My DPS year

On relationships, personal experience of life and the things I didn’t know were part of my art practice.

 

Rather unexpectedly, I have thrown myself into a year of contemplation and of gaining experience in the ‘industry’ – all followed by the struggle to find placements. Although all of the above were a part of my journey, this year, for the first time, I felt truly free. I have allowed myself to explore my personal boundaries, while growing as an individual. My view of the ‘art industry’ shifted from a cold, rigidly professional place, to one concentrated on the joy of making. The organisations’ focus on providing others with creative outlets came as a surprise – I didn’t think people were capable of this much kindness and desire to share art as a widely accessible practice. People became my source of inspiration and their conversations revealed personal experiences that they carried around with them.

 

This report is a personal reflection of my days at Turf Projects and LUVA Gallery. There won’t be much detail on what programmes I’ve learned to use or any of the technical skills I have absorbed. However, I will delve into my personal observations and social interactions I got to experience while spending time in different environments. To me, those conversations and meetings were what really began to shape my art practice and significantly, what somewhat changed me as a person. Even though this piece of writing is centred around feelings, I hope it will be a place where you get to tag along on my journey and witness the development of my interests.

 

I want it to read like a story, as if you opened my journal and got immersed in it.

 

So, let’s begin …

 

Community

Looking back at the beginning of my DPS year, I felt lost. My summer days involved writing endless cover letters and scrolling through Arts Council pages with hope to find a placement that would accept me. The combination of being stressed and excited for what’s to come, provided me with determination that eventually landed me intern positions with Turf Projects and LUVA Gallery. 

 

My expectations began to rise as the start dates of my placements were near, assuming I’ll be creating and curating for most of the days within that year. To my surprise, working at art organisations included a large amount of organising, communication, stock checking and sitting in front of my laptop. Sometimes, all of this would be done while itching to create art, thinking that my time could be spent painting in my room rather than sitting down for hours. However, while sitting inside the Whitgift Centre in West Croydon, I’ve come across diverse people such as regulars, locals and artists. Hearing the different conversations, often disclosing parts of their private lives, inspired me and formed new questions, new thought processes inside my head. 

 

This is when I began thinking about community.

 

On the 2nd December 2021, as I entered Turf to start my usual day, I was presented with the possibility of joining one of the team members in a community project. As I’ve been digesting this idea, I’ve shared my feelings in a DPS diary,“The project will involve us trying to interview at least 10 people and ask them about South Norwood, how they’re connected to the area, what changes they would like to see within it. We will be there from 10am till 2pm. I’ve printed out Release Forms for under 18s and over 18s so we can give them out to people that we will be interviewing. I’m nervous about having to talk to strangers in a place that I’ve never been to but I agreed to do it so I can get out of my comfort zone. I’m also intrigued to find out what people think a ‘community’ is and what sort of memories they associate with the area.” Not knowing what I was in for, I’ve decided to take a risk and visit the South Norwood market. What I got out of it was a very unexpected feeling of togetherness. 

 

Community

noun

a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. 

a group of people living together and practising common ownership. 

the people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities; society. 

 

As we got to South Norwood and walked out of the station into a rather windy and cold Christmas Market, I thought about the amount of people there. At first glance they seemed completely separated. Separated in a sense of not only living their own, private lives but also focusing on themselves – not contributing to each other’s experience of living. 

 

From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we are solely concentrated on ticking off our daily list of tasks – including me. Of course, each of us will have unexpected social interactions throughout the day; either willingly or essentially. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt truly connected to those I spoke to, not in the form of a ‘tight knit’ community, especially in a crowded London. This was until I arrived in South Norwood. By all means, the only reason why me and my colleague found ourselves in the area was to interview the locals. All as a way to find out what could be improved there. With not many expectations, we delved into trying to talk to some of the sellers at the stalls. The first interviewee was a man who owned a candle business. I didn’t expect people to want to talk to us for a few reasons; why would they be happy to talk to two strangers, who randomly decided to interview the locals for a project? They probably had more important things to do than speak with us, like in this case, selling candles. To my surprise, the man was more than happy to be a part of our interview. 

 

With a big smile on his face, he talked us through the beginning of his and his partner’s business, how it sprouted from an idea into reality due to help from his community. Did he mean business advice, the right contacts or was it more of an emotional support? Or was it a mix of two? Either way, I stood there, listening to the man behind the stall, speak about an area filled with buildings and shops in a way that painted a picture of it being filled with people and emotions. I was taken aback to say the least. The exact same occurrence took place when we talked with the plant lady, a cafe owner and a journalist. Who would’ve thought?

