatre is just all about entertainment, but what we try and do is push the boundaries and provoke people to react, so then they talk about certain things or they become aware of certain social issues that are affecting society today. That’s what I like about it. That part can be hard for the actors and actresses because it can trigger nerves and emotions. But it’s really rewarding on the day of the performance when you get people’s responses and you get reactions, like all those tears and sweat and blood and guts was worth it, you know.
I think everyone’s got an element of creative ability in some sense, but there’s a lot of people who believe that they don’t. I’ve always been fortunate to be aware of that from an early age, and I was fortunate to have the encouragement from both my parents and my teachers to go in that direction. They could see that I wasn’t strong with my maths or my science or anything like that. I was the other – is it the left brain or the right brain? I never know which one. I was typically one of those people. I’ve dived into, without sounding boastful, I’ve dived into literally everything that I’ve ever took interest in, so as well as acting and dancing, I’ve studied photography. I’ve studied jewellery design and I’ve worked with jewellers before. I have done painting. I make hats. I write poetry. Everything that I’ve ever designed, creatively I’ve got involved in at some degree or another. If I haven’t studied it, then I’ve been working along people and been involved in that sense. The idea of doing like a boring nine to five office job just makes my stomach turn. I can’t think of doing anything else. I’ve worked with other people before where I’ve had a standard nine to five job, the money might have been good or the people were alright, but it’s not the same as following what you’re really good at and what you’re passionate about.
Jo: And what do you think it brings to the rest of your life? What kind of difference does it make to who you are?
Ana: Well, it can shape my life in different ways, especially when it comes to writing poetry; a lot of poetry that I write is loosely based on real life experiences. I’ve got two types of poetry styles that I use. I use a lot of humour, a lot of dark wit, or I get onto the deeper, real serious stuff. I try and throw a bit of humour on the serious stuff as well, but I can’t imagine not being creative. It’s all I’ve known. Sometimes I’ve used it as a coping mechanism as well, when I’m going through difficult times. I don’t deal with negative emotions that well anyway, so if I can dive myself into my creative work, it can help me in that sense, whereas somebody else who might be going through the same problem or issue of life, they might tap into something else. They might see a counsellor or go down to the pub or get drunk! I think, especially in the last couple of years, my personal life has been quite tough and I got to the point where I was so frustrated talking about it and I felt like I wasn’t being heard, I was repeating myself quite a lot and it was just upsetting me.
Then I joined the poetry workshop and all this material just started coming out, and for months I felt stuck creatively, I was so frustrated and my mind was in a really bad headspace, and the energy to do creative things just wasn’t flowing the way that I wanted it to, and I was getting annoyed. It was like the very thing that I love doing; I can’t even enjoy doing that right now because I’m so stressed out. I was like right, where’s that pen and paper, and it all just came out, like certain experiences that I had in the last couple of years came out in poetry. Some of it’s quite heavy and quite deep, but again without sounding boastful, when I read back on some of the stuff that I wrote, I was like this is a lot better than the stuff that I was writing a year ago or two years ago or three years ago, but it’s come from a lot of frustration and pain and personal difficulties.
Again that’s why I like coming here. I’ve got a vague idea of what might be going on in other people’s lives, but I think I can speak on behalf of others, I think they do the same. I think it’s just a couple of hours in the day where it’s been stressful, where they’ve been dealing with housing issues or medical issues or whatever the issue is, and just for a few hours we can come here and not think about it, and just do something creative and do a production together. But like I said, there are times when it can get emotional here, because a lot of the drama that we do is based on the issues surrounding homelessness or mental health or unemployment, or all these other social issues that are up in the air at the moment that are affecting quite a lot of people.
Jo: Do you take time out to reflect on whatever creative thing you’re doing? Do you sort of take time and think oh that was good, that was bad or this what I got out of it or whatever, or is it something you do in the moment?
