Inside Reading Prison Art and Poetry

Last week I went to what used to be Reading Prison and is now open to the public  to view the building, art and writing.
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I think it’s a really interesting experience, it’s full of history and feelings of ‘people used to walk this path that I’m on but in an entirely different way’.

The booklet you get on entrance fills you in with interesting facts and about the cells and the creative works featured. It was the first time I’ve heard Oscar Wilde was in there for two years as back in 1895, being gay (having sexual relations with same sex) was a crime.

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If your going there to find a lot of art then you will be disappointed, the art is minimal but I think that adds to the mystery of the place. I found it really interesting, like being in an episode of Prison Break. I liked reading letters on the tables in the cells as they were so raw and poetic, especially a letter Ai Wewei wrote to his son. I liked seeing portraits by Marlene Dumas and glasses with the most detailed refections by Peter Dreher.

It’s a good place to take in a different environment and get inspired; I drew in my sketchbook, some people took photos and others on their film cameras.

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Inside is a project by Art Angel, Reading Prison is open till 4 December, tickets are £9 per adult and you can find out more to book your place here

A week off in Windsor with Art and Psychology changed my thinking

As I read a post on Facebook about an Art and Psychology week coming up that I could easily drive to, I knew as first clicked onto it I had to go. I quickly organised time off as it seemed something I had to follow through and arranged how I was going to pay for it last (usually this is the first thing I do, everything was being done in a different order!)

I am interested in psychology and conscious living and dream theory interested me, the prospect of an 24 hour art studio which really excited me. Also it was only in Windsor so very close by.

When I arrived I was greeted by cheerful older adults who gave me my introduction pack and welcomed me. Soon after we all gathered in a room for a meeting, more and more people came in all 10-50 years older than me and they all looked like professionals looking around me I felt out of place. I thought to myself I’m on the wrong course. I wasn’t, this was Champernowne Summer School and it would turn out to be the most interesting 5 days I could have.

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My first instinct was right, everyone at the course was either a Psychotherapist, retired Psychotherapist or a full time Artist. So as a full time support worker and part time artist I wanted to kick myself that this was some sort of break away from the stress of their jobs, for those professionals to relax but also learn while away.

Not for people interested in Psychology and Art to learn at a beginner level. My inner dialogue support system nudged me – You are welcome everywhere, a self actualised person doesn’t notice the difference between others in a new situation they just be themselves. So that’s exactly what I did, I relaxed a little and despite a few odd stares and introverted individuals (even more so than me) questions, all was well.

From a tour I had when I first arrived, I could tell the art space would be somewhere came a lot, down the spiral stairs and underground was the basement art studio.

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There were acrylic paints, tempera paints, ink, pencils, pens – many art supplies! My only hang up was there was no canvas, only paper. My mind whirred with questions Are there going to be any canvases? How can I do layers on paper? Could I drive home and get my toothbrush that I forgot and canvases? That seemed logical- something I need and something I want! Could I cope with just paper? Ordinarily I would have been ok with paper, though as I was away for 5 days I really wanted to make some art, I enjoyed using paper in the online course Painting with fire, this time I wanted a different experience.

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The benefit of being away, even if it felt like the ‘wrong’ course was that I was in Windsor and the rooms inside Cumberland Lodge were to me pure luxury. The long tables at meal times proved to be an excellent chance for people to chat casually about how they felt and meet each other once again or for the first time. It was here that I met a lovely lady who dramatically changed my whole week!

It was at the tables that I had a conversation with at least 3 people who said either in a previous year or this time round they wanted to leave the course, they came up with a get out plan and almost left. I mentioned before had a similar experience in wanting to go come and get more art supplies, though I wouldn’t of actually gone for good, at £795 all inclusive I was staying put.

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As I was partly on a Psychology course I thought that maybe this experience was part of the course, to get us out of our comfort and get us through our need to escape, maybe just maybe it was part of a transformation. The other logical cause was everyone had developed a dopamine deficiency and weren’t getting enough enjoyment. Anyway, it interested me and each person had a different ‘escape plan’.

