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Everyone Gives And Receives

I ended up as one of the member artists taking part in Our Place. I began going to the art classes regularly and got a lot out of them. Katie, the lead artist for the project, started coming into the classes and doing a little bit with us and overseeing, you know I think, getting a general feel for what our classes are like and what we were up to. I know that she was particularly interested in the unseen and things that we would take for granted, just everyday things or objects or you know the dirt in the classroom and stuff like that. So that got me quite excited because it meant that I could explore less conventional ways of doing things and it allowed me to free myself from feeling restrained. You know, just the act of like painting and trying to get a picture perfect, and actually saying what else is beautiful?

I was really inspired by just a few small conversations that we had about the unseen. The project gave me a bit more freedom for ways of looking at the world and just looking a bit further and a bit more deeply and being more present. It’s like when we walk down the street sometimes we’ve got our blinkers on and we’re just thinking about our destination, but actually we might miss lots of subtle, well sometimes not even subtle, but beautiful things. With the images of the sink, it was the washing away of the things that you don’t need but then leaving that trace. I really liked that there was a kind of collective element to that as well. I just thought it looked really beautiful, like when the white spirit mixed with the water it would leave really intricate, quite incredible patterns. It was kind of unconsciously collaborative and for me it reflected my experience of the therapeutic nature and the joy of just being around other people creating things. It wasn’t just mine, it was everybody’s.

It was nice that we had the rags and the images to work with because in some ways the rags talked – well for me they were about healing in lot of ways, which is what Crisis and Arts at the Old Fire Station really help with. A lot of the healing, from different things in that room, and about stitching and doing something very simple but therapeutic, meditative and repetitive. Seeing the subtle changes like seeing how an improvement to a little craft like sewing, even the stitches for me represented a likeness to stitching human skin together.

At the opening, people there were interested in and wanted to talk to me about my work. There was just a buzz about the place and I kind of took a step back and looked at it and went ‘oh that’s... I did that’- that’s a great feeling. To have had that project during a time when I was very stressed and finding things difficult was actually – it helped me a lot more because I was still feeling a sense of achievement somewhere. It was a really nurturing and positive experience for us all, together with the artist mentors on a really special occasion and everybody’s work together in that room was wonderful. I wasn’t there for the work coming off the walls, but we get to take that work away with us now and it’s a reminder. My partner has a piece of mine and that’s really nice in itself, that somebody wanted it.

This project has given me more self-worth and self-confidence. I’ve realised I'm better at reminding myself to be in the moment and be more present, that really helps in life in general. It makes your life more enriching when you appreciate the small details or the things that sometimes we take for granted or throw away. There's a bit of self-knowledge and resilience that comes with that as well. I read some of the comments in the exhibition comments book and most of them were of course positive, but there were some that were quite kind of like, ‘this is so simplistic, this is amateur’.. and it was like well, that was ok, and I actually quite liked that there were negatives, because that’s the reality of it and I don’t want it to be all just lots of fluffy responses either. That was quite interesting for me because it kind of almost made me smile! That was evidence to me that there's been a shift over the year since I was going to the Crisis classes and with all the different projects and training schemes and things like that that I’ve been involved with, there's been a shift in that.

This project has allowed me to take risks and go for things and forgive myself if things don’t necessarily work out the first time or even, ever. I think that will be a lasting effect. When I started the classes I was already of that mindset that I knew I needed to work on those aspects of my life and my self-esteem, but I didn’t quite know how much just the act of creativity in a space like that would help with that kind of thing. I don’t think that’s going to go away, especially if I keep practicing these things or seeking out things that are fulfilling for me, which I will.

I think that was really noticeable in the kind of nurturing and positive environment that was created, especially when it was the member artists and their mentors, working with professional artists, who were just so respectful of what the project was about and so interested in our ideas, thoughts and nobody was leading at that point, it didn’t feel like it, even though Katie was the lead artist it was a definitely, a collaborative, nurturing and supportive environment, but everybody was supporting each other in some way.

And the fact that for me obviously coming in first and foremost as a member, you’re not treated as a ‘problem’ or a ‘patient’ or someone who needs ‘help’ in that way, it’s more about inviting people to do as much or as little as you feel like you can or an invitation to do things you might have thought you couldn’t before, to grow I guess. But that you take responsibility for how much or as little or how quickly you want that to happen, so in that sense as well you’re kind of like, very much the designer of your own progress or programme here. It was really, really important for me to have somewhere like this in Oxford, because Oxford is a very transient city. I found I was closed off to a lot of things and I would have found it very hard to find a sense of community, and just somewhere to come every day if I wanted to and to see familiar faces. I suppose it made the city a lot easier to live in, in that respect.

The shape and form of the Our Place project and the people involved really reflects the bigger picture of the whole building. I would say it’s the value that’s placed on every individual and the respect that every individual gives and receives. The relationships between people, and nobody’s experience is any less – everybody can learn something from each other, it doesn't matter what your experience is in a certain area, and that’s always something that still surprises me because you don’t often get it, it’s a very unique set up.


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