Human Threads is a combination of artworks, events and written texts that have evolved over the years. These events and texts illustrate beautifully, how sharing in the enjoyment of an event can open our eyes to those around us and how taking the time to listen to different lived experiences can unearth a common ground it turns out, we all share. Our intention is to take down the barriers and promote ways of working together that are of greater relevance to us, now and in the future. Click here for the Events Programme.
This workshop was a bit of an experiment. The musicians were asked to explore slow time with staff and service users. Sometimes the experimental is just what people need. Just listen………..
As part of Human Threads The Spatial Opera Comapny performed Whale Opera, a piece which combines whale song, voice and violin. Spatial Whale Opera is one of the first works by SPO, which has now developed into multiple experimental opera projects, all based on the idea of spatial sound travel. Spatial Opera Company are a … Continue reading WHALE OPERA | The Spatial Opera Company
For several years Aya (dance) and Alex (clarinets) have been improvising movements and sounds together as part of Glasgow-based Collective Endeavours. In their first duo performance they provided a dynamic and playful response to all aspects of the exhibition, combining bravura, elegance and tenderness.
MOMENTS WHEN WE COLLIDE | James McClardy, Kevin McPhee, Francesca Nobilucci, Alan Faulds & Tracy Vec
The first part of a two part performance. Jonathan wanted to explore how the audience would feel music or hear music, rhythm as a universal language . The ‘conversation’ started with Jonathan playing drums, slowly the audience started to take part, dancing and playing drums along with him.
Soprano Stephanie Lamprea performed solo pieces for voice, based on the sounds from nature and improvised to accompany the acoustics of the exhibition. She completely captured her audience. Her voice was truly beautiful. The exhibition shifted onto a different level.
DJ Dynamite is one of the youngest members of KMAdotcom, a group of artists with and without learning disabilities. His mobile sound system Dynomobile was built in the KMAartists studios and runs off its own battery. DJ Dynamite plays all over Scotland at festivals and events. He played lots of different music and yes, you … Continue reading DYNAMIC DJ | DJ Dynamite
Puppeteer Jemima Thewes created and performed a short, improvised performance with one of her unique shadow puppets. Animating the artwork created by Laura and Lauren using her shadow puppetry skills, storytelling, further enhanced by music and song.
Gong Bath by Daniel Padden was a unique and immersive sonic experience. People could participate or just observe. When you relaxed into it, the special sonic power of gongs, let the soundwaves wash over you. In past workshops at Cherry Road, people connected with the sonic and vibrational power of the gongs. Its both therapeutic … Continue reading GONG BATH | Daniel Padden
This workshop was hosted by Ruta Vitkauskaite, MD of CoMA Glasgow and attended by regular musicians from CoMA Glasgow. The group rehearsed Emily Dolittles’s Gardenscape, where musicians and singers imitated bird songs, and from this they made their own soundscape to correspond with the sounds of exhibition. CoMA musicians performed ‘birdsongs’ by Emily Doolittle within … Continue reading GARDENSCAPE | CoMA
A vibrant and exciting piece inspired by West African music and dance, clowning and the magic of feeling the world from a different point. It lifted our spirits and made us smile for the rest of the day. Ubuntu vibes is an Edinburgh-based group – Raquel Ribes Miro, Beti Mencal and Andy Cooke. All have … Continue reading FEEL THE BEAT | Ubuntu Vibes
A playful, inclusive, and interactive sharing of the exhibition through live improvisations performed by Red Note Ensemble inspired by the intricate landscape of ‘Human Threads’. The musicians interacted with artworks and visitors exploring the exhibition, blurring the lines between ‘audience’ and ‘performer.’ This work was not mic’d The musicals placed themselves next to the … Continue reading FAIR PLAY | Red Note Ensemble – part 1
Alex (clarinet, bass clarinet, interactive electronics) presented a part-composed, part-improvised set built around the idea of immersion and featuring music by composer Jan Foote inspired by humpback whale song. Alex’s improvisations attended closely to breath, bodily rhythms and the dark microtextures of bass clarinet sound. This was incredible. In an email sent from someone … Continue reading SUBMERGENCE | Alex South & Becky Milne
Four Irish dancers performed, the sound of their dance steps was at the same time recorded and channelled through Wendy Jacobs’ Human Threads exhibit, Felt Mountain. The artwork is a ramp leading to a level platform, which has been specially engineered to carry low frequency sound. Observers experienced the performance, both visually, physically, and sonically, … Continue reading DANCING NEAR FELT MOUNTAIN | Miller Academy of Irish Dance
Curating Access by Amanda Cachia | Chapter 9: Human Threads
For more than two decades, Artlink has pioneered the use of contemporary arts practice as a form of collaborative research with partner Cherry Road Learning Centre in Midlothian, Scotland.