Ana: A bit of both. There are times when I do things spontaneously and I haven’t planned it, I haven’t rehearsed it or anything like that. I’ll just do it. I’m quite a spontaneous person anyway. I’m quite flexible. Having said that, there are times when it works in my favour when I do have some structure, because if I get too fluid and if I get too flexible, then I can’t make up my mind which direction I want to go. It’s like okay, I need to have some sort of order somewhere where I can plan something out and make it happen. I think that works well more with the performing arts in a sense. Having said that, nearly every performance that I’ve seen here or been involved in, we can rehearse until the cows come home, but on the actual night or day that we have to do the performance, anything can happen, and it has done. There’s been times when someone’s forgotten their lines. I remember there was one time, I was dancing in this really long gown and I had these little beads and sequins on these slippers that I was wearing, and it kept on getting caught on the gown, and I had to stay still standing on one foot, and I was outdoors and it was windy as well, and then I had to go back into the next dance scene and my dress was caught on this thing, and I just had to style it out. I had to make up a dance routine that wasn’t part of the thing, but no one knew. No one knew because the only people who would know were the people that I was rehearsing with, unless someone in the audience saw the rehearsal, which has never happened.
But yeah, it can go either way. If I think about something too much, then I won’t do it. I think the energy has to flow. It has to be there or it’s not. There’s times when I can write ideas down and the find research, backup information that will go to that particular concept or idea and I can still produce something good, but usually when I don’t think about it and I’m not planning it, it usually turns out pretty good as well. I think the times when I become more structured is with my written work, with the poetry. Sometimes I’ll just get one line in my head and I’ll write it down, and I’ve got nothing, and I’ll just leave it. And then maybe a couple of days later, the next line will come. Or there’s been moments when I’ve written a poem that’s as long as an A4 piece of paper and just done it all in one take, and looked at it and I haven’t changed it, and it’s exactly how I wanted it to be. That’s the thing about creativity. You can take something, have one idea and it might go in a different direction, or you get something you didn’t plan and it turns out alright, or you do a painting and you make a mistake with the paint, but the mistake is a perfect mistake because it doesn’t affect the artwork; it actually makes the artwork interesting. I think I enjoy that side of being creative. It’s not so rigid and it’s not so boxed in. The whole beauty about art and creativity is that you can literally take something out of nothing and make it into something beautiful.
Jo: And in terms of working with other people, so either collaborating with other people like you might here, or having an audience, how important is it to you?
Ana: In general, as much as I like socialising and being around people, I do also like my own company, and sometimes it works better for me because I get easily distracted. So I tend to do my best work when I’m on my own, but it doesn’t mean to say that I can’t work with others. I was in a production a couple of years ago where none of us rehearsed together. Like the whole crew had to go home and rehearse. We couldn’t see what the others had rehearsed, but yet we knew exactly what the script was about, we knew what the story was about, we knew who was playing each character, but no one knew who was going to perform what until the actual date, and when the day came, it worked out; it wasn’t how anyone expected it to be. Like the audience was roaring and stuff like that. In the same production though, we was given solo pieces, because it was like an ongoing tale of the genealogy of these different families and different time zones, so there was times when we was performing together, and there was times when we were doing our solo pieces. When I do solo pieces, personally I love getting a reaction out of the audience. So whatever character I am, I typically go for really weird, strange, outrageous characters anyway, just to make a fool of myself. I think if you can get into that zone of making a fool of yourself, it diminishes all the nerves, because if you’ve made a fool of yourself in public, then everyone’s already laughing at you and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. So I don’t just stand on the stage, I will literally go into the audience and interact with them as though they’re part of the play. I remember there was one time I deliberately, spontaneously, I didn’t even think about it, but there was this one particular scene where I was playing this crazy woman, she was hearing voices in her head, and I went up to the first person in the front row and I kicked the leg of their chair and pretended to spit. I literally went [makes spitting noise], and people actually thought I spat all over here, and everyone was like [big gasp]. And I feed off that. When I get these kind of reactions, it makes me want to push the character even more and take it even further, so that’s how I personally like to work.
