Session 5

When talking to someone has gone really well I then tend to gather my things and move on to another space, it’s a chance to regroup and think about what’s happened. But today I twice realised that as I left there was another child in the waiting area who looked like they’d been watching and might be interested in what I was doing.  I think I need to set a rule not to leave immediately but to go up to that person even if I’m weary. They might not get as interesting an experience but obviously that’s not the point – my proposal mentioned allowing space for the dull and I’m sticking to my guns. I’m aware it’s also much easier to leave than stay (I’ve always been a bolter) but I’m not trying to do what’s easy so shall put that rule in place next week.

Today a highlight was the comparison activity again, first with a young boy whose dawning realisation at what we were doing and where it was taking us was a delight. We went from dull paper to cliffs, birds and then a small rock mined by smaller miners (seen on instagram here )

And then the joy continued with a teenage girl and her mum who both consistently chose the opposites to each other, the girl favoured geometric shapes the mother more organic, but then they might suddenly swap around unexpectedly depending on the choice in front of them. It becomes really interesting seeing how choices and preferences are made but can change with one small shift – from vertical to horizontal planes, curved to straight lines, crumpled to flat.  At one point we got onto talking about display and plinths and how we would make those choices which might be something I develop in the future.

Finally we ended up with 2 small balls, the girl chose the one in my right hand, and when pressed as to why said she couldn’t decide visually but she just preferred things on the right! After a brief wrangle with her left handed mother I then hid one in my hand leaving the other visible, which lead to an impromptu conversation about Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit

As I left the mum said she’d seen me pass by earlier and had pointed me out to her daughter saying look there’s an artist, she’ll be doing something with paint or drawing. We all agreed we had probably enjoyed our conversation considerably more than if I’d offered some acrylic and brushes. (NB that’s about me not them!)


Sessions 1 – 4

Notes and thoughts:

If I start folding or tearing paper and wait for someone to ask me what I’m doing they don’t.

I can spend an hour and a half or longer at a table with various children/adults coming and going but there is a point where it feels done.

The first session I decided to start by asking about what they were doing rather than asking them to join what I was doing, which slowly developed into a great conversation about my blank paper and we ended up first experimenting with folding and then trying to construct a building which they decided was a shelter for the homeless. Various children joined in and it became a communal activity, an abstract sculpture was added to the roof and a kennel with a pet was made, each doing something slightly different in between going back to other activities but all engaged in talking to me and, at points, each other – a nice moment when a girl taught another how to make a chatterbox.

Offering a piece of paper most frequently elicits the response to make something, a momentary anxiety about what to make then an attempt to create an aeroplane or chatterbox. (Chatterboxes are also known as fortune tellers, which I knew but also cootie catchers  – that discovery prompted some great conversation – particularly with the child’s mum – and salt cellars.) One parent and child looked a bit nervous as I approached then when I mentioned the paper, no pens, no glue, the mother smiled widely and said she does origami. Butterflies, a fox and an almost heart were made, later on I was scrunching paper with another child and we talked about seeing things in shapes – like looking at clouds – and she saw a fox in her scrumpled paper. Nice synchronicity. To be totally honest though I’m not that interested in origami – it makes me feel anxious and uptight as a thing, the neatness, precision and following instructions are not my forte so although I’m interested in why it is such a go to thing to do it’s the conversation we get to through it that is my aim. Fortune tellers are useful though as a means to start a conversation and my highlight so far was in session 4 when I made a one for a girl of about 10 or 11 and told her fortune. As all the sides are blank when I ask people to name a colour or number they can start by looking a little perplexed but always get into it. When this girl in return did it to me after some wracking of her brains she said my fortune was awkward. It sounded odd so I pushed her on what awkward meant and she said kind of funny. She then went on to make an awkward fortune teller – with awkward folds so it was hard to hold and manipulate. You can see it on my instagram here  That in itself was fantastic but she then said wouldn’t it be great if you had 100 people with 100 awkward fortune tellers telling 100 awkward fortunes. Such a brilliant vision.


* (Another time I’ll do some thinking/writing about the almost impossibility of a spontaneous conversation and maybe try and think of some rules or strategies to try to be less ready with an answer rather than a response.)




The proposal

Background: Below is the (unedited) proposal I wrote for GOSH Arts. I wrote it over a number of weeks and I’ve since described it as feeling as much like putting my brain on a page in a proposal as I’ve ever felt. Please note I also got paid a fee to write it. Which is of course only right and proper but major acknowledgement to GOSH Arts for respecting the labour that goes into these things.

