Visual Communication : Different ways of recording our thoughts

I recently attended an Open Space event discussing Paradigms of Mental Health. Open Space Technology is a very liberating, loose framework within which to convene dialogue. I like it a lot, it’s a great opportunity to hear many voices, I use it often in my work and when I’m aware of other events where the technology is to be applied, I’m keen to get along and participate. So far this year I’ve been involved in Open Space events discussing:

  • The Future of Learning Technologies
  • The Arts in my local borough
  • Mental Health

I usually note take when I’m at these events, and for some reason, Open Space tends to bring out the artist in me.

The conversation at the learning technologies event focused less on the technology itself, far more on behaviours. Here’s the sketch note I made whilst at the event.

During the arts session, there were lots of opportunities to talk, so I proposed a session called ‘Would You Like to Paint?’ where instead of having a conversation, we just made art together. Here’s some of our work.

At the mental health conversation, I was introduced to Monica Biagioli, a senior lecturer at London College of Communication. Monica showed me a new device, called The Zine. We were given a piece of paper, folded with a few cuts in it, and invited to record thoughts and ideas as we conversed. The way the paper is cut means you can refold it into many shapes, which in turn means the things you originally noted adjacent to one another, can be repositioned. Here are some photos showing side one and two of my zine, and a folded version.

I love how, as you move from conversation to conversation, taking notes as you go, the notes can be refolded and repositioned, taking the dialogue in new and unexpected directions. Very zen.

Almost two months after attending the mental health open space event, the zine is still in clear view on my desk. Bearing in mind my desk doubles up as a mini art studio, the continued presence of the zine is no mean feat! I think it is an excellent tool for recording, and remixing ideas. Thank you Monica, for this great, and simple idea.

A version of this post first appeared on HRExaminer in May 2018.

Update. I recently met Monica Biagioli again, and she has kindly provided additional information relating to the Zine project. I’m delighted to share this with you here.

Zine Method credits

Description:
Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä started their collaboration around the Zine Method in a participatory innovation process in social enterprise where the focus was to capture citizens’ perspectives and ideas as well as to create a space for sharing multiple perspectives into a development process.  After that we have systematically applied the Zine Method  in various contexts: IFKAD, Bari, Italy, 2015; GNOSIS, London, UK, 2016; IFKAD, Dresden,Germany, 2016; PhD students at University of Chester, UK; MA students at University of Chester and University of the Arts London, UK, 2017 onwards; ArtsEqual LUT research as artful inquiry, Lahti, Finland; Zamek Cieszyn, Cieszyn, Poland, 2018; RSA NHS R&D Mental health care session, Liverpool, UK, 2018; University of Central Lancashire, 2018; Realising Potential Ltd application in leadership coaching and as facilitation in business, 2018 onwards; ACAT Conference 2018, application of method by conference participants during the conference.

By Zine Method we mean the design response of the ‘zine’ as a means for self-reflection and to improve communication. Zines (small (maga)zines) have roots in the do-it-yourself movement. The idea and use of the zine has emerged over time, from the early leaflets and pamphlets produced by independent publishers in the late 18th century, to the amateur press movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the subculture of fandom that emerged in the 1930s in science fiction, to spread later to the punk and riot grrrl movements, up to current times.

Zines are applied as a method of collecting and analysing data within a framework of qualitative analysis to retain more of the shape of the complete experience (Dewey) and allow for emotional responses to emerge within the zine format. Zines can be solely for private consumption (self-reflection) and can therefore act as containers to process difficult emotions, such as the ones that emerge in conflict situations.

– A way to progress understanding iteratively by applying the format to map the negotiation ahead:
use it as metaphor; brainstorm ideas; and apply it as a communication tool; One of our collaborators pointed out that when applying zines to organising collective voicing “It is more about collective reflection and meaning making rather than problem solving”
– A way to reflect subjectively on own role in the process:
each zine can focus on different points of views and contributions to the negotiation; it can serve as a self-reflection tool to check “what is going on with yourself”
– A contained way to address complexity and ambiguity:
each zine can map and record uncertainties within a conflict negotiation process and the role emotion plays in that; help find relationships out of random placements; and connect elements previously disconnected to make sense of a situation

Zine Method report for Beyond Text (includes the zine template): 
http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/12489/1/Zine%20Method%20Beyond%20Text%20May%202017.pdf