I do like working with others, and it can be very interesting, but depending on certain scenes or what the story’s about, I think sometimes it can work in your favour working with others. I think sometimes, depending on what the nature of the story is, you can do solo pieces and still perform okay without your cast members. That’s something that I never thought I’d hear myself say, because years ago, the thought of being on stage and making a fool of myself was the thing that terrified me. I think that kind of made me a little bit more reserved in pursuing acting and performances. But now as an adult, like when I’m doing it, when I’ve got the energy and my mind’s focused on it, I’m fully involved and I thrive on it. I love pretending to spit on people and pretend to pull their hair and like nick their handbag. And the audience get all nervous and twitchy and that’s what you want. You want a reaction from the audience. You don’t just want them sitting, just staring at you, “oh when’s it time to go home?”
Jo: Brilliant. So finally I just want to ask you, if you knew someone that was thinking about picking up a pen and writing something, or painting or acting or doing whatever, either professionally or just because they wanted to, what advice do you think you’d give them?
Ana: I would say do more than one thing because it’s more fun and it’s more challenging. See I could give the advice and say. “ask yourself why you want to do it”, but I can’t even answer that myself really and truly, because it’s just something that I love doing. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s like asking Usain Bolt, do you fancy driving a train instead of doing all this running?! If you find a particular outlet of creativity to do and you really love doing it, then just keep on improving and keep on getting inspiration from different sources. For example, if you’re going to think about acting, think about what kind of acting you want to do, because there’s different types. Think about if you can physically and emotionally handle it, especially if you’re going to do forum theatre. Then just watch other actors. I go to other plays. I don’t just get caught up in my own stuff. I appreciate other people’s work and sometimes I get inspiration from that. I think as well when it comes to acting, be as observant as you can. Make as many notes, be as resourceful as you can as well, because it will help you when you’re actually playing a part. Especially if you’re trying to play a part that is believable and it’s not just a fictional character, but especially if you are doing it loosely based on someone’s life. Try and get all those little details in there so it’s convincing enough. That’s what the skill of acting is, to convince the audience that what they’re seeing is real, even though it’s not.
Jo: Brilliant. That’s so great. Thank you so much.
Tom: Well I think the main reason is that I can’t do anything else. I mean I feel a bit like I’m having a bit of a midlife crisis with it at the moment, because it’s a bit of a struggle at the moment. So I’m thinking about what are the other options that I could be doing, and I don’t know what they are. I can’t think of any. I’ve tried. I really love it still, but there’s other things that I hate that are making it feel harder than it has ever felt before.
Jo: And is that stuff around the art or the art itself?
Tom: It’s all the stuff around it.
Jo: And is your practice something that you do every day?
Tom: Yeah, so I’m always thinking about it or doing something.
Jo: And what sort of impact do you think it has on the rest of your life as a person?
Tom: Well I think it’s integral to it. Someone said to me yesterday, because they were a friend of a friend so they didn’t know me or they didn’t know what I did, he said something like “what are the things that get you going” or “what do you like?”. I was just like; well, it had to be connected to the fact that I make performance because there isn’t that much else really. I don’t really have a hobby. I mean it’s all intertwined isn’t it really? So I have taken up things like exercise or other things but they are part of, they’re connected to that. So the reason I do exercise is because it is connected to the fact that I need to keep my body in some sort of shape for my artwork. Reading is connected with – I only read things that are related to things that I’m researching about really.
Jo: And has it always been like that? How do you remember getting into it?
Tom: Well I think that I probably was a bit late to it, because I graduated, I did a degree, and then there was this sort of wilderness period of not really being able to do anything really. At that time I was just, well I was just partying really and taking drugs and clubbing and having fun, and that was all I did really. I claimed benefits and I mucked around, and I think that is because when I was graduating there wasn’t a massive support structure for going from education into the arts. You just had to carve your own path really. I think now education courses seem to channel you to do that, like writing an Arts Council application could be part of that module or something. We never had anything like that really, so I just was sort of wandering around for about seven years, and gradually doing more bits and stuff until it became more like ‘this is what I can do now’.