The proposal:

I have been thinking about the concept of status for a number of years, who assigns it and how it is measured, and how these metrics might be questioned or redrawn so they don’t follow the dominant system. This thinking has fed into projects such as I Love my Yugo (much maligned/much loved) I’m Looking for Barbara (addressing the non inclusion in archives of artists without enough ‘evidence’) and strategies for promoting conversation for a current residency at the Women’s Art Library starting with What’s your Favourite Vegetable? (totally subjective but an almost level-playing-field conversation starter).

My personal instincts regarding status are to root for the less valued, not just the underdog but the middle range, the fine but not great, that or those who might be thought of or graded as mediocre. This isn’t saying we should value mediocrity above success but is questioning how success is assigned and trying to acknowledge its fluidity and subjectivity. I dislike the phrase ‘be the best version of yourself you can be’ because it’s unrealistic and sets people up for a fail, implying the onus is on them to try harder to be better rather than questioning the systems that they live life through.


My proposal, therefore, is to start with a white sheet of A4 paper, the underdog, the derided. If we drew the graph of materials in the GOSH art cupboard based on their desirability then white paper would seem to fall nearest the origin of the axes. I would like to use this sheet of white paper to start a conversation about its unpopularity and then see if we can explore together how to elevate its status, to make it desirable, to make it valued. This might be about using it as a material in itself, exploring its materiality and changing its shape, it might involve thinking about its presence in the room, for example the difference between placed underfoot or raised above our heads, which itself might prompt a conversation about why underfoot is potentially less valued, for example a doormat is a useful thing with creative potential. The paper might be transformed into a tool, rolled up to play I-spy and used to spot equally unloved areas or materials in the room, or repurposed as a space divider, a fan, a portal, a musical instrument, a pet. By exploring its possibilities we are evidencing the possibility of change and our agency in this process but also allowing us to question whether ‘better’ is really that — is it the paper that has changed or our attitude towards it.

I like the accessibility of the paper, it is instantly recognisable and (almost) non threatening. One challenge will be in avoiding people wanting to draw on it, particularly in the waiting room environment when I can imagine parents will understandably grab at anything to keep their children occupied. Drawing and its privileging of skill is something I’m interested in but it is not what this proposal is about. There might be playful ways of labelling the paper or framing the invitation that indicates it isn’t for drawing but if asked for ‘a piece of drawing paper’ I would try and persuade the asker to join in the experiments that are happening, to involve them in the activity.

All of this is up for discussion and there are contradiction which I acknowledge in my approach – I find myself torn between wanting to elevate the status of the white sheet and feeling we shouldn’t have to ask it to do more than it already does, am I guilty of asking it to be the best version of a sheet of white paper it can be?! It is these apparent contradictions I find interesting as my position slips between them, if I were to follow my argument about mediocrity to its natural conclusion then should I be celebrating the paper’s apparent mundaneness with a not very exciting activity — questioning what’s wrong with being dull. I would love to discuss this with a willing participant. We could compete to see who could make the dullest activity perhaps working on the principle of the uncomfortable chair, so uncomfortable that when you get off it you feel the ecstasy of relief.

Where this might go:

Although I want to start with white paper I can see the potential for this to extend into other materials and media. After a quick twitter poll of least favourite art materials sugar paper received a nomination along with dried out felt tips so each of those might have their moment (although the latter does seem perhaps a challenge too far). I also use language a lot in my practice — though I’m aware ‘a lot’ is considered bad English – and the status of words or phrases is definitely something that might crop up, along with the letters of the alphabet. Given a box of scrabble letters how would you grade them and which one would be considered the most important — is it e for ubiquity, S for Sarah or x for rarity and if you don’t have English as your first language which then?

The key thing will be to remember the underlying aim which is to prompt thinking, conversation and experimentation around how and why we value things and how we might change ours and others’ attitude towards those things that are unloved or looked down on either by altering the perceived role of the object or by exploring our perception of what worth actually means.


Status of architectural space — room type, corridor, ceiling, floor, doorway, indoors, outdoors

Status of objects — toys, furniture, soft furnishings, clothing

Status of time — seconds, minutes, hours, clocks, alarms, days

Status of surface pattern — colour, design, location