Today is Maundy Thursday, a day in the Christian calendar that observes the Last Supper and the ritual of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and bidding them to go out and share the word of Love; since the 13th Century the British Royal family has given out alms, or a gift of money on this day. COVID 19 has prevented this form happening in 2020, but we have seen a swell of caring within our communities, through the act of sharing and loving our neighbours. Giving thanks & showing gratitude to the countless people who labour on, in spite of the hazards involved.
Yesterday as part of the Learning Together Network ‘ThinkLets’ exercise, we shared a resource put together with colleagues; providing creative exercises for people in the CJS, who are experiencing additional isolation on top of their usual conditions. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1kUoLVAaYInozmGXSNNaU40tOiUlkz-P_
Something we can all now perhaps relate to, although respectfully, coming at it from a very different perspective.
The practices/exercises in the resource are accessible to all and designed to engage people at all levels; please note the Qi exercise is one that was shared with me recently from the Tai Chi, Qigong & Feng Shui Institute, for good immunity & lungs and not the Wuji (opening stance) exercise which some of you may recall from our time at Springhill/Whitemoor together, more details on the practice & full sequence can be found at https://taichi18.com/
If you have internet access & would like to participate in weekly practice and are happy to use Zoom, please consider attending classes by Paige Sheffield who taught me in Lincoln: send her an email and she will add you to a mailing list for weekly updates.
Whichever way, please do share this exercise, it may be helpful to you, or someone you know. In mind, body & spirit.
Wishing you & yours the best of health,
Rebecca L. Greene
Honorary Artist in Residence
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
Founder & Artistic Facilitator @DrawConnect
Wednesday 6th November, marked our Eighth and last DrawingConnections session for 2019. It was a wonderful gathering of participants; colleagues, family, associates in the field. Like-minded people and now I would say, friends.
We (Hector and me) tried to get there an hour or so ahead of the celebrations and with the help of Noel, Penal Reform Solutions converted the Ecobuild in to an exhibition space of a selection of work produced during the project.
Congregating at the front of the main house, with the fantastic support of Prison Officer Glenys, starting with the Buddha Grove we took a walk around through the Springhill estate green spaces which had inspired much of our work. Looping through the woods and round across the exercise field to where Luis from Nanna Mexico was set up where we were joined by Custodial Manager, Pete. All those taking part in the end of course celebration were invited to get a custom made, delicious burrito (some for the first time in their lives), before returning to the Ecobuild to enjoy the work exhibited and conversation together.
We were honoured to be joined by Julia Upton MBE, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, along with representatives of Bucks Association for the Care of Offenders (BACO), Milly Soames, Fiona Paine & Ruth Farwell. We were also delighted to welcome Dora from the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, parents and friends of participants, both from College and within Springhill.
Julia Upton, gave an encouraging speech about the importance of Art & Creativity, in her working life within Education and much of her work as High Sheriff in the community, particularly in areas of wellbeing and encouraging positive mental health. Following this certificates of participation were presented to all those who took part in the project and attended the celebration.
All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon, full of thanks and good cheer. It was both rewarding and insightful for all who took Parton the celebration, with many new accomplishments; whether as a visitor to a Cat D prison for the first time; someone eating a burrito for the the first time, or seeing the creative work of someone for the first time. Perhaps even for some, as one door closes, another begins to open.
We give thanks to all for taking part: Governor Becky Hayward and staff for their support in the prison for allowing the project to take place in their grounds; the participants for agreeing to take part, making the project possible; the funders who enabled the project to proceed; the Artists for their professionalism in their respective sessions; the staff at Banbury & Bicester College Art Faculty and members of the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge for their patience and support; and not least Hector for his encouragement, contributions in every way and fantastic taxi service, collecting me & artists from the station & delivering us to Springhill. Champion!
