Collage: “A composition of objects that do not touch – but nonetheless participate in the same intimacy” (Matisse in the Studio, Exhibition, Royal Academy 2017)

Andy: It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I gazed upon the pastels, paints, wool, glitter and marker pens spread across the table as I tried to conjure up my biographical self and reflect upon the experience of becoming… something or other. Gazing into the vast pristine, empty expanse of A3 I really did not know where to start. Having such a broad brief was helpful and soon thoughts began to take on some shape as I scanned magazines and newspapers for imagery that provoked and reflected some tentative thinking. My ‘collage’ became organised around reflections on a lifelong awareness of learning and how I have become involved in the learning of others through my social work practice, teaching and more latterly, my research. These strands are closely woven together and at the same time frayed and disconnected. For me the residential was I hoped an opportunity to weave together some loose ends…

Gayle: The off centrepiece of my collage represents the questions I have always asked and continue to ask in my work and my life more generally. That is: who has the power to define what is ‘normal’ OR not and what are the consequences of being defined in this way? In my academic work on non/parental identity and experience; working and learning in higher education; travel and transport; bereavement and loss (and the rest…) I am concerned to challenge and to disturb definitions of so-called normality; naturalness what is ‘real’ and what is not. This epistemological concern with a focus on the relationship between the self and the other; between the personal, the public and the political extends to my work and life outside of the academy as a civil celebrant, a volunteer, a political activist and a writer of fiction, memoir and non-fiction. My argument has always been for the need to recognise the value(s) of subjectivity in terms of the personhood of the researcher and of research as an embodied, power-laden, emotional, relational experience. Such an approach entails a constant, critical reflection which again I try to employ across my portfolio career. I was fortunate that I began learning and working in higher education as a feminist sociologist when a growing interest in sociological auto/biography encouraged and enabled me to explore and celebrate, rather than subdue and deny the personal in alternative, creative ways that challenged, even threatened the traditional, hygienic, ‘masculine’ approach. I feel lucky to be continuing similarly.

Geraldine: Over a number of years I have found marrying research and creative mediums very rewarding. I have used; drama workshops, visual story boards, photography and collages in research projects with young mothers. I have also used barbering with young carers and scenarios and music with young people identified as at ‘risk’ of getting involved in ‘gangs.’ This is not to suggest that using creative mediums is easy as I have encountered a range of challenges [see Brady and Brown, 2013]. However, there is no doubt that being able to draw on creative approaches in my work has also been very rewarding. I am always amazed when I am able to use a creative medium about how it offers a powerful tool for all those involved; participants and researchers. I see creative approaches as providing a vehicle for self- reflection, meaning and activism. For example, in the research I have been involved in with young mothers exploring various young parents are encouraged to reflect and share their views and experiences using a range of creative mediums.

Examples of this work:

I am not an ‘expert’ in any of these mediums evidenced by my collage!! However, as I worked alongside colleagues I was reminded about how much I value the creative process.  As I sat selecting and cutting out images, identifying words and considering how to present my collage endeavour, I welcomed how the process created time and space to reflect but also generated conversations with colleagues sitting alongside me.  I enjoyed spending time thinking about; how I was going to present myself in my collage, deciding what I felt was important for people to know about me and I also loved that I was creating something too.

We were asked us to create a collage that provided a visual representation about ‘who we are’, ‘what we do’how’ and ‘why’ we do it.  We were give newspapers, magazines, stickers, glitter and an array of other things to use to make our collage aesthetically appealing.  On reflection, I found making my collage was a very slow process.  I started by spending a lot of time sifting through papers and magazines  looking for images and words that I felt had a connection to my life, identity, research role and, of cause, would look cool! It soon became clear why I chose research because I found aspects of making the collage taxing. I found  the process was especially challenging due to the difficulty I had finding positive representations of black people, particularly Black women in the magazines and papers provided and how that elicited a range of negative emotions about media representation  of women of colour , our visibility but more often than not, our invisibility. Nonetheless determined that my collage would say something meaningful, I produced one that includes something about my Black female identity and how it influences my research and how research for me is something that is always both personal and political.

Brady, G., and Brown, G., (2013) Rewarding but Let’s Talk about the Challenges: Using Arts Based Methods in Research with Young Mothers, Methodological Innovations, Volume: 8 issue: 1, page(s): 99-112.