 

Although that Thursday in South Norwood was rather unpleasant in weather, it stayed with me so strongly that I go back to it whenever I’m out, surrounded by people. As someone who feels like an in-betweener, who’s not English nor does she fit in a Polish environment, I occasionally envy those who solidly belong to a community. How does one find a community for themselves? I have various groups of friends, I go to university, I work, I’m doing internships, I’m surrounded by many different ‘communities’ but which one do I belong to? Do I belong to any of them? Do they just surround me? Are we a part of multiple communities throughout our lifetime? At this point, I wonder why it’s so important for me to find an answer as to what my ‘solid’ community is. It might be due to watching people ‘find themselves’ or feel comfortable in places they visit, such art workshops at Turf or even art exhibitions in galleries such as LUVA. People seem to feel understood once they’re surrounded by those that are alike them or have similar passions. I emphasise with this too but I tend to have that small part of myself that always feels slightly different from everyone, slightly foreign. In fact, “one of the deepest human desires is to belong” so we naturally feel the need to find our community and not be alone. We are tribal beings so, “Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.Even the most introverted people have the need to feel supported and be a part of something bigger, surrounded by others.

a photo of someone stood behing a cafe counter

 

In “The Lure of the Local”, the experience of fitting into multiple communities is called an “existing hybridity”. It can be felt at Turf; everyone who comes in becomes “one of the ingredients” of this space, forming its ever evolving identity. There are multiple types of personalities and each of them adds a layer of skills, memories and opinions to Turf. One of these groups is MOSS – a learning disabled artists collective. Focused on creating a safe space for those learning disabled artists, Turf provides them with weekly workshops and most significantly an opportunity to create a community and connect with others alike them or those that vary from them. Making art accessible and transforming it into a tool for bringing people together, emphasises the joy of making; a valid reason as to why one would create in the first place. Before interning at Turf, creating for happiness seemed a childish attitude. It was something I was even ashamed of, thus, forced to think beyond that. Yet, art doesn’t have to be strictly one thing – in the end, it’s often a tool for various uses. 

 

As a matter of fact, one Saturday I became a member of the Knitting Club set up and run by two MOSS members, and supported by Turf’s Access Lead, Jhinuk. We began a conversation about knitting as a relaxing activity, one that can rithe poster advertising the knitting club "knitting makes the wool go round"d you of anxiety. One of the ladies shared a story of how her mother taught her to knit when she was a young girl – a consequence of being bullied by other kids. For her, art became an escape, a way to deal with the bullies without confronting them. It became her own personal therapy. Simply indulging herself in knitting, allowed her to have a release and feel at home with herself.  

 

Art can be a form of therapy like no other – it doesn’t need verbal expression of one’s troubles, it can be a visual or a kinetic way of dealing with those. Community-wise, connecting with others through art could be as simple as sharing the same space to create. Art provides an individual with an immediate relief that nothing else can compare to due to its physicality or even due to its better accessibility than traditional therapy. As mentioned in “Art Therapy”, “the value of art therapy lay in ‘completely engrossing the mind (as well as the fingers) … releasing the creative energy of the frequently inhibited patient”. Clearly, the movement in art making releases negative energy, distracting the mind from traumas it tends to store and dwell on. When discussing art therapy, I refer to using art as a resource to deal with mental challenges. It doesn’t involve a trained art therapist, deciphering one’s artwork in detail until its true meaning fades away. ‘Art therapy’ available at Turf is woven in between the widely accessible workshops, free to all, with collective support.

Its structure highlights that, “art media is its primary mode of communication and the overall aim of its practitioners is to enable a client to effect change and growth on a personal level through the use of art materials in a safe and facilitating environment.” After recognising the power of art on people’s mental wellbeing, I see art making as primarily focused on the physicality of creating itself; the movement of one’s hand (or other body part), the choice of media and the feelings as a driving force. Concepts behind any work seem an afterthought, a reflection on what took place while creating.

 

Essentially, it’s a process of art-making that sits behind my practice.

 

A crucial catalyst in understanding my practice was freedom. For the first time in years, I didn’t have people feeding concepts into my head. I wasn’t judged. My art had the time to breathe and I had the time to digest it. I truly leaned into what brought me pleasure this year.

a photograph of one of julias abstract paintings

Weekly reflections became my habit, giving me a glance into what I’m really interested in. I saw a clear link between painting and writing and how those in fact take turns within my practice. The way my creative flow often works, is by exclusively painting or writing for a certain period of time until I completely empty myself out of ideas. I view all my life experiences as valuable, therefore, writing them down allows me to transport myself into those moments whenever I desire. This duality of not wholly devoting oneself into one area of art is very human and should be more recognised within the creative industry. Rather than putting pressure on having to obsess over one concept within our practices and dwell on it, higher education should encourage the exploration of many differing themes, which can feed into our work. I’ve been exhausted and drained creatively after constant questioning of the concept behind my work during group crits – I never really satisfied my tutors as nothing was specific enough. It made me think about what it is that I’m painting about while painting, limiting my movements, making them really ‘thought-through’. My paintings were stiff and compact, the shapes had no freedom to escape, they screamed for space to be released for them. In contrast, nowadays, I want my paintings to feel as ‘diary-like’ and intuitive as my writing, responsive to my environment and experiences. My DPS year rid me of the educational restraints and I paid more attention to what I’m reading, listening to and what I surround myself with. If a book bored me, I put it away. There is a connection between this new way of thinking and my placements; by being in non institutional spaces, I got to meet people from all life journeys. This brought to my attention how important the experience of life is and how telling stories really matters to me. One could say I became more observant or even grew aware of being an observer. I understood that everything about my experience as a human makes up my art. In fact, I got captivated by life, endlessly pouring my thoughts onto digital pieces of paper. 