The quality I first liked most form the course was the schedule, and as it was a holiday, you weren’t required to join in every activity, nor was it crammed full of exciting workshops. This meant that you had more time to yourself, if you didn’t go to a seminar – you found you had a few hours free to do whatever you pleased. Though if you wanted to you were welcome to join in Tai Chai, Dreaming Matrix (I later found out that it was a very interesting experience) and morning singing then you could!

The only workshop you were required to go to each day was the individual psychotherapies topics, you chose out of writing, drama, fairytales and dance. I chose fairytales and it was such a great experience listening to and discussing about the meaning and significance for people through folk tales. I had’t explored them since reading Woman who run with wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola, a must have book for girls and women everywhere. The workshop fully opened me up to my own power and that of stories. The in depth workshop and inner work that came from it made being on the course very worthwhile!

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My best experiences in using my free time was on my own in the studio, which I will explain about soon, taking my yoga mat and doing Sadhana at dawn outside, writing morning pages, reading Flow magazine in bed, meditation time in my room and reading fairytales at the curved sofa cushions.

I had experiences with another too, that without I properly would have done my usual and kept myself to myself reading a book, writing or planning! Such as morning Kirtan singing, chatting about interests, chatting, chilling out and riding a bike to see deer. We also presented a sing along in presentation evening of Wah Yantee (a creativity and intuition mantra). This special person was the only friend I met on the course and we continue to be!

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I also had an interesting but incredible experience when it came to producing art. Usually everything I do is within a few feet of my supplies, I brought a bag of my own but it still didn’t feel enough. I flicked through a cool art book I bought for inspiration and encouragement and still nothing. I was blocked. 100% blocked. In a 24 hour art studio which I could go to 5 days if I wanted.

So I did what I could to climb out of my blocked pit of self expression and I wrote on paper with brush and ink. I couldn’t paint but I could write. I didn’t want to write I wanted to paint so writing with a paint brush seemed a good compromise. I wrote then added gesso as a base then cut it up to make smaller pieces as I wanted to go along with my original and practical idea of starting to make art pieces that were easier to store in my creative space. I then did a big piece with an orange background and stamped my hand prints all over it, just to get frustration out a little and even someone that can’t paint can do handprints.

My inner support dialogue kept reminding me ‘It must look like I know what I’m doing to other people because I’m painting and I do art, but I don’t have a clue! I’m pretending to know and making it up as I go. It looks like I know but I don’t I’m just getting through a HUGE block’. Little did I know that that was the biggest act of surrender and letting go was what I most needed!

What occurred in the week creatively was incredible in terms of my attitude and how I felt, for without the normal daily duties to do and more time and space to be myself – my intuition came to play – literally!

Through a series of circumstances someone giving away psychology books led me to read and listen to my intuition to go back to my room get my books and collage pages about feminine psychology-it was fascinating stuff. A woman told me about a band called Bliss after our mantra evening and I listened to the beautiful tracks Stop Me, Calling and Trust in your love while painting and reading. It must have looked chaotic but it was a process that felt right and I followed it.

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My intuition came to play outside of the art studio too as I felt I wanted to explore the upper levels of the lodge, which I did to find more vibrant paintings on the walls. I also became sensitive to noticing people around me, that on their first days they seemed so tense and rigid and by day 4 and 5 were lost looser and lighter, even I felt lighter.

The week I was away, I decided as no one knew me, to cover my head with white cloth and purple scarf. (I cover my head while doing my morning yoga (Kundalini) and I’m learning about Sikhi and to me covering my 7th Chakra, having a sense of containment while doing activity that requires clarity of thought and cover my most precious part.

While they seem like good enough reasons to me, to others it is a new thing, people are skeptical, it is met with some resistance and I feel shy doing it. Partly because I don’t have a proper head covering or turban yet and also that I haven’t seen a single head covered white woman in my local area, it makes me a little unconfident to do what I want.) However covering my head was the best thing I could have done, as that experience reminded me I could be myself around others completely!

