- Date added:6 months ago
On October 6th, 2020, I joined colleagues at Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination to hear about their experiences of working with children and adults in digital spaces these last months. Their reflections may resonate with the wider community and help others find ways to be creative together during this time of physical distance.
Sharing is more important than ever. But it is also more difficult than ever.
Reciprocal sharing is very important. We’ve tried out offering invitations with carefully selected art materials, photographs of work and links, creating films to introduce invitations, or soundscapes to be immersed in. Screengrabs and other platforms have allowed moments on a screen to be captured. As artists, we are developing new ways of being online to carry on working creatively together, to create artworks, a series of images, tell stories, share photos of the process and support collaborative sharing. The question of what is possible is crucial. How can we enable the creative freedoms we know are important? How can we support other adults we are working with to do this on our behalf if children are part of the group? The challenge is daunting. Achieving connection despite physical distance, especially with a big group, is vital.
A gift creates a link: it takes preparation, organization and generosity.
Something very rich can happen. Even digital spaces can become a meeting place for a shared process of storytelling. Through the lack of face-to-face interaction, it is possible to create the gift of connection in new ways. The offering of a gift – whether that is a special material, an art box, a soundscape or a story – can be the provocation that invites a beginning. Creating a space for gift giving and reciprocal sharing seems to support a spirit of assemblage and story so that everything can feel very live; a new space that can hold the group.
Preparing for a dance between the physical and the virtual
The beauty of a moment emerges through preparation. Any time there is a connection to real things, whether that is our bodies or objects and materials around us, there is potential for transformation. The digital medium can get in the way, so it is important to have help on hand to support the technical side. As artists, we need to be fully present in the moment. We need freedom and support to imagine how we can continue to make time to weave together all the ‘voices’ involved – our environment, teachers, children, school cultures, and the myriad of other connections in our community that can be our greatest resource when creating together. This process of 'calibration’ is vital. Relaxation, guided meditation and music can help reengage us with all our senses so that we can continue to work with the body despite screens and distance. And adaptability is of great importance. To achieve this responsiveness, a great deal of preparation is needed for each session.
We exist beyond the digital space. Zoom is just a place where we happen to meet.
Connecting online is not a brief window of engagement despite pixelated appearances. If you are someone bringing others into a digital session, the preparation will anchor you. There needs to be both preparation and improvisation to enable that element of sharing and storytelling. Think of it as a campfire. Name your environment, tell stories about your space, name the discomfort to help diffuse any uneasiness. It helps to know your audience and their experiences with this platform, to adapt to the group. For example, is this a shy group? Do we need to introduce ourselves slowly?
We can reach people in new ways.
Digital platforms are a small part of a bigger connection. People can join who would not otherwise have the chance to go to a physical space. Newsletters, short videos, whiteboards, warm-ups, incorporating objects, creative challenges can all contribute to collaboration. Chat boxes can also be an important tool. Time online is one part of an extended back and forth in lots of different directions, the artist can pull it all together in many ways.
Many questions remain. How do physically distanced connections between artists and classrooms or other meeting environments work? What is the ideal number for being creative together? How do we balance preparation, improvisation and the goal of open-ended process? How can digital platforms engage different types of learners, for example kinaesthetic learners, peripheral learners? How can we continue the sense of dialogue and exchange beyond these meetings? We have found the dis-embodied process of calibration to be time consuming and exhausting. These thoughts show how reconnecting with the body in space in a visceral way can help rebuild connectedness in these new meeting spaces.
Practically, it is important to understand that a one-hour time slot would ideally require a four-hour window that includes two hours for preparation and one hour for reflection. If we are going to move to a world where we aren’t in schools and workshop spaces, we will need to think how to structure sessions that incorporate that preparation and reflection time. The synchronous part is a tiny element of what becomes a complex, but potentially hugely enriching, process.
We are grateful to the Arts Council’s Emergency Fund for their support to CCI during lockdown. Funds from this grant supported four artists CCI to invest time and resources to reflect on the challenges of working online – Hilary Cox Condron, Filipa Pereira Stubbs, Sally Todd and Caroline Wendling. They drew on their work with FullScope’s Creative Care programme but also work with other partners during this period – in particular the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Community Arts, and the Young Carers group supported by Centre 33 with the University of Cambridge Museums.
Emily Dowdeswell is a post-graduate research student based in Cambridge who first worked with ArtScapers in 2019.