This is Kay's very personal response to the question posted by Genevieve Rudd asking how practitioners describe their work. It was originally submitted to our google group.
How do I define my work /practice
This is an interesting question for me. I began to develop an art practice late in my life – initially as a private pursuit – primarily using textiles. I am currently exploring ways to develop my art practice and thinking about how it connects to other work I have done and continue to do.
My background is in community development and I trained as social worker. In community development the focus was involving and engaging with people through activities. The activities provided in-roads to conversations and exchanges that went beyond words. I got interested in independent advocacy with people with mental health needs and dementia. The focus was very much about representation – as far as possible representing people whether you agreed with what they said or not. Advocating with and for people with dementia is fraught with ethical dilemmas but perhaps dementia advocacy practice and what I learnt from that part of my life is what influences how I work and want to work as an artist.
Communication with people with a dementia is tricky and has to go beyond words – with time and an appeal to all the senses it is possible to find out what is important to that person or a group of people to and find a way to express it- even if it is fragmented and requires time to take shape. Where a person doesn’t have a dementia there are still times when they face moments where it is difficult to express or engage with concepts or ideas. Facilitating conversations and exchanges through a range of art interventions can yield nuggets from the mind and imagination that would have been impossible to see and comprehend without a sensitive investment of time and processes. I think these practices can be described as socially engaged and participatory – not simply because they are about working with people in groups or as individuals but because it is about more than producing a piece of art. The art and the conversations and participation are inter-related.
I have had the pleasure of participating in a project called Visible Mending. Carol Parker conceived of the idea after her shed was broken into. Carol invited artist to send repaired postcards to be shown in an exhibition in the shed. Since the exhibition the show has gone on tour. I hosted the show in a number of small intimate spaces. On a few occasions I hosted the exhibition in an individual's home in their lounge and held 1:1 conversations with older women who for various reasons were quite isolated or had to spend a lot of time in their own homes. I so enjoyed sharing an exhibition which arrived in an envelope and prompted memories, thoughts and ideas. The conversations held as the art was shared were - intimate, meaningful and energizing. The practice is one I want to repeat and build on. So, how do I define my work and practice – intimate participation??