The last two sessions have been focused on working digitally, using Digital Cameras and Tablets in the Sixth Session with Artist & Photographer, Wig Sayell and in the Seventh Session, using Tablets and Layering, Collage with Artist and Koestler Arts Mentee, Terence J Lambert
With no Rebecca LG in Session Six, Co-Facilitator Hector Garay rose to the challenge of assisting Wig in leading the session, it was also Wig’s birthday, so cake and card at the ready, in Hector’s words:
[it was] ‘ALL BRILLIANTLY GOOD!! We made a quick induction and Noel did some Tibetan breathing movements to start with. Different but it helped the group to get in the mood. We experimented with long exposure around the pond and then returning to the Ecobuild for hot drinks & cake 🎂 we did some blind drawing. An intense, but rewarding day’
The Seventh, and last session with Terence was a small, but intimate gathering. We had no college students, as they were on half term, and whilst their company was missed, it proved to be really worthwhile and an open, sharing session. Michael shared some of his collage works using photocopies of foliage and drawings, charcoal Indigenous smudging and poetry.
It was particularly good. Like when Lee came to visit, only this time without the reservations perhaps retained in front of the other external participants; the guys, including one new comer, Steve who recently transferred over to Springhill had a real heart to heart about life post release and the value found through practicing art.
And so, this week, we come to the last of our Wednesday sessions for 2019, when we have our end of project celebration. We are delighted to be welcoming Julia Upton MBE, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, who’s theme for her year as Sheriff is arts & culture and how it can transform communities and lives. And we are looking forward to sharing in a Burrito Lunch c/o Nana Mexico with her and other guests, visiting friends & family, whilst we have a chat and enjoy a pop-up exhibition of the original works created throughout the project. More after!
Today we shared the afternoon with Artist Lee Cutter, and what a day it has been…
The image above I captured as we return from Springhill; Lee considers images taken during the session and we reflect on the feedback from Participants today. Profoundly moved by yet another exceptional session I find myself inspired to write the blog almost immediately (and not a week later as before):
We arrived in our usual fashion; a meditation on our shared space through the opening stance and moves of Shibashi, then arriving in the beautifully scented Ecobuild, where We have been stowing our willow creations in the room, to great effect!
Soap carving, is an art form synonymous with Prison creativity, a resource available to hand and soft enough to carve with nothing more than a pencil & prison issue plastic fork. Today we saw things from a perspective largely hidden from conversations anywhere beyond a cell wall, or an artist studio. College students listened avidly, whilst Springhill residents nodded in understanding, as Lee shared his journey with us:
Rooted in homeless as a teenager, followed by several years in a Youth Offenders Institute at the borderline age 18, Lee’s experience was one of struggle as preferable treatment was given to men younger than he. In effect it was Solitary confinement and Lee turned to creativity, at first creative writing, then sketching the details of his cell. Once he had run out of paper, he turned to soap.
Fast forward several years and Lee, long since release has had his work exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition amongst other places and selected for the Windsor collection. Now working for the Koestler Arts, he is supporting others in the CJS with their creative endeavours and has curated and produced a number of exhibitions for the charity, including at The Royal Festival Hall, The Supreme Court and The House Of St Barnabas.
Now armed with prison issue bars of soap & forks, we followed Lee’s lead to exceptional results:
The Autumn Sun, now hung low in the sky, bathing our surroundings in a golden glow, so taking advantage of the opportunity we took a walk around the green spaces and appreciated the fresh air and the colours associated with this season of cyclical change.
Returning to the Ecobuild we shared in hot drinks and started the second half of our afternoon together, some continuing with new soap challenges, others taking the time to write, or draw. A couple of the guys were interested to hear about how Lee was now making a living as an Artist having perused his work with soap, planting seeds of change they are considering their options now. A happy outcome.
On our journey home, Lee shared some of his observations from the afternoon:
“It was very moving to see how people worked with the materials in their own ways. Whether that was carving soap to reveal an object, or digging in to embed. Also seeing how people wanted to push the artwork further with inks, and not being afraid to be vulnerable in their making.
I felt inspired to see how the two groups came together from different environments and treat each other with the same caring respect. Being Human. Hearing people open up gave me more confidence to share my story, especially as everyone was open minded and listening, there was a real sense of community in the air”.