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I now cover my head fully a lot more at home even after my morning practice, and I’m doing a combination of hair in bun, headband and scarfs at the moment.

At the end of the week I put my art papers into a line across the wall infront of me to see I had made some sort of story… I had without any effort at all, this was all down to my intuitive self, made a series of art work themed on Feminine Psychology and Relationships, something I had wanted to do for a long while but couldn’t quite begin.

On the last day I wanted to celebrate my artist self with 1 hour of play, I used whatever I felt drawn to ink, tempera, powder paint and let go, still with the notion ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing I’m just painting’. I used the fact I had paper to my advantage (by now I totally forgot about my longing for canvas) and folded, screwed up and threw my creation, then carried on painting till a figure appeared. This got me thinking about how I could use my energy to help others unblock and to explore ideas of a creative guide further.

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It’s thanks to Champernowne that I came back from a retreat feeling as if I’d just gone through therapy and come out the other side ok! With my creative spirit in tact and growing wings.

I think with older people there I felt ‘held’ by the wisdom and encouragement of others. It inspired me to continue painting, to seriously add yoga training to next years plan, to trust my intuition more and use me time to read and appreciate time to slow down and let go.

Champernowne.org holds Summer courses for people in helping professions combining lectures with workshops, art activities and free time! Courses take place every two years, the next is in 2018.

Amazing Ai Weiwei at Royal Academy

The other week I had the joy of doing two of my favourite things – going to an Art exhibition and eating Mexican food- with my dad who also loves the same! The Art was at Royal Academy of Arts and the food was at Wahaca, Piccadilly (a great restaurant with street food and bigger food, definitely recommend).

I went to the Royal Academy to see the works of Ai Weiwei, an incredible visual artist who I have been a fan of for a long time.

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About Wei Wei

  • Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist.
  • His early life was spent living on a labour camp with his family and thousands of other free thinking intellectuals during the government led Anti-Rightest movement. The family returned to Beijing after twenty years when Chairman Mao died and from that came a brief state of relaxation.
  • In 1978 Ai entered the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation.
  • When state censorship returned in 1981, Wei Wei sought freedom of expression abroad, travelling around the US and settling in New York for 10 years.
  • On hearing news that his dad was ill, Ai returned to Beijing to create works exploring his Chinese culture, history, campaigns for free speech and human rights as well as celebrating the poetry of his father Ai Qing.
  • Ai started blogging in 2005 and wrote social commentary, openly criticised government policy as well as thoughts on art and architecture. The blog was shut down by Sina in 2009 due to it’s popularity and Weiwei’s outpoken attitude on events such as the Sichuan earthquake and Beijing Olympic games.
  • Weiwei collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as artist consultant on the Beijing National Stadium.
  • Ten days after the 8.0 magnitude earthquake took place in Sichuan providence May 2008, Ai Weiwei led a team to survey and film post-quake conditions in several disaster zones. Weiwei launched a Citizens Investigation in response to the governments lack of transparency in revealing names of students who lost their lives in the earthquake due to poorly built structures.
  • In November 2010 Weiwei was placed under house arrest and his newly built studio (encouraged by a ‘high official’ for Ai to teach architecture) was demolished due to planning permission, he was ‘the only one singled out to have his studio destroyed’.
  • In 2011 following his arrest at Beijing airport Ai Weiwei was held for 81 days without any official charges being held.
  • Two brilliant documentaries that explain a whole lot more about Ai (which were on Netflix and still may be, that’s how I first found out about Wei Wei) are Without Fear or Favour 2010 and Never Sorry 2012.
  • Ai Wewie does now have his own artist studio in Bejing (hooray) he shares it with 26 cats!

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After four years of being banned from leaving China, the Beijing authorities returned Ai Weiwei’s passport, giving him freedom, peace and a pass to travel overseas.