Through the Ideas Team, an Artlink project, it paired artists and thinkers with individuals within a care setting over a sustained period, creating the conditions for new ideas and influences to radiate from people with profound and multiple developmental disabilities (PMLD) and their carers.
In 2015 Artlink and partners began to devise a large-scale exhibition that would bring these insights and sensibilities to a broad and diverse public—an exhibition that would celebrate the common threads that make connection between people with complex disabilities and the wider world. The exhibition would provide an opportunity to look at who we are through a completely different lens.
Artlink set up a partnership with Tramway, a publicly owned and run arts space on the south side of Glasgow. The immense scale of Tramway’s exhibition space and its utilitarian fabric would allow us to devise an exhibition that was ambitious in size and accessible to the widest range of people.
In 2019 Artlink organized some public performances at Tramway to test out some of the principles of the upcoming exhibition.
This essay written by freelance curator and writer Nicola White and Artlink Artistic Director, Alison Stirling traces the development of the challenging road to realizing an exhibition that centers on the experiences and interests of one of society’s most marginalized groups.
At the time of this writing, work is in production, and the exhibition is scheduled to take place in May 2022
In August 2017 Artlink, in collaboration with the Collective gallery, sent artists to Rio to share practice with artists and academics as part of Instituto mesa The following are some of the essays from the online publiccation – Care as Method
MOMENTS OF EXCHANGE – HANDS TOUCHING HEARTS
Place: Instituto Nise da Silveira, Engenho de Dentro
We are lying, eyes closed, on the floor in a circle, holding hands and with feet touching. We feel the weight of objects on our chests, and as we individually start to make sense of this experience we wonder if these objects are sacks filled with grains or powder as they slump and settle into the contours of our bodies. We hear a rustling sound before we feel the cool smoothness of perhaps polythene bags filled with liquid. A taut jiggling sensation is perceived by our skin as the bags are pushed and pulled over our limbs, torsos, hands and feet. These ‘relational objects’1 are moved around our bodies by the will of another person who decides how and when to leave them resting on our bare arm or clothed leg. Our acute awareness of the cool pressure very slowly diminishes as our senses become used to the oddness and our conscious selves begin to stop making sense of this experience. Objects are touching bodies, bodies are touching bodies, objects are touching objects. We are letting go and allowing our vulnerability to be replaced by trust. Feeling our physical connection with the material objects and the people we are touching. Not only on the surface but deeper within us.
This therapeutic experience, inspired by the work of Brazilian artist and art therapist Lygia Clark, continues to be used within this hospital in Rio to help people with schizophrenia.2 We are privileged to be able to experience it first hand, and we wonder how work of this nature might inform our thinking around touch and material agency as a form of exchange and vehicle for care?
Within care institutions, we often see ‘touch’ being systemically compartmentalised to serve medical purposes. Bodily contact with objects and people can be intimidating or even disturbing, depending on methods of introduction. The sensitive touch of emotional care has to emerge organically, where it finds opportunities. Often the most powerful instances of care that we experience within these contexts are not clinical but motivated by moments of friendship and empathy between individuals, whether patients, service users, staff, ex-patients, artists or visiting family members. These usually involve touch, the comfort of a held hand or an arm around a shoulder.
Artists can introduce other forms of therapeutic touch through creative engagement in hands-on making and sensory experiences. We see curiosity and personal expression emerge through the joy of forming malleable soft clay, the surprise of transferring a drawing into a printed fabric pattern, the embroidery session that relaxes the body and enables calm and focus. Through physically transforming materials we are exploring their potential to trigger sensory and emotional responses and relationships between forms of making and methods of care.
Place: Cherry Road Day Care Centre, Edinburgh
Donna is drawing with fluorescent pens on a medical worker’s white coat that she is wearing. I am asked to wear the coat so that she can draw on the back. The drawing is expressive and immediate and Donna is passionate about the activity. She holds my arm at the wrist while she draws colourful spirals along my arm. The feeling of her drawing on my back and arm is therapeutic, like a kind of massage, and I realise that there is a form of exchange happening. I tell Donna how nice it feels and she smiles a big smile and makes a thumbs-up gesture, as she does frequently. The resulting design on the coat looks impressive under the UV light, but it is the process of exploring and making together that is the most important thing.
