• Ursula Christel

'Exquisitely Unique' - a time-based project celebrating community, creativity, and diversity


In November 2010, Diversityworks Trust founder and director Philip Patston expressed an interested in developing a deeper dialogue about diversity. "We want to move beyond the usual characteristics of culture, race, gender, disability, sexuality – to explore the idea that diversity exists in all people, in all places, at all times - and that the challenge to humanity is to recognise it and respond appropriately.” Based on his visionary statement and in association with Artstation in Auckland, the Trust put out a call to artists for expressions of interest around the theme, 'How Diversity Works'.

As the parent of a child with a disability, and as an artist acutely aware of ableism* as a social construct [and a barrier to the basic human right of inclusion] I responded with a proposal to facilitate a community collaboration. The objective was to offer stimulating art-making sessions that would be fun, social, relaxed, inspiring, and inclusive for all participants - a space where everyone would feel welcome and comfortable to work in their own choice of style and media, and at their own pace; materials and refreshments provided. These individual works would become part of a 'whole' - a 'bigger picture'. Around 75 participants were sourced from a very broad spectrum of ethnicities, age groups, abilities, and walks of life and were invited to attend small group gatherings set up at venues, local to their own community.

Referencing the 19th century parlour game, the Exquisite Corpse, each participant was given a strip of card and encouraged to create one of four separate segments of the human body - 1) the head and shoulders; or 2) the arms and waist; or 3) the hips to the knees; or 4) the lower legs and feet. Photos and video footage was unobtrusively taken during some of the sessions, capturing moments of fellowship, laughter, deep concentration and contemplation, personal breakthroughs and creative interactions.

The 'game' evolved into a helpful art therapy session where the old and young reconnected, strangers became friends around dining room tables, and many participants rediscovered latent talents. Children enjoyed themselves and weary adults were rejuvenated as they rediscovered their creative child within. Real friendships developed between diverse participants, some of which have continued to date.

After the sessions were over, the drawings of separate body segments were loosely matched together to form 18 new, unique figures - the ‘Exquisite Beings’. These were then joined and sealed and attached to both sides of a transparent net - symbolic of the connecting/networking - and suspended within a gloss black frame. When installed in the gallery at Artstation, the framed artwork hung freely from the ceiling. Viewers could walk around the work, taking it in from many different angles, inviting thoughts on the complexity of diversity and our personal ever-shifting perspectives. Being double-sided also alluded to the idioms 'don't judge a book by its cover' and 'two sides to every story'. A digital photo-frame was positioned on a nearby wall, running a looping slideshow of the numerous participants at work; documenting the project as it had evolved over time.

The slide show on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ursulaartist/sets/72157629021895445/show/

Exquisitely Unique was a successful and enjoyable community collaboration that occurred over a period of approximately 6 months. It crossed several creative media and processes and the final installation was a joyful visual statement encapsulating the diverse contributions and experiences of the participants. Not only did it result in a final artwork/ installation that recognized and responded to the concept of How Diversity Works - it also provided many social opportunities within our diverse communities to share authentic conversations around the table; to go deeper while contemplating this topic; and also to celebrate our individuality and the diversity in our society. The connecting factor for all participants was the opportunity to share a creative experience around a table, in an intimate group setting. This helped to remove the barriers of ableism, social anxiety and isolation that many people experience on a daily basis. We all belong; we all bring gifts to the table; we can all contribute.

Over 150 people attended the exhibition opening at Artstation, and Artstation Manager John Eaden said it may have been the Auckland Council community gallery's best attended opening yet. Showing works by 23 selected artists, the exhibition featured a wide variety of art mediums including moving image, fused glass, painting, drawing and sculpture, by artists from both New Zealand and abroad. The show ran from 17 August - 3 September, 2011.

Exhibition archive: http://diversityworks.co.nz/how-diversity-works/

Media release: http://diversityworks.co.nz/news/tag/artstation

*'Ableism' - Ableism /ˈeɪblɪzəm/ (also known as ablism, disablism (Brit. English), anapirophobia, anapirism, and disability discrimination) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.

RELATED SHORT FILMS:

A fun short film Exquisite Beings, based on this collaboration, was produced for the MyFilm project by Diversityworks Trust.

Link to the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvhKAeIxkS4

[Another short film The Gift is a poem set to visuals celebrating my non-verbal son who has Angelman Syndrome (a rare neuro-genetic condition). The film was also produced by Diversityworks Trust. Link to The Gift: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAbN4fqQ-rw ]

#collaboration #socialart #diversity #inclusion #communityart #contemporaryart

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