Jo: And do you take time to reflect on your process quite a lot, or is it something that you do more in the moment?
Tom: I probably do reflect over it constantly, yeah. I see some projects as successful. I have one project that Clara actually calls ‘the project that will never die’ or something. I can’t remember the way she put it, because it just always works and it has always worked, and I sort of follow that formula really. I keep following it in different places and it’s proved to be really, well financially, it’s proved to be really good because people are wanting to invest in it, it’s engaging with older people and the pieces are interesting to audiences as well. So I keep doing that. At some point I’ve reflected on that and said, “that’s a good project and I need to keep doing that”, and I enjoy doing that.
Jo: And obviously you work quite a lot on your own, but how important are other people in your practice? I guess that question has two parts, audience and then other collaborators.
Tom: Well there’s lots of collaborators that come on board. I work with people that might do sound design or write me a song or something, or I might just get someone in to say “oh I’m developing this piece of music, can you sharpen it up with me”, with outside eyes. Then if I’m doing something that has a bit more of a participatory feeling to it, then I’m working with those people as well. They also are the audience as well, but they are like co-authors of the work so they’re integral to it as well.
Jo: How does it affect your practice? What does it bring to it?
Tom: Well, it’s just another pair of eyes really. It’s also just discipline really, because if you put me in a room on my own, I do take a while to actually knuckle down and do some work. Whereas if someone is there or I know someone’s going to come in and say “alright, show me the bit that you’ve done”, I’m sort of forced to try and present them with something, so they don’t just watch me looking at Facebook!
Jo: How about audiences? What role does an audience play in your work?
Tom: I think about them right from the beginning and I think about their way into the work. I like to somehow meet them at the beginning of a show, so whether that’s like they come in and there’s music playing and I’m in the space handing out chocolate. Or there’s a moment where I go round and refill people’s drinks or something like that. So I feel like they’re invested in me and I want them to meet me on that way.
I think that’s something to do with charming them, which I try and do whenever possible because I think it creates a nice experience for them, because they’re coming into my world in a way. Sometimes it’s like, if it is a very personal show then it’s like, you have to sort of come into my brain and sort of see that I’m going to tell you about the way I perceive things to be. So you might not have thought about that before, or you might think the same thing and you can share that.
Jo: Finally, if you knew someone that was thinking about making a show or doing something, getting involved in being an artist, either professionally or not, what advice would you give them?
Tom: Well, I think it’s about childhood. So I think it’s trying to tap into that thing that you had when you were a child; that you might have felt like you’ve lost, but you haven’t lost. When I think about my childhood, we did lots of things that were really creative. We just did slate drawings or we made up stories, or we had a dressing up cupboard and we did all those sorts of things, and read poems or stories for each other. So I’m always trying to encourage people to do that, and that could just be actually through conversation as well, because conversation can be creative.
If I’m hanging out with my parents, I’m always trying to get them to draw or write poems or something. And sometimes I organise these tea parties for older people, and I cover the table with a huge white paper table cloth and loads of pens, and the conversation is documented by writing notes about what people say, but they could also do a drawing or they could do something else if that’s appropriate.
So yeah, I would encourage them to tap into that childhood thing. And I suppose I feel quite strongly about a lot of these places that are the kind of gatekeepers of art. Like some of these places are really austere and white, and everyone that goes there is of a certain age or they’re kind of hip. It would be really nice if that didn’t happen so much, and that older people especially – because I think that’s my interest really, is working with older people – felt like they could go to those places and they had an opinion about it, they wanted to say things about the art and stuff. I took a group of older people around an art show at the Arnolfini, and that was the first time that a lot of those people had ever been there, and they all lived in Bristol. It’s just a shame, and they had all really great opinions about it too.
Jo: Brilliant. Thank you very much.