We look forward to welcoming Lee to the Institute Of Criminology this weekend for the Festival of Ideas; then next week our sixth session with Wig Sayell next Wednesday when we will be doing photography!
Watch this space…
Our 4th session took place, Wednesday 9th October with Lino Artist, Alexandra Buckle. I promised myself that I would write the blog for the session on my return journey. However, a week has passed and here I am, the evening before our next session, reflecting on last week.
It’s not a bad thing, in all honesty, as it provides a channel through which to focus my attention on the work we have done and consider how best to approach our work with Lee Cutter, but more of that later…
Following our arrival, with a gentle grounding through the practice of Shibashi (evidently showing that practice makes for great improvement), Alexandra talked us through the process of Lino cutting. Once acquainted with the tools and handling required everyone made tentative attempts at cutting in to their tiles:
Once people felt comfortable with the tools they were handling and consequently with increased confidence in their ability. Designs came flooding in and with the addition of colour, several significant pieces were produced, and for those less confident in their drawing ability, they found that through Lino Art a masterpiece had been created,
Much collaboration was achieved and although everyone worked on their own individual piece. The work was testament to the fact that we can work together in harmony and given the time, working in quite repose, enabled concentration and gave people the space needed for creativity; to get lost, or absorbed in their work. This in itself, a real gift in our times of fast production and consumption with artificial rewards; through this process the reward presented itself before your eyes as a product of ones own work.
This Wednesday, 16th October we have a fascinating and challenging afternoon, with Soap Artist, Lee Cutter, creating works of Art in Soap. Lee is joining us this Saturday (19th) at the Institute Of Criminology, University of Cambridge with ‘A Soap Opera’, the first part of our Arts in Prisons trilogy of events. We hope you will be able to join us!
Third Session, Wednesday 2nd October 2019 with Jamal Khan, Poet, Performer & Creative Writer.
It is said a picture speaks a thousand words and by and large I would be in agreement with that, particularly if you are a visual person and adept at reading an image like a book. However, writing, particularly creatively adds another dimension to creative expression and packs the power to release what might be difficult to draw, or say out loud.
Oftentimes, I have found the ability to let the lid off the bottled up emotions and thoughts through creative writing and found it a useful tool to make sense of the world around (me) us. Jamal’s session made it very clear that this had been the case for him during his several years, from the age of 15 in the CJS.
Having Jamal, express this viscerally in front of a class of 12, some of whom are living through the CJS at present, had a profound effect on many present.
We cannot begin to understand the actions of another person, wherever that person may be, if we are not prepared to listen without judgment and give that person our time at no cost. Having this opportunity in HMP Springhill, underpinned by the wisdom of Desiderata, broadened the perspective of many present.
CoFacilitator, Hector Garay told us about his schooling in Spain, which had been prompted by the green biros we were using in the session:
“Green is the colour of nature and plants. Its presence has increased in the last decade linked to recycling and the ecologist movement, but few people know it has been used for more than a century for writing purposes.
In latin-based languages, “green” (vert, verde..) is also the colour for “hope” (or “esperanza”).
That’s why when an attempt to create a common language called Esperanto, as an universal way for people from different cultures to communicate and understand each other, green was the proposed colour to write it.
There are still today communities all over the world that use this language to supress the barriers of communication and they still use green to write it, “hoping” some day we all understand each other, regardless our culture or the language we speak.”
As Hector’s words suggest; it is clear to me that having the tool of creative writing is a real enabler for anyone wishing to take steps towards a better future; not only that, but in finding strength through writing, many present were led to gaining the courage to speak before other people.
It is also worth noting, the words which Title the blogs are all taken from the feedback collected from each session, written anonymously by the participants in the session.
Our next, fourth session in Springhill will be in Lino Art with Alexandra Buckle.
Second session took place Wednesday, 25th September with Willow Artist, Hazel Godfrey
Driving up the hill from the main road two Red Kites circled and danced in the sky above Springhill, almost in an act of greeting to us on our arrival. It was a magnificent site to see and a good omen for the afternoon ahead. Gladly, we met Hazel in the car park and were able to help with carrying materials and equipment to check through the gate before heading to the Ecobuild to set for everyone’s arrival.