 

“I had a realisation today. Thinking about how my art is mainly focused around memories – the idea of reliving different moments in my life, linking to the anxiety of running out of time or never having enough time. The fact that I have been in therapy for some time now, made me think that everything I do in life, my routines and rituals are all linked to my art. My art is the experience of my everyday life and my mental state as a result of it. My spirituality and the importance of movement and journaling are closed within my paintings too. The fact that I feel an inner need to write and the fact that my dreams are so vivid, makes me want to record my experience of life in a so-called ‘coded’ language that are shapes and colours. Stripping those memories and experiences all the way down to pure abstraction emphasises the fantasy of dreams and the movement, traces and felt sensations of my body against various stimuli. […] They all have two sides to them; one that’s referring to a memory(ies), dreams or experiences that influenced it and the other that holds the moment of me creating it. The combination of the two, forms a new, expanded space on a surface of a canvas that no viewer would be able to decipher. One might think, what’s the point of creating those or why wouldn’t I just write what they quite literally mean. Well, most of them usually have an extension beside them, a poem, a written word that describes the experience of creating them, viewing them or/and the physical inspirations that form them. If one doesn’t own an extension, then it’s left entirely to the interpretation of its viewer. Dangerously and controversially, its meaning becomes dependent on the one looking at it. Abstraction meets the life of an individual and becomes completely and utterly reshaped to one’s experience of life.”

 

Paul Klee resembled a comparable sense of sensitivity to physical aesthetics and the need to record his personal life daily, to me. Although there isn’t any particular reason as to why he documented his experiences (they were all published after his death), they clearly had a large effect on his artistic expression. From music he listened to, Greek poetry he read, to his travels – all of those personal life happenings were the reason why his paintings even existed. In a similar way, he would listen to music or play his violin and straight after, start painting. It felt as if anything he’s done, he would close into those artworks, allowing the viewer to experience them for themselves.

 

One could say this report is my personal diary, just the way Klee’s was.

 

Love and Relationships

Travelling and places involve people as much as they involve physical spaces. The need to travel and to get away from a stagnant environment requires a particular person to inspire it. Despite the fact it feels relatively personal, the act of experiencing romantic love genuinely for the first time this year, created a longing for being in different environments. A drive to explore, experiment. Meeting a free, nature loving individual made me realise how “humans have lost contact with the world of earth, sky, sea”,  ignoring it as a source for creativity. While being burned out and emptied out of ideas, I’ve gone for many walks in the countryside – away from the business of the city, surrounded by the person I love and lots of greenery. The quiet and peacefulness of nature became a “form of meditation – a means to feel into my body and experience a small amount of embodiment. As Lucy Lippard expressed, nature“offers an unparalleled way to open oneself to the ‘spirit of place’ and to its subterranean history. Motion allows a certain mental freedom that translates a place to a person kinesthetically.” The ‘mental freedom’ through ‘spirit of the place’ transformed into a desire to record this spiritual experience of lack of worry; my mind and body being an empty vessel. Lippard refers to a motion, the translation of movement into energy, as a way of obtaining inner peace, allowing the freedom of having just enough time to simply go for a walk. The privilege of walking gives you time to think and thinking in my case, gives power to creativity. Correspondingly, I’ve written a piece called ‘High Point, where I described my overwhelming visit to the countryside. “Unrestrained. I soaked up the openness of the countryside without a doubt. Although not many people were around, the ones we’ve met have been incredibly kind. They didn’t necessarily say anything that would make you believe they have good intentions in mind, it was something about their auraIt’s as if the physical openness of the countryside lets people be more loving and less self obtained – it gives them the time to be with themselves in the present moment instead of constantly chasing their next achievement. In “All About Love” by Bell Hooks, it states, “intimate relationship can provide a sanctuary from the world of facades, a sacred space where we can be ourselves, as we are. . .” “This kind of unmasking—speaking our truth, sharing our inner struggles, and revealing our raw edges—is sacred activity, which allows two souls to meet and touch more deeply.” Hooks describes love in an almost spiritual sense, she compares the feeling of love, the action of being in love as a sense of space in itself. Could we say that it was the presence of the lover driving the sense of liberation inside of me, not the places I found myself in? Could love become a theoretical space, where one can escape to? Spaces are more about the community inside of them than the physical walls that make them up. Without people and their experiences, feelings and conversations, space would be just full of air, with no stories to tell. For me, love made that connection to a sense of comfort, a sense of my personal community, a way to belong. It opened up my eyes to this concept of a ‘multi centred society’– a plural version of community. There isn’t one person that solely belongs to one community, we all have different parts of ourselves that are split between diverse environments. From Turf to LUVA, love brought all those strangers together and through a welcoming atmosphere, they fed parts of their souls that belonged to those places. Love as a space, a fond memory in my head, is a safety net that lets me accept myself as a ‘foreigner’ who feels at home in London and doesn’t need to specify where she belongs. The sensuality of felt love and the physicality of touch showed me just how much significance I put on body awareness and the connection between the body and the mind.

