While the Hour, Testing Grounds Residency 2017

This week we are pleased to share a reflection from artist and art therapist, Alanna Lorenzon. Alana has been exploring Deep Time, and discovering how inventive methods that foster creative thinking and alternative learning for groups and individuals. We expect that her ideas and images may evoke further questions and so as always we invite you to respond via the comments section in this blog.

“The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time” – James Hutton.

 

In February 2017 I undertook an artist residency with my art collective ‘While the Hour’.  The residency was held over three weeks at ‘Testing Grounds’, a creative space located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, which included a weekend of public workshops as part of the 2017 Sustainable Living Festival. Our jumping off point was the notion of Deep Time, a concept first coined by geologist James Hutton to describe geological time. This term has continued to be used over varied disciplines as a device to conceive of time as vast, expansive and beyond our everyday perception.

The ‘Restival’ in action, view from outside the clear box at Testing Grounds.

Through this project, we set out to explore this slippery concept. Preferring not to focus on the ticking-of-the-clock sort of time, the continuous scheduling and marking of minutes, days and weeks, we shifted our attention to an intuitive sense of time – the sort that shifts and stretches when we stop trying to control it and instead allow ourselves to feel into it. To facilitate this expansiveness we created workshops that invited our participants to engage in embodied ways with the content we offered through drawing, creative writing, music and public lectures.

The creation of unique resting architecture was our main tool to facilitate this unwinding. We created a ‘soft topology’ made from fabric and foam that lay strewn, bright and lumpy on the floor of our residency space, and a series of hammocks that hung off the Testing Grounds infrastructure that swayed you gently as you lay listening and looking up at the skyscrapers and the swooping city birds. These structures invited a gentle mode of engagement to emerge throughout our events as the ability to recline or doze as needed encouraged mind-wandering and expansive thinking. As one participant described after attending our drawing and live music event:

“The backdrop of ambient music lulled me into a trance state of creative expression.”

Leigh Ewbank & Cam Walker speak about their experience of time as environmental activists.

We wanted our workshops to subvert the contemporary focus on ‘directed attention’. Directed attention is where we are required to harness our focus in order to get through the necessary actions of a modern life; the to-do lists, the mundane tasks of job or home. Too much of this focus can create fatigue and can be an impediment to creativity. This is because if the activities are not intrinsically interesting to us we have to harness our resources to focus and be productive, editing out any distracting thoughts or stimuli along the way (Kaplan, 1989).

In our workshops we endeavoured to create an environment where an activity could be engaged with at varying levels of intensity, from the fully engaged to the by-stander (or by-sleeper as the case may be). If drawing or listening became too much effort, then the resting architecture was always there to allow the participants to take it a little easier.

Through researching our project we discovered studies that show that downtime actually “replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, (and) encourages productivity and creativity” (Jabr, 2013). Downtime also has an influence on our conception of our present as a “wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future” (Jabr, 2013).

On Saturday Feb 11th as part of our workshop program we ran what we titled a ‘Restival’; a series of public lectures that circled around the notion of deep-time, which included talks from activists, scholars and writers. Throughout the duration of this event, the audience reclined like sleepy children around the soft topology, others swinging gently in hammocks. An environmental consciousness prevailed throughout as the speakers contemplated notions such as the Anthropocene – the period of human existence/ influence on the planet – and considered Deep Time thinking as allowing us to foster empathy for the future beings who will live within the pending, precarious shifts of a changing climate.

Some of the ‘While the Hour’ collective resting on their soft topology, from left to right – Alanna, Lorenzon, Cassandra Smith, Roynae Mayes, Agatha Partyka.

Amongst the speakers was academic and designer Kirsty Moegerlin who has been using archetypes and visual strategies to investigate individual’s lived experience of time. She shared with us some of her research, inviting the audience to ponder why western society has chosen an objective method of measuring time, and why, considering the length of time, we still know so little about it.

Friends of the Earth campaigners Leigh Ewbank and Cam Walker discussed their personal experience of time in the context of environmental activism. Cam reflected on having to live in two simultaneous time realities as an activist – Both accepting that for issues such as climate change, that ‘time is short’ but that in order to stay sane and motivated one must also accept that ‘change takes time’.

Our final performer for the event was Neil Morris – a Yorta Yorta man who shared with us his experimental journeys in sound. His ambient soundscapes reach back into the history of his culture and reverberate it into the present. Throughout this performance I felt very content to be rocking gently in a hammock, shifting in and out of a waking state, as his sublime music created a sense of time as something thick and substantive that one can sink into.

As a recent graduate of art therapy at Latrobe University, I am interested in how it is possible to shift mind states from an everyday, practical mode into a contemplative, ontological one. This project allowed me to experiment with inventive methods that foster creative thinking and alternative learning for groups and individuals.

After the success of our Testing Grounds residency the While the Hour collective is interested in using our architectural/ workshop model to generate further ‘Restivals’ around themes that although not exclusively related to time, invite contemplative and ontological thinking.

In late 2017 we will be working with the Bob Brown foundation to present a ‘Restival’ around the theme of “Ecology + Psychology”, inspired by myself and ‘While the Hour’ co-founder Cassandra Smith’s recent trip to the Tarkine wilderness, as part of the Bob Brown foundation’s annual arts + activism project ‘Tarkine in Motion’. We’re look forward to further devising creative methods that invite audiences to engage in gentle yet immersive ways with pertinent issues.

Image 4: Some of the participants at our live music and drawing event ‘Time Soup.’

Alanna Lorenzon – May 2017

 

Reference List

Jabr, F.. (2013). Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/). Accessed, Jan 2017.

Kaplan, R. Kaplan, S. The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective, 1989, Cambridge University Press, New York .

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