Hazel talked us through the materials and explained our plans for the afternoon & the basic weaving methods for the initial framework. After a gloomy start and now with sun shining we set about gathering foliage from around the green spaces to weave in to the structures, which rather than planning, organically grew in the making…
Following a spot of the opening stance and movements of Shibashi returned to the Ecobuild with our bounty of nature, somewhat daunted by the prospect of working with such a simple material, yet seemingly complicated technique, with deep concentrating and a sense of solidarity we all set about weaving some magic.
Everyone’s work was exemplary, but there were some outstanding pieces produced through the course of the afternoon and magic they were, all. In particular, the work of Craig; who, quite decisive and methodical in his approach, seemed to complete the task with ease and swiftly and before we knew it had set himself a challenge and progressed to produce a simply beautiful figure. Complete with the staff like object I had been making, a Shamanic presence now watched over us from the corner of the room with captivating effect:
Willow weaving & basket making as a method are thought to date back to hunter-gatherer times and the methodical, yet somewhat primeval activity that afternoon left many of us with a deep sense of reward; the works were varied in their approach and execution, but as mentioned previously each had its own magic, in particular:
Subconsciously, Alaina’s creation evolved out of a piece of artwork by Michael while he created a series of hearts; Daley a mobile & Leon’s structure took on a very organic, yet satisfying shape with suggestions of holding a baby, or even a basket from which to cascade flowers, like a bridal bouquet…
Once we had cleared up we arranged our creations on a central table to be appreciated and discussed by the group. Hazel, notably, spoke of how she had found the session inspirational and revealing to her; by exploring the material afresh with those handling it for the first time she felt encouraged to explore new methods and approaches in her own work.
Truly, a session of Learning Together, taking ‘a leap of faith’ and ‘trying something new’; discovering ‘power’ because you were good at it. Now that’s ‘Willow Growth’!
Next week we are joined by Wordsmith & performance poet, Jamal Khan to reveal the creative release that comes from working with words and putting pen to page. They say it is mightier than the sword…
First Session, From ‘Trees to Whales’ to Nests & Creativity with Lisa Pearson…
On the eve of our second session 25th September 2019, a moments reflection on the start of our 2019 project in HMP Springhill.
As has been the case for the last two iterations of the course, there has been a lot of anxiety in the build up to the project: are we going to have enough students; will there be enough interest within the prison; we need to figure out funding and the usual feeling of ‘why am I/we doing this?’.
It is a good question, and in the darker moments it’s a heavy one, but as those of you who have done similar work, or been to see a Koestler exhibition the ‘Light switches on’ the moment you have your first experience. The gratitude held, felt and shared by the participants is palpable, calm soothes the air as we share the experience together and a sense of equality -we are all human beings, irrespective of our differences- holds the space. Moments like these are of the highest value, that no money can buy.
That was definitely the case last week: the groups came together for a series of activities looking at trees, nature & ‘nest building’ with Lisa Pearson, a creative, horticultural therapist.
Initially we started the afternoon, following introductions with the opening posture (& first moves) of Shibashi, attempting to perfect our Wuji Stance. I have found this to be the best grounding and breathing exercise to reduce anxiety, particularly in new environment and it helps to create an open, but safe space in which to be creative and share in the experiences available.
Once we had found our space we engaged in Charlotte Synge’s From Trees to Whales’ activity, creating a web of connections as we learned and identified the connections created through, by and with trees.
…now well and truly integrated, with our newly established knowledge of this Wooded World we took ourselves to the grounds green spaces, to reflect on our lesson and gather natural materials with which we made works of art & crafted our nests.
The weather was kind to us, a glorious sunny afternoon and spirits were most certainly higher than before. With willow weaving tomorrow, but for worries about the weather how can we not continue to be excited? Come rain, or shine I hope we will leave again singing with the successes of the day!
~ Rebecca LG