Group art workshop with Mark Storor

From Guardian: Director Mark Storor oversees rehearsals of For the Best in Liverpool. Photograph:Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Let’s say you have an opportunity (o, joy!) to work with a bunch of people (children, adults, students, patients, friends, colleagues … whatever) who have the time and energy and the will to do something creative/imaginitive/artistic together, for fun and whatever else may come out of it; irrespective of what medium you plan to work in, how you plan to proceed, what you want to achieve, it seems like a good first step in the process to enable as much creativity, collaboration and flow of imagination as possible.

Mark Storor, whose work is often in a healthcare setting in hospitals and with patients, facilitated a workshop (organised by Helium and hosted at Red Rua South Dublin Arts Centre by Tallaght Community Arts) with us this morning to indicate how one might get such a group working together, using their imaginations, exploring their ideas and experiences of the world and selves, utilising their abilities, unfettering their creative energies.

This is not art as therapy, but art as a creative activity for its own sake, and the importance of being faithful to the process and where it takes you. With unfortunately limited time, Mark took us on a brief but wonder-filled and energised but calm journey through some of the steps that he uses with all the groups he works with in getting the process going:

The workshop started with a circle of people around a circle of newspapers and a wild story of shipwrecked strangers being spun around us by Mark, which involved taking away another outer layer of newspapers with each traumatic event and thereby the group having to fit onto a smaller and smaller area of paper, eventually squeezing right up into as tight a space as we could (lighter barefoot people standing on bigger booted people’s feet) in order to all survive on a raft being circled by sharks while waiting for a helicopter to lift us to safety (including sound effects). Great fun & best ice-breaker I’ve come across, but also drawing attention to some facinating aspects of collaboration and metaphors of the contexts in which people get the opportunity to discover things about themselves when challenged.

The next phase was to lie on our backs, eyes closed, while Mark led us on a mind’s-eye journey around our body, from toe to head, asking us to “see” & sense each part of it. Then, without opening our eyes, we each had to sit up & draw an image of our body on a blank page. We then sat around in a circle (eyes open again) and discussed the body images as art (not therapy): how different people approached the problem of not being able to see what marks the pencil was making; how different people emphasised or left out different elements (e.g. they were ALL drawn naked, as far as one could tell).

Next was to answer a series of questions about how we see/IMAGINE ourselves (what kind of colour, animal, plant, furniture, building? etc.). We then each positioned our body on a large area of paper in whatever shape we wished, and one of the others drew an outline around us onto the paper in a colour of our own choosing. We each then worked alone for a while at filling in that outline of our body with some kind of visual repsentation of the answers that we’d put down to the initial questions. We then sat around & discussed the “portraits” from a purely art perspective (NO THERAPY!) to see what themes & modes & media might then have been developed further by the group in the next stages of working together (although in this instance, because of time constraints, there were not going to be any next stages, unfortunately).

I think the next stages would have led us to work closer and closer together on common and more refined themes until eventually something with some artistic coherence might have emerged that could (with the help of someone like Mark) be shaped into something exciting & beautiful & satisfying … for us at least, if not for others.

I am exhilarated, helium-filled, by the experience, and for that thank Helene, Tony, Mark and all the participants I had the pleasure of working with briefly in the group. Here’s to being fluffy and beyond the Pale! Go, Mark, go!


Impatient with complexity of patients’ lives

As a young doctor, Sassall “had no patience with anything except emergencies or serious illness… He dealt only with crises in which he was the central character: or to put another way, in which the patient was simplified by the degree of his physical dependence on the doctor. He was also simplified himself, because the chosen pace of his life made it impossible and unnecessary for him to examine his own motives.”

As he matured as a doctor, Sassall exchanged that obsession with the “life-and-death emergency for the intimation that the patient should be treated as a total personality, that illness is frequently a form of expression rather than a surrender to natural hazards.”