Over the course of June and July, I been conducting an activity called Story Exchange here at Richmond Nature Park. It is a one on one or in many cases, one family on one, conversation between the community and the artist. We start off with some blueberry tea, get comfortable and then draw together in a hand-made book. The book opens up one sense at a time, bringing awareness to the land beneath our feet, to the familiar sensations of touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight and to tie it all together, memory. Through the senses, stories of nature and conversations of the Park is stimulated and released, creating a visual mind map of each family or individual and their relationship to the environment around us.
Unless it is raining, I like to set up a little way into the boardwalk inside the Nature Park. There is a perfect little nook of benches where the community can stumble upon me around the mend. I got many inquisitive looks and laughter at finding someone painting in the middle of the park. Little sense disks were also installed between the project sign and the set-up area to lead the participants in.
The stories and personalities the community have shared has been a treasure. It is hard to describe the intricacy of how each conversation started and the turns, pauses and whirlwinds between. There was a total of 5 sessions of Story Exchange with 2-3 conversations in each depending on the duration. Young participants added their beautiful colour blobs of butterflies, flowers, and birds using watercolour and invasive plant inks. Older community members drew or told stories of the senses that stood out to them the most and their perspectives. We got participants from all over metro-Vancouver and across from Germany and Hong Kong.
Each of the 13 books will be interpreted into a little scene as part of the interactive installation called Hidden Stories on August 24. I hope to capture the personalities of the families and the individuals I met, portraying their stories through little figures to be found throughout the Nature Park. Each will hold the story given and experienced while creating further memories and interactions with the nature around us. If you are curious to see the work in progress, come by for the Open Studio on August 3rd. I will also post some sneak peaks soon.
It has been busy at the Nature Park during the past month. Every weekend we had either the Sensory Workshops or the Story Exchange; it has been such a delight to meet and create together with all those who came by. As the past Saturday concludes the last of the Sensory Workshops, I am excited to share all the amazing artworks that were created and more importantly, the process of discovery and experimentation taken.
The Sensory Workshops are inspired by the newt, a creature with limited senses which renders it highly in tune with its environment and the minute changes. The workshops took that limitation as a way of wisdom, creating a process of sense isolation in each, allowing the participants to experience the senses anew through art and a variety of mediums.
In the workshop Seeing White, participants were invited to draw with white oil pastel or white wax candle on white paper, making the marks invisible. They were encouraged to take a walk and focus on the sense of sight, drawing as they go. Once finished, they came back and painted over the invisible marks with watercolour and invasive plant-based ink, revealing the lines they created through a simple wax relief technique.
There were a lot of exclamations of awe especially in the younger ones when they found their hidden lines, it was such a fun process to watch that discovery. One of my favourite piece is the green one made by a special needs child, it took a while to explain and encourage him to try but once he did, he was engrossed for almost an hour. His masterpiece may look simple but the process was priceless.
Focusing on the sense of hearing, the participants were invited to take a walk once again in this workshop. While they walked, they drew on pressure sensitive carbon paper allowing them to press harder to create darker lines or softer for the lighter lines. Encouraging them to close their eyes, they created visually the sounds they heard and coloured with chalk pastel. The chalk pastel allowed the participants to smudge and haze in order to express the inexpressible and vibrant soundscape of the Park.
How would you draw the sounds around you? Many took the abstract route, playing with the colours and shapes. Some drew the birds that sang, the leaves that shuffled or the people who were talking. One boy told me about the footsteps he heard that clacked on the boardwalk. It was beautiful to see and hear about each participants’ interpretation of sound.
Participants got to work with clay in the workshop, Touching Blank. They were invited to tint the clay with food colouring, giving it a hint of colour. Or in some cases, bursts of colour resulting in some vibrant palms in a few younger ones. Then the clay is placed in a box with arm holes on the side, allowing them to create using only the sense of touch. The process resulted in many surprises and marvels of the capabilities of our sense of touch when we stop judging and doubting it with our minds.
Colours played an interesting role in this workshop. One boy discovered his colours through shape, remembering the shape of his blue as rounder when he tinted it compared to the more oval and lumpy green. The process enticed many interesting conversations as each participant rediscovered their sense of touch and how to understand it in its limitations.
I want to give a big Thank You to all the participants who muster up the courage to try something new in these Sensory Workshops. Many came back week after week as well to try the different senses. I do hope that through these workshops and the experiences of limiting and isolation of the senses, we can all re-discover and reconnect our sensitivity to self and the nature that surrounds us.
All the artworks created in workshops will be showcased in a celebratory exhibition called Silent Wonders on October 12, 2019 at the Kinsmen Pavilion inside the Nature Park. Please do look forward to it! In the meantime, I will ponder on all the conversations and discoveries made and interpret them into wordless book as the legacy portion of the project. More on that later as well.