Jon: Within my collage, I chose to represent the importance of researcher identity within the research process. For me that means the importance I attach to building reciprocal relationships with participants. I chose to include many of the things that are important to me such as various sports and my car. In my previous research, I have found that being able to establish commonalities with research participants helps me get richer and more wholesome data than I would have otherwise be able to. I also included an image of the brain as this is something that is important to me in terms of what I want to research, what interests me and the brain also has a key significance of who I am as a brain injured person. Although it may seem something to mourn and a way which I may be incomplete or broken, I am very proud of my injured brain. Without it I would not be a researcher, and moreover I feel that in many ways I am a better person for the experiences that I have gained as a result of my brain injury. The words such as ‘collaboration’ and ‘reciprocity’ are intended to sum up my approach to research which is very much that research should be a collaborative enterprise and should seek to dissolve traditional notions of ‘expert’ researcher and ‘novice’ participant(s).

Julie: I was somewhat surprised at the pleasure I elicited from the activity of cutting and sticking. There was something therapeutic about the whole exercise and I also liked the finished product, which was a bonus. I spent the first part of the activity scouring magazines and newspapers for images and text that caught my eye and then found that in the end I did not use a lot of these. Mostly I was attracted by the colours of an image, so in the end I just used cut out bits of coloured card to use as a backdrop. I didn’t have a plan as to how the collage would work as a representation of myself, as I considered that was somehow inherent in the choosing… Nor did I really have an idea of how I would position it all on the page. In the end, there was some structure to it and I was surprised at how much of the ‘sociologist’ and academic identity came through. I included social media images, not because I use these for personal purposes but because they are significant aspects of my current research project, which aims to give a voice to those looking to turn their lives around after punishment. I publicise the co-produced blog posts via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Sarah Hocking: When I first heard we would be making collages my heart sank a little. I have never thought of myself as being creative, always comfier with words and numbers. After a slow start, and a bit of self-consciousness about my blank A3 page, I quickly found my inner Picasso as I got into cutting and sticking which, it transpires, is a strangely therapeutic task in itself. I found myself selecting words and images that reminded me of LandWorks, or stood out as relevant to my own identity. Interestingly I found it quite hard to separate the two; LandWorks and what we do there has become such a big part of my story. A strong theme of the collage is ‘being okay’ and used newspaper crosswords to show this. At LandWorks we have a big artwork on display that says, ‘Everything will be ok’ and this runs through all we do: helping people to see that they are ok, or to get to a place where they can feel that.

I selected positive, hopeful words and phrases and those relating to ‘family’ to represent the relationships we build at the project. One of the most significant things I have learnt since my theoretical studies of Criminology is that the intervention itself is almost irrelevant; it is the ability to build trusting pro-social relationships that is key to preventing return to crime. The cross through ‘other’ relates to the need to move away from ‘us and them’ thinking, and towards working together in collaboration. Jeremy Corbyn features strongly in my collage, not least because he has reignited a fire within me about politics but also because he represents ‘the many, not the few’. I included a feminist t-shirt, both to symbolise my identity as a woman and to represent the importance of positive gender role modelling at LandWorks (and any intervention that seeks to ‘reintegrate’).

Finally, I joined two phrases together to form ‘There will always be the chaos beneath’ because it encapsulates so much of what I believe. At LandWorks, the offence that brings someone to us is often just the tip of the iceberg, under which is a lifetime of chaos and social exclusion. Often, breaking the cycle of offending requires a complete restructuring of identity and a belief that change is possible.

Sarah Hodge: My collage broadly represents freedom, empowerment and journeys. Freedom is represented by expansive outdoors, horses running wild, and freedom of choice with multiple paths ahead. Which also leads to empowerment – knowing we have an element of control and choice. How much choice do we have? This depends very much on the situation we are born into. It explores the ground where my personal and professional self/selves meet, the commonalities – that for transformation to happen first we imagine a future self, and then we create it. Creativity helps to allow the space where that imagination unfolds. This includes an acceptance that we cannot always understand or anticipate the end result before we’ve begun, and with change comes an element of risk that the desired outcome might not happen. Sometimes – not always – happy accidents occur, and we discover something unimaginable. All this unfolds in a microcosm (the creative world) and acts as a metaphor for the relative macrocosm of our everyday lives – creativity is largely about decision making and risk taking. There are also a few conflicts where my personal and professional self meet – on a personal level I’m aiming for a lifestyle which entails living off the land, realising the importance for me of being connected to our natural surroundings harmoniously. I realise I’m in a privileged situation to be able to do this – not through having large amounts of money but through the people I’ve met and the life experiences which have come up. I’ve noticed when the topic arises in my professional environment about where and how I live it’s often met with inquisitiveness, and sometimes I wonder how helpful it is to speak to people who are incarcerated or in crisis about the very free lifestyle I have: whether it is at that moment hurtful or useful. This links to a theme which arose during discussions during the residential: how much do we give up of ourselves when building trusting professional relationships, for our sake and for the people we work with.

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