Wei’s work has been widely exhibited around the world, this exhibition at Royal Academy London is Ai Wei Wei’s first major survey in the UK.

And what a treat it is too, to be surrounded by Ai Weiwei’s incredible art for a day!

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There is so much that can been taken from Weiwei’s art, meaning on so many levels and I don’t mean just from an ‘art student perspective’ I mean any person whether they are a fan of his work, like art, have a limited knowledge of art can get something from seeing it, develop an interest and be encouraged and inspired in some way. In his freedom of expression, traditional values and new movements.

“Liberty is about our rights to question everything” – Ai Wei Wei

I really admire his spirit and way of showing feelings and experiences through creative form. His passion for ‘truth to power’ shares his never deterring spirit.

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A piece I really liked were these Crabs, all 3,000 of them piled up in a corner as if plastic toys. When of course in true Weiwei style these are individually hand made from porcelain. Crabs (He Xie) mean harmony and there are other themes; they were eaten at a feast that marked the beginning and end of Ai Weiwei’s new studio that was ordered to be torn down by authorities and representmass production, the need to look closer and see what is there – a creation, harmony.

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Ai Weiwei uses marble a lot in his works, I can’t remember the or find the exact representation of why but there is meaning that involves Chinese heritage and materials as well as it being cold and brittle. Despite that, this piece made up of 770 marble hexagons and grass blades is a breath of fresh air as when I was viewing it, I got the sense of – there is so much life here!

The words ‘The grass will always grow again’ across my audio guide along with the description of the grass blades being like hands reaching up, fitted perfectly alongside my first thought.

There is another twist to this piece that it also tells a story of Wei’s trip to the park with his son in a stroller and him snatching the sd card of an onlooker taking photos of them, telling us ‘some people are only powerful because they violate’. The marble cameras nearby show his experience of being monitored all the time by Chinese officials they are ‘powerful but useless’.

This piece breeds love, life and resilience!

“In art you have to transform your feelings into something which has clear language and story clearly told. You cannot force people to think and feel the same way but you have responsibility to make sure your language is clear” – Ai Weiwei

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The picture above shows a peep hole (one of many) in a recreation of what life was like during the 81 days of Ai Weiwei’s incarceration. Through the audio guide Weiwei told of how each part of the day was broken down, two soldiers were 2 feet away at all times, incredibly through the hell it must have been, he spelt sacred, each letter standing for something.

Supper (eating)

Accusers (captors)

Cleaning (showering)

Ritual (walking)

Entropy (sleep)

Doubt (toilet)

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It’s as if through everything he kept faith that his life is sacred no matter what, it was worth something and there was purpose. It’s hard to comprehend from his arrest, as it was unclear if he would ever be free- but in his mind he may of had some peace and clarity of acceptance, perhaps knowing he would be free in physical form eventually.

I will finish with his words:

“The Art will always win, anything can happen to me, but the art will always stay”

Ai Weiwei


Art trip: Visiting the Saatchi gallery

Yesterday I visited the Saatchi gallery in London for the first time, with not much knowledge of the place other than it being mentioned in conversations on Art and I researched an artist connected to the gallery in my OCA file recently.

I had heard that it was Contemporary Art, a term I am familiar with but I thought it was closely related to Modern Art and visiting a gallery of Modern Art filled me with dread, I mean just Modern Art c’mon….

But it’s good to give things a chance and if other’s liked it, I wanted to see if I liked it too and you know what? I did, I really really did.

First things first Saatchi is free yes FREE! Thank you Mr. Saatchi.

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I will put some pictures up in the order I viewed them and my thoughts on them.

The very first thing I stared at, then came back to stare at some more, was this stain glass like shed with branches either side of it and a metal fence around the front. I know, first thought- Is this Art? But I believe so because the way they artist has put this together I think (I’d like to think), is that they’ve focused on the ordinary made interesting and colourful and reflections of the branches in the windows, as it’s peaceful and like a whole different picture in itself. I liked thinking deeply about reflections.

