When I recently visited Nottingham Contemporary, I was (as is usually the case when I visit Circuit partner galleries) engaged in a useful and inspiring set of conversations, firstly with Alice Thickett, then with Sian Watson and finally with the members of ‘Get Involved’, the Nottingham Contemporary Circuit group.
Alice reminded me of an idea we have had together previously, which had fallen by the wayside and might now be usefully retrieved and seen through to its conclusion; ‘what happened to that idea about there being a generic photographers’ brief for Circuit, based on the programme aims?’
Then we talked about gathering evidence and the role of Circulate at the Blueprint festival and we realised that we had both been thinking about evidence that could be gathered remotely, so that those who could not attend might also be involved in useful and meaningful ways. We decided to combine our planning into one document to share with partners nationally.
Our conversation was illustrative of the need for such informal and unstructured exchange, to allow for synchronicities to become apparent and to prompt each other to recollect previous conversations and common ideas that may have been made explicit through them.
We were joined by Sian, the artist who works with Get Involved on a regular basis, who came in with arms full of a wide range of paraphernalia, ranging from inflatable chairs, to pens and paper. As Sian began setting up for the session and Alice and myself also became actively involved in moving chairs, the three of us conversed. ‘Catching up’ with what had been happening at Nottingham Contemporary was only part of our exchange; by discussing what had been happening, all three of us also had chance to reflect on what had been happening, what it meant, and what it implied in terms of future developments of the programme. Ideas were initiated about possible details of future activities, based on reflection on past events, which needed to be shared and considered by Get Involved.
In our busy lives, the crucial time and space, for reflection that takes place through conversation, is often whilst we move chairs and stick things up on walls; in preparation for sessions, whilst packing away after sessions and other times when our hands are too busy to be taking notes. This is one of the reasons why I think journal keeping is a really important form of documentation for us all to keep, to be able to write up notes retrospectively of the conversations that take place when we are concurrently involved in something practical.
We were then joined by six members of Get Involved and we had a variety of exchanges, stimulated through a range of activities, which I have facilitated during all my recent visits to partner galleries.
All sorts of useful evidence was generated during these activities, such as photos showing the difference Circuit has made for Get Involved in relation to the aims they had themselves for Circuit (which echo those of the Circuit programme) and maps showing the journeys people have had and what they have gained from different experiences along their route. Details of maps were very interesting, with some key learning identified that was then expanded upon during our group discussion. The group explained to me some of the key learning that has taken place and which they have successfully applied when planning of consequent events:
– Putting music acts in events, which really helps pull young people in.
– Ensuring the time of day is right; originally they were putting things on at 1-3pm or a bit later, but they have realised that if it’s later its seen to be much more ‘cool’, so now they hold events from 5-8pm and are considering doing them even later.
– Promotion being right and using social media more to promote events as this works well and leads to far larger audiences as people share the information across wider networks.
– The fine-tuning of everything is important and they do this though ‘marinating,’ which is a term Sian has coined for thinking about ideas and refining them over a long period of time.
During this exchange the use of the words ‘marinade’ and ‘marinating’ intrigued me and I asked what these words meant to them. Members of Get Involved explained to me that Sian uses the notion of ‘marinating’ to describe the process that we go through when we allow our ideas to take shape and become fully flavoured and evolved. Sian encourages members of Get Involved to ‘marinate’ their ideas through mulling them over, reflecting on them and discussing them.
After I left Nottingham Contemporary, the conversation continued and during this part of the evening’s session there was general consensus that the mapping activity had been really useful, not least in highlighting how difficult it actually is to remember everything we may have done over a long period of time, such as a whole year. Because of this the group decided to begin to keep a type of ‘journal’: “One sentence each session – journal – recording conversations – creative minutes.”
Get Involved decided that in future they will keep ‘creative minutes’ of each session to remind themselves of everything they have done, as the mapping process at this session prompted everyone to realise how hard it is to remember everything, without keeping an ongoing record. For me this meant that the session had been a huge success as not only had it generated evidence and nurtured reflection on what has happened during the activities of the Circuit programme, but it had also nurtured reflection on the value of the actual processes of evidencing and reflecting.
For the members of Get Involved to have concluded, for themselves, the need to document their process is a brilliant outcome to have realised through the session, as I believe that it is only when we really truly grasp the reason why we might do something that we can do it meaningfully and effectively.
When including the mapping process in reflective activities it is my ultimate intention for it to promote an understanding of the need to document what we do in ongoing ways, as without documentation we only have our recollections to reflect upon, whereas different forms of documentation mean that we have more ingredients for our ‘marinades’.
Whilst I am often struck by the different ways we all have of articulating our practice I am also struck by how common the underlining processes and approaches usually are; we are, I am sure, all familiar with the key conversations that take place whilst we pack away.
The notion of needing a marinade (and time and space for marinating, individually but also through conversation along with ingredients including documentation) has great resonance for me and I think it is a useful term to use when trying to effectively describe a rich and informed reflective (and ultimately reflexively self-aware) practice.