Zine construction by Monica Biagioli; application developed collaboratively by Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä. Source: Biagioli, Monica (2018) The Zine Method. Project Report. RECAP Research Centre; and Biagioli, M., Pässilä, A. and Owens, A. (forthcoming) Zine method as a form of qualitative analysis. In Jeff Adams & Allan Owens (eds.) Beyond Text. Intellect LTD, UK

Monica Biagioli, Professor Allan Owens, and Dr Anne Pässilä
June 2018

Live Painting at Workplace Trends : Psychological Safety

Last week I was at the Workplace Trends Research Spring Summit. I was there to learn, to do some live painting, and to give a talk on creative practice at work. This is a short blog post about a piece of art I made on the day.

Early on in the presentations, I listened to Nicola Gillen and Charlotte Hermans talking about how AECOM is undertaking new research to investigate predictors of wellbeing and performance in populations of office workers.

AECOM is testing to identify the most influential factors of work (e.g., job design, management, culture) vs. workplace (e.g., quality of work settings, noise, air quality) in predicting physical, mental, social, intellectual, spiritual and material dimensions of wellbeing, performance and satisfaction. Something which caught my attention was Nicola’s observation of the importance of psychological safety. In particular she spoke of the idea of being your ‘whole self’ at work, and how potentially harmful it can be in a workplace where this doesn’t feel possible.

I know from personal experience and from listening to many stories, how tricky it can be in some places to be yourself, to be open and honest about what you see, and how it’s making you think and feel. As I considered how I might get over that sense of reluctance when things are a little unclear, I began to paint. The blurred background indicates uncertainty, things moving at speed, not being quite sure what’s going on. The winged creature indicates a guardian within – open arms encouraging that sense of being sufficiently confident to speak truth to power, to be myself at work. I chose to title the piece ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Above are photographs of the piece as it was finished and displayed in conference, and a couple of close ups so you can see some of the detail. It took me all morning and some of the lunch break to paint this, each line on the wings is a single free hand brush stroke. Patience was required to complete the piece, and at times during the making, I felt like quitting and starting again on something easier. I’m glad I persisted, people gave me lots of positive feedback on the finished piece and it sits well alongside some of my other recent works.

I’ll share more live painting from the event soon, and some slides and speaker notes too. For now, thank you Nicola for the spark of an idea which brought the art into being.

The Art of Resilience : Kintsugi

I’ve agreed to give a short talk on resilience at a conference in London on Wednesday. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to say yes to something when you don’t think about it first? Gulp! I want to approach the subject using a mixture of art and the experience of myself and others. It is tempting to see resilience as a kind of armour – something off which life’s projectiles can bounce. I prefer to see resilience as something more flexible, adapting to the challenge rather than resisting it.

I hopped onto Facebook and Twitter yesterday to ask ‘I say resilience, you say…?’. I received a load of responses, at one point I felt overwhelmed by everything coming at me. I may, if I can find the time, curate the stream of replies. Time is pressing and I’m currently settling on three things to explore tomorrow.

  • Responses to bereavement
  • The need for creativity
  • The beauty in impermanence, imperfection, incompletion

For this post I’m focussing on the last point, and connecting with that fact that most of my visual backdrop for the talk will be my art..

Wabi sabi is a Japanese concept, beauty that is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Wabi sabi has a connection to a practice known as kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The idea being that the cracks are now a part of the imperfect work, not something to be hidden away, or covered.

I am finding the preparation for this talk quite stressful. I am recalling bereavement and other tough times, and I can only stand to absorb so much of this stuff. I need a release.

I draw a pot – using pencils and a small watercolour brush. I then draw a crack into the pot which I fill with gold.

I found it hard to know when to stop, not very wabi sabi of me! I’ve settled now – it’s good enough. I can see imperfections, incompletions – so to that extent – the art represents my current work well.I’ve titled the piece, ‘You Broke My Heart. I Tried To Fix It, And You Can Still See The Cracks’, and I will hold onto this piece for the Carshalton Artists Open Studios event this summer, which I am excited to be taking part in. I’ll let you know how the Art of Resilience talk goes soon, too.

This post is adapted from one originally published on the Art Sensorium. Ironically – this version really tested my own resilience today, as it has taken two hours of managing various web site crashes and fallovers behind the scenes, prior to pressing publish!