Having being offered a place on the MA Art Psychotherapy course at Roehampton University, I decided that I wanted to document how my involvement on this study programme might inform new ways of thinking about myself and thus lead to new directions within my art practice.
Since graduating from the course, and now working within the field, I still maintain an interest in what it means to be both an art therapist and an artist. The purpose of this blog is to identify and develop dialogues with other individuals that inhabit these dual roles.
Since completing Being Here (Now), I feel a little bit stuck as to where to go from here. The theme of personal identity is so nebulous it’s hard to know where to start. I have a few ideas, but am lacking the impetus to push forward with anything. I’m still interested in self-portraiture and am continuing to work on my ‘post-it portrait’ that I started a while back. Genealogies and cultural identity are also of interest seeing as I have very little awareness of my own cultural heritage.
As someone who is half-English, half-Filipino I would be keen to explore to use my art practice as a platform to investigate my personal experience of being mixed race and how this might be similar (or different) to others who would consider themselves to be ‘Asian Other’, ‘Asian British’ or ‘Mixed’.
In all of this, I’m also reminded of the title of this blog – Art as Therapy, and whether these ideas naturally lend themselves to therapeutic theory/ thinking or is the work moving in a different direction.
For a while now, I have been working on a video piece inspired by my interest in the artist’s self portrait. After several months of playing with the footage, and several re-edits, it’s finally finished.
In Being Here (Now), I explore notions of identity drawing direct influence from Gustave Courbet’s, A Desperate Man – a painting that presents a cropped close-up of the artist with bulging eyes and hands clasping at his own head. Courbet’s image epitomises the Romantic era of the eighteenth century in which it was commonly believed that paintings could convey more than a person’s wealth and social standing, but the subjective life of the soul itself.
In contrast, Being Here (Now) playfully examines the fluidity of identity at a time when increasing social pluralism, cosmetic surgery and the fast-changing world of social media mean deciphering questions like ‘Who am I?’ is more difficult than ever (Harrison, 2016: 1). Within the video, I present myself intimately touching my own head and face – feeling my way around ears, nose lips, before these rituals become progressively more visceral and discomforting. The video footage itself also starts to breakdown as scenes are cut and spliced together and built up in layers. The multiplicity of different images, all playing simultaneously, thus renders my face and body virtually unrecognisable.
Since moving house last summer, I was a bit unsure about how to manage the peer mentoring group now that I was no longer living in London. I wondered whether it might be best to coordinate the meetings around the school holidays, thus still meeting up though less frequently. I also considered handing the reigns over to someone else if I was going to be able to around. Following resounding support from some of the others I was encouraged to keep everything going myself. Last month was out first meeting together since the move and a strong reminder of the importance of maintaining support networks with other artists.
The peer mentoring group is made up of core group of 4 or 5 people that I’ve gotten to know well over the last 2+ years. They know me and they have an in-depth understanding of the themes that drive my work. Since moving to Surrey, all my art stuff is still boxed up (awaiting another house move). I haven’t made any real inroads into engaging with other art communities in Surrey and I have a limited awareness of what opportunities there are for other artists here.
Meeting with everyone recently was extremely helpful and well worth the fare into London. I presented drawings and notes from my sketchbook and a new video piece I’d been working on. In keeping with the theme of identity I presented a couple of doctored self-portrait images that I’d printed from my computer. The images were black and white but, due to my altering of their opacity, were barely visible to the naked eye. The group struggled to see them, holding them up against the light to see a faint grey halo, perhaps the contours of my face or hair. The images sparked a lot of interest. It was originally my intention to print 100 of these images onto acetate sheets to make some sort of composite image. I hadn’t planned on printing them onto paper, but others like their translucent quality nonetheless. Through discussion we talked about the difficulty with being able to visually register these images and see ‘me’. I commented about how these had been themes within my own personal therapy – a sense of being unnoticed. This was certainly my perception when I was younger even though I enjoyed my childhood in the main.
In the weeks that followed the group discussion, it has been interesting to revisit some of these thoughts and feelings I had about myself when I was growing up. I thought about whether this feeling of being unheard might have spurred me on to become an Art Therapist with children – to be to clients what others hadn’t been for me (consistent, attentive). I’ve also thought about my position as an artist and, like other artists, wanting my own artwork to garner more attention then it does already, viewing the artwork as an extension of the self.
These thoughts and ideas are in no way new, at least not to me, but I’ve been surprised by how these themes are now emerging through my art work. I feel that whilst some of the things I’ve made before are crying out for attention, others (like the image above) are hard to find or are seemingly invisible. Perhaps that says a lot about my own ambivalence about being an artist.
I have started to compile a list of ‘I’ statements that describe who I am. I thought that if traditional self-portraits were too limited in scope to say something meaningful about who I am; beyond what I look like, then what about a series of statements that comprehensively describe everything about me (both seen and unseen).
- I am a son
- I am a brother
- I am an uncle
- I am a father
- I am a cousin
- I am a son-in-law
- I am a Christian
- I am mixed-race
- I am a brother-in-law
- I am a husband
- I am an employee
- I am a manager
- I am teetotal
- I am a registered voter
- I am an Art Psychotherapist
- I am a driver
- I am an organ donor
- I am 33
- I am tax payer
- I am a British citizen
- I am a university graduate
- I am a commuter
- I am a Londoner
- I am football supporter
- I am a worrier
- I am a daydreamer
- I am a pacifist
- I am an introvert
- I am a non-smoker
- I am male
- I am a cyclist
- I am heterosexual
- I am a godfather
- I am right-handed
- I am slow
- I am medium build
What was interesting about this exercise was that these descriptions only make sense as a compilations of statements spoken or read together. As individual statements they say very little about me or recount general descriptions that might be true of anyone – male, average build, mixed race). Their power lies in in their grouping/ combination as well, as the statements that are left out or left unsaid. Writing these descriptions down also makes me wonder if each of the 36 statements have equal weighting or if some statements are more important than others. If so, does the list need to be reordered in some way?
Given more time, I also wonder what other things I could think to say about myself or how this list might change over time.
My current work seems to be about the insufficiency of self-portraiture to capture someone’s true likeness. The images of myself are only partial. From briefly glancing at them, I wonder what assumptions or judgements someone might make about me?
Linked to this question is also the theme of memory and how people are remembered in the minds of others.