Artlink artist Laura, is projecting coloured light and moving patterns onto fabrics suspended above Carol’s body. Carol is following the images by moving her head and eyes. Due to Carol’s profound physical and mental challenges she has much less ability to communicate her thoughts and feelings and Laura has to trust her instinct when working in such uncertain circumstances. Carol’s disabilities mask her intelligence and she seems very aware of her vulnerability and lack of control over many aspects of her everyday care. Laura is respectful of this and introduces experiences to Carol carefully. Today she explores singing to Carol while massaging her hands and feet. Physical touch seems to help make creative ideas accessible and the two are intertwined within the experience. Laura sees the importance of developing a sincere connection with Carol over time through observing her responses to different sensory stimulus.
During each session Carol’s responses are very subtle and only those responsible for her care are able to acknowledge these small but sometimes momentous reactions: a hint of a smile; the movement of eyes attempting to follow an object or someone’s smile within her line of vision; an abrupt shifting of a hand or a gasp or squeal uttered.
This work would have no benefit or meaning if not carried out long-term and in such a personalised and sensitive way. Laura has worked with individuals at Cherry Road over many years, slowly and incrementally developing relationships with the service users and discovering their unique personalities through one-to-one interactions.
We intentionally make ourselves vulnerable as artists when working intuitively with unpredictable situations like these. We do this in order to better understand an individual’s needs and specific contexts, and to develop trust. We are able to create non-hierarchical relationships, often experimenting and participating rather than directing. By making ourselves vulnerable and working around existing institutional structures, artists can create moments of empathy and anarchy that allow personal creative expression to flourish and provide alternative modes of communication and exchange.
How might we find ways to value and talk about these kinds of exchange that are experiential and leave little visible trace for others, despite profoundly affecting those involved in a lasting way?
Place: Royal Edinburgh Psychiatric Hospital
Gary and I are sifting through an array of materials that I have brought to the ward, including wood, plastic and metal fragments, and remnants of cloth, hessian and leather. Gary selects a piece of blue foam as the ideal addition to his current sculptural form. He carefully cuts and combines this with the other elements by binding together using wool and thread that constrict the foam and give it a body-like appearance. Gary is a young man with a serious brain injury who struggles with continuity of speech and thought. We communicate in our own way using an alternative sculptural language of sorts that we have developed over a number of sessions working together. We have become able to understand each other’s thinking in terms of the task of making these artworks. As the object transforms, new references are continually triggered in Gary’s mind. The sculpture is like a physical manifestation of his disrupted or random thought process, but within our creative process this is a positive. Gary and I both enjoy the surprising paths this process enables. There is creative freedom here that allows Gary’s unique sculptural ability to thrive and produce these compelling forms, simultaneously figurative and abstract. I feel an affinity with Gary’s objects and my own approach to making sculpture, and we are both learning from each other through the collaboration.
If these kinds of sharing experiences help create genuine moments of connection that are valuable in the care of vulnerable people, how can these approaches inform institutional structures? Is it important to foster unique alternative forms of communication in order to evolve better individual care? If we understand sanity as self-recognition, might moments like these help people involved with giving and receiving care to know themselves better and celebrate their individuality?
Place: Colônia Juliano Moreira, Jacarepagu
Pedro is standing in the gallery in front of a substantial series of abstract paintings that he has produced at Atelier Gaia art studio within the Psychiatric Hospital. These related works explore radiating lines and stripes and strong colour combinations. He talks about them formally, describing the experience of colours transforming when placed next to other colours. He is curious about this and likes experimenting with these colour interactions in order to better understand their dynamics. He points out elements that he would like to change and we get an idea of what motivates Pedro to keep producing new versions to add to his painting series. His works are energetic and alive and he is excited to share his work with us.
The next time we see Pedro he is being thrown into a cell within a derelict asylum by a fellow patient, Arlindo. Arlindo’s performance draws on the traumatic experiences he had as a teenage patient within the asylum decades ago, before reforms led to its closure. This performance is raw, brutal, uneasy, humorous in moments and revealing. Arlindo moves between us from room to room, slamming heavy cell doors and fumbling with keys in locks. Some audience members avoid possible interaction and edge away as he approaches. We each respond to his work depending on our own reference points and reactions to the performance and the stimulus of the space with its barred windows, cold steel and damp concrete surfaces. The ambient sounds and smells merge with echoes of Arlindo’s aggressive shouts and hopeless mumbles of this vivid interpretation of his own memories.
