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Containment – Designating a Space to Work

A few weeks ago I remember seeing an artwork made by another student as part of our process group, an assemblage of different materials painted prominently in the colours pink, blue and gold. To anyone else this particular artwork may have seemed fairly innocuous, although as part of our discussion afterwards I found myself staring at this work intently; even more so than my own artwork. There was something about it that made me feel very uneasy although I couldn’t underpin why. In the weeks that followed I continued to reflect upon this and the way in which artworks can evoke such strong personal responses within the viewer even when the origin of these feelings is uncertain or hidden. Incidentally; in the context of the process group, even the person who’d made the artwork exclaimed her own discomfort in what she’d made – going as far as to distance her self from it or wanting to destroy it altogether! As such in thinking about artwork made within a therapeutic setting I was prompted to think about ideas of containment.

In art psychotherapy, the term ‘containment’ stems from the writing of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. The concept refers to the way in which internalized thoughts and feelings might be projected outwards into the space of the container.

‘From very early in life we are intimately aware of our bodies as containers into which we put things and out of which other things materialize. We also experience the physical environment as something by which we are surrounded and from which we can emerge. We move in and out of rooms, clothes, relationships, jobs and other kinds of bounded spaces…. In art therapy, the art therapist, studio and available art materials may also assume this containing function…’

(Edwards, 2004:47)

Within my own art practice this notion of containment and boundaries is particularly relevant to the physical space in which I make and reflect upon my artwork. Since being on the MA course I’ve seen my own art practice move in a myriad of different directions; showing a renewed interest in the immediacy of drawing and object-making in favor of my preferred medium of video. Furthermore in being on the course I am more keenly aware of the personal drives that inform my work and how certain artworks might evoke powerful thoughts and feelings within me personally. Whilst the process of making might be a cathartic one, oppositely the production of an artwork might be an inadvertent reminder of painful or traumatic experiences.

With this in mind, I started to consider the affects of working from home where I’m effectively ‘living’ with the things that I make. Whilst this had become a staple way of working for a number of years, the introspective nature of my course has thrown all these things open to question.

In January of this upcoming year I’m hoping to transfer a lot of my artwork from home into a separate studio space at Gallery@49 based in Bracknell (http://www.reorsa.org/). Primarily this decision had been a practical one as space at home was limited and this in turn was placing a restriction on how I went about making art. However an equally pressing issue was that in sharing a space (i.e. my bedroom) with these art images and objects, I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and hampered creatively. Increasingly it felt as though I needed a space that was distinct from my pokey little bedroom which was fast becoming a mausoleum of unresolved artworks. As a result I hope this new studio environment will fulfill this containing function; providing a designated space in which thoughts and ideas that pertain to art making can; to some extent, be set apart from other facets of my day-to-day life.


Edwards, D., (2004), Art Therapy, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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