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I came across a style I liked as it had everything I’d want to feature in a piece- paint, collage and gems. There were two, one on the way in and another featuring the model Naomi Campbell. Since I didn’t write down every artist I liked and I can’t easily locate them on saatchi.com I will just go with the flow and credit when I can.

The things I liked about these pieces were the use of materials, space, how they included all different parts of a house/ a person in a such a small space yet it didn’t feel tightly compact it felt complete, like all areas were shown and they had to be shown.

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Also up close you could see how the gems were put on so perfectly (drawn lines) which didn’t fault the piece it just seemed more incredible that a person put all of themselves into this piece. Drawing, painting, collage, sticking, sparkles n all.

The other thing that it reminded me of, seeing gems on paintings, was that I love to add stuff on top of paintings but it’s sometimes shunned down as unnecessary and less art more craft. Yet here they are in all their glory in a gallery in London- take that gem critics! Gem and sequins in the art world faith restored.

The next four pictures in a collage are all very different though stand out and interest, surprise and amaze me in various ways.

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The old hoover sculpture with the bits and pieces that make up the hoover is interesting, it was one of my Dad’s favourites there, I liked the concept more than anything from an artists point of view. How did they come up with the idea? What was the starting point the sculpture or the pieces? What interested them about old hoovers? So many questions…

Moving onto the basket balls in the tank, a creation by Jeff Koons. This is the first time I have seen his pieces in a gallery, also my first illusion piece of the day! I stared into this tank thinking slow delayed confused thoughts- How the f…how are they still…there are no strings! Water? A special still water solution?

Ai Wei Wei’s white sofa chair, now I love Ai Wei Wei’s works, I’ve watched his documentaries and I am a fan. When I saw this chair my mind stopped to think- Oh god, he’s gone to the dark side and chosen modern art, Wei Wei you are so much better than that, this can’t be happening, this is a disaster….then I got closer and found out it wasn’t an old sofa chair but it was MARBLE. Ai Wei Wei’s done it again! Amazing an illusion and possibly a message to modern artists- take that, you may make unmade beds but are they made out of marble- I think not!

Ok the last one in this collage is a piece by Aidan Salakhova and all I can really describe it as is unknown objects made out of marble granite. Looking closely, what amazed me is how solid and perfectly made this item is, though the hands are made to look very delicate. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was themed upon religion, femininity or even something sexual.

Moving on to the body and concepts I like, meaning I wouldn’t have chosen to do this myself though I like the concept and ideas behind the bottles of red liquid that make up a body and the skeletons and collages on the wall, shown below.

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A room full of flags made of hair may not sound like anything appealing but walking through close up you can see how carefully it has been crafted and delicately put together, the Jesus on the wall is made out of coat hangers, a very ordinary material with a striking effect.

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I love self portraits and portraits in general, I love not the traditional style as such but the variety of ways they can be created. It is never ending, again it’s something else I really want to explore further.

The third picture shown, words held with hands on a red background really stood out for me. The bold text reading RESPECT held by a hand and the same the other way in another language has a felling of being united, powerful, strong and resilient.

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There was a section on advertising in society and this subject interests me as one of the pieces reads ‘The ideal gift for an ideal life’.

It goes into detail that advertising makes out- if you buy this your life will be complete. Which of course goes on all around us and is an ever appearing trap- a crap trap even!

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Last few photos (I have just realised how long this post will be!)

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The paintings on the walls in the last rooms, especially the castle really excited me as the artist included different levels or viewing points I believe. Behind the red curtain and the rubble and through a hole in the wall- you find a castle on an island.

Ai Wei Wei’s vases were here too! I could write all about these beauties but for now I will just say, they are part tradition, modern and just pure colourful paint.

The last illusion of the day was this mind blowing installation that we couldn’t guess for a while, till it all came together- it was like a sensory experience realisation all in itself so incase you haven’t visited* I won’t give it away.

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*Go and visit the Saatchi when next in London it’s worth your time and it’s free! You can view art online at saatchiart.com