Figure 3 Arlindo’s performance, October 2017. Photo: Claire Barclay
(or could use the great photo that was sent on what’s ap of the performance )
We are affected in different ways by the works of these patients and the degree of meaning that the work has for them. We are moved by the care they extend to us within a unique situation, and their keenness to communicate despite our naivety regarding their particular experience. Their work communicates to us in an immediate and human way, and in that moment transcends our cultural differences. We can’t fully understand, but we appreciate the invitation from these individuals to make a meaningful connection, a connection that has relied mainly on sensory communication and forms of translation rather than conversation. During our short time in Rio we have begun to develop alternative forms of creative communication based on exchange and shared learning rather than conventional hierarchical structures. Despite visiting people and places with real challenges, this experience has been inspiring and life affirming and helped inform our own thinking around methods of care.
1 ‘relational objects’ is the term used by artist and art therapist Lygia Clark for the objects used within the therapy she developed in the 1970’s to help people with schizophrenia.
2 ‘Rosácea’ is the title for the Clark inspired experience interpreted by Gina Ferreira and presented as part of the project Art, body and sensibility hosted by the Museum of Images of the Unconscious.
Sensory experiences: another language to learn
There were moments in Rio when we were invited to participate in more intimate and sensory experiences; these were some of the most powerful exchanges for me. Surprising exchanges that captured unexpected raw emotion – an invitation to stand together in a circle around a series of objects (a stone, a burning candle, a glass of water and a lit incense stick), eyes firmly closed, a voice speaking gently in Portuguese, another voice drifting in and out of my ear translating words into English: ‘Think of your mother, think what she’s doing right now, think of the meal she’s preparing…’; ‘Think of your grandmother…’ Tears immediately slipped down my face upon hearing these words, my eyes were closed and the voice carried me off to another place. I thought of my mother and cried, in a roomful of people I barely knew the week before.
Another invitation – this time to lie down on a circle of mats that had been positioned on the floor. We lay down, our eyes closed, hands held firmly at first and our feet touching in the centre of the circle. As time passed by, our grip relaxed and hands became loose in each other’s, but contact was still there. The time passed at a speed I couldn’t quantify, objects were rolled, brushed, squeezed, scattered and dragged gently over our bodies. My senses were alert but I felt calm and relaxed. I felt complete trust in what was happening to me and soon objects that had felt heavy, felt weightless. My senses were shifting, heightened, and yet I felt completely at ease.
These exchanges resonated so closely with the work I and other artists do with Artlink. Back in Scotland, at Cherry Road Learning Centre , Claire and I recreate the Lygia Clark workshop. Artists and care workers lie in a circle, objects are rolled, brushed, squeezed and dragged. The effect is the exact same. No language just calm, relaxing sensations.
On a weekly basis I make invitations and exchanges with the people I work with at Cherry Road through objects, sound, light, texture or touch. There’s a moment when I hand Alistair (a service user) a round, shiny metal ball that makes a soft ringing sound as it moves in the palm of his hand. Our heads are close, we’re sitting cross-legged opposite each other on the floor. I put the ball on a mirror on the floor and he picks it up. He moves the ball and it chimes as it rolls gently around the palm of his hand. I remain silent, watching and listening to the movement and sound of the ball. Then he looks up, his eyes lock with mine and for a moment we’re there together, experiencing the sound and texture of that ball.
Isla is in hysterics. The most hysterical laughter I’ve ever heard from her. We’re playing loud pop music, lights are flashing and Lauren (another artist) is tickling her face with a brush. Isla’s laugh is infectious, we’re sitting on the floor in front of Isla in her wheelchair, she makes big belly laughs and it’s impossible not to join in.
It’s always hard to capture the intimacy and importance of these moments in words. It might seem so simple – a gentle brush on a face, a UV pen drawing over someone’s body, a ball jiggling in a hand, a slurping noise made nose to nose – but they’re all incredibly powerful moments of communication. Regular language doesn’t seem relevant. We create a new language together through trial and error over months and years of working together. I’m always learning from the people I work with, I never know what to expect from session to session, a bit like my experiences in Rio. I had no idea what to expect and language wasn’t always important because some communication doesn’t require words. There’s always another language to learn.