 

“ ‘Nature lovers’ including some artists, are just that: the erotic communication of body and place combines the elements of desire and risk with those of time and space” The ‘erotic communication of body and place’ to me, relates to the sensuality of the interconnectedness between the human body and the present moment. It reminds me of the book, “Atomic Habits”, where James Clear states, “Our behaviour is not defined by the objects in the environment but by our relationship to them.Although this is specifically focused on behaviour, it’s compelling how it claims that the body connects to its environment through the relationships with the objects instead through the objects directly. Viewing places as relationships shifts our perspective to the energies we all emanate that we can tune into, becoming more empathetic and reaching a higher level of awareness.

 

 Yoga is an awareness tool I was introduced to at Turf.

“It was only the two of us and an instructor. The atmosphere was peaceful with a slight distraction – the printer next to us being noisy. This was an interesting contrast between mindfulness and ‘work production’. The class itself was unexpectedly challenging – I felt my body being on the verge of giving up but instead, it was surrendering into the pain of the felt stretches. It was a rare moment when I felt truly connected to my body and to my soul. As cliché as it sounds, I felt ‘at home’ within myself and liberated. A real energy was released from within. I saw the difference between sitting on my laptop versus creating through movement. The practice of yoga has shown me what really matters to me – the creation of art is a necessity, without which I wouldn’t  be able to live authentically.” Since then, I regularly attend yoga classes in person and learn about my body, its strengths and weaknesses and how I can tune into my inner home. This is a continuous exploration of yet another space, the one I always carry around with me.

a photograph of one of julias abstract paintingsa photograph of one of julias abstract paintings

Considering Future

Ultimately, DPS year transformed me from awfully shy, scared of taking risks individual into one who’s not afraid of speaking to strangers. I’ve gained many practical skills, from writing and sending emails using Mailchimp to producing a show – being in touch with the artist, organising the equipment and marketing. As read throughout the report, I haven’t delved into my placement at LUVA. My connection with them wasn’t as immediate as with Turf. Most of our meetings were online and other mentees were more available for the production process than me. This isn’t to say the experience at LUVA wasn’t a pleasant one or that I haven’t learned anything. I was still partly involved by making posters, posting on social media and soon producing my own show with the artist Rosie Gibbens. 

 

As a whole, I’ve met many people in the industry and ‘outside’ of the industry this year, realising that relationships are what drives everything; from art spaces, community, to my own practice. I’ve truly indulged in the joy of making, accepting the duality of myself as a person. I partly see my art practice as a form of therapy now, a way of connecting with myself. Spirituality is close to my heart and yoga connects my mind with my body, allowing me to be as I am, without any pressure from the outside world. Love drove me to venture out of my comfort zone and I’m more curious about my surroundings, craving to travel.

 

Exhibiting my own work as a part of a collective Polish Women Artists, gave me a taste of what it’s like to be both a co-curator and the exhibited artist. I faced challenges along the way such as not agreeing with others or finding it hard to socialise at open events. However, with time and patience, I compromised while still expressing myself, helping to make each show happen. I learned how to print my work, hang it up and price it. As a result, I grew to 

cherish my work being viewed by strangers but still find it an intimate experience.

Through all of those experiences, I gained some ideas of what I could do after graduating. Still unsure and overwhelmed with the amount of options, I’m particularly captivated by the opportunity to do half of the Urban History and Culture masters in Paris at University of London Institute. Finances and the fear of living in a foreign country could be my obstacles. On another hand, it would be an opportunity to learn about new places, cultures and people, expanding my art practice. Finding an art gallery job could be another option or staying at my current job and then taking a month or so off to travel, visiting various places and seeing how that affects my art too. 

a poster from the art collective "polish women artists"a photograph of one of julias abstract paintings displayed alongside other works by women in her collective

In general, I grew to acknowledge that my practice as an artist and writer is acting as an intuitive record of how external experiences and places are affecting me.

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