I got involved with Community Arts Partnership through Sally Young who asked me to work with a group of women connected to CITHRAH, based in Carrickfergus As this was a collaboration with the Ulster Orchestra, I considered how music is made through an intuitive process, something which I employ in my own visual art practise. I saw this project as an opportunity to explore a different way of working with a group of women, rather than in a traditional way.
I thought about visual artists who dealt with the themes of sound and movement within their work and how I could adopt and translate these processes. ..the painter Kandinsky through his use of colour and shape and Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder through their kinetic sculptures. I felt the two artforms were interlinked.
As a starting point I used the idea of how we’ve lost the art of doodling ..probably through our use of mobile phones.. that unconscious drawing while you’re thinking of something else… essentially a process the Surrealists and Dadists employed and called automatic drawing.
My overall feeling was that this process needed to be playful and light… I always feel that when people mention art to a group they think that they’re going to be doing figurative drawing or painting ..some participants can feel anxious that they are going to be exposed as a terrible artist, reinforcing ideas and feelings of a lack of self worth. So, I decided that in this instance it was necessary for me to be experimental in my approach… to be spontaneous and respond to emotional responses, where there is no right or wrong way.
In the first session, each of the participants was given a roll of wallpaper and encouraged to express themselves through colour and shape through the process of doodling. In another exercise I played a piece of music (Bohemian Rapsody) and they responded visually to the differing segments and styles of music through colour, pace and movement.
In the proceeding session, we developed these doodles into kinetic sculptures using thin wire, beads and an assortment of other objects using Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder as a point of reference. I had the idea of suspending the sculptures in a darkened room and illuminating them with a spotlight from a mobile phone (they have their uses) to create shadows on the wall. It was a very lo-fi operation using a store cupboard that had no door… so someone had to plug the entrance from the excess light. Each individual made their own kinetic sculpture, one of the participants took her sculpture home to embellish it further with her children. The children, she reported, enjoyed its sensory properties.
In the last session we explored how sound could express the movement of their sculptures. I supplied lots of materials: peas, lentils, cardboard tubes, plastic tubes and rubber bands and encouraged the group to make their own sounds, which we recorded once they had had a rehearsal. One of the participants also used their voice.
I attached all the sculptures to a hula-hoop with elastic bands to encourage more movement. I then installed it on the ceiling of the church attached to the hall, as it was the darkest place in the building. Colin from the Ulster Orchestra was designated head of lighting and was responsible for the movement of light over the piece. As I filmed, I found Colin responded to the ladies making music, moving his spotlight over the sculpture in time to the sound made, like a conductor.
Witnessing the performance, the overwhelming feeling for me was this was something of a truly spiritual experience and felt everyone in the room felt this too.
With all art that is made intuitively, there is no preconceived idea of a final outcome until you start the journey and see where it takes you. This was certainly one of those projects. I could see this piece of film with sound projected in a dark space in an exhibition in small form.