This was the question on the card I received from artists Jo and Robbie, mentors of the Combine to Create Collective. A fitting reflection to another gathering on Zoom, this virtual space that has become something of an anchor in these shifting, disconnected days.
As a collective of artists whose mediums are tactile, immersive, responsive and physical, how do we connect on a virtual platform? How does a socially engaged practice evolve in these socially distanced times?
Theatre Maker Heather Fulton leads a characteristically playful warm up, a scavenger hunt in our separate spheres. We move, collect and connect over moments of distanced patterning. The screen’s “gallery view” make a chance composition as we hold up “Something red.”
We glimpse into the memory box of curated pasts as we present “a baby picture,” and the scent of the geranium leaf in my hand lingers; “something with a smell you love.”
These symbols, colours, scents and textures are the sensory language of dreams; they populate our environments and its through them that we compose our personal mythologies. The net of engagement is cast and our individual, isolated selves are drawn, in gestures, together; “into the room.”
The card had waited patiently, enveloped and unassuming in my post-box, virtual inboxes ever more pervasive, I’d found this offering only as our meeting began. It is a thing of mysterious beauty, larger than a playing card, weighty in the palm. The text elegant and articulate. Each of us had one with a different prompt to reflect upon our practice so far. Mine; “The Mirrored Room, Appraisal, Context, Reflection.”
“How will we know if the work is successful, useful or beautiful?”
In socially engaged practice the artist aims to create the right environment in which to sow the seed of a lasting shift. The environment may be atmospheric or emotional, and is approached gradually through creative process. The pathway might be drawn, spoken, built or danced, but it cannot be bypassed; it has to be traversed and always collectively.
To judge such a unique collective journey by relics exhibited elsewhere after the fact, is like judging the experience of running along the beach by the footprints left on the sand.
“Who is inside the room and who is outside?”
I think of the unspoken, intangible magic that is woven between participants in socially engaged work. The feeling as something shifts within a collective as perspectives are altered, potentials unveiled. I think of the critics as distant observers, peering through telescopes at the ghosts of long dead stars. While all the time, dark matter between the stars continues expanding, shifting and connecting.
As we connect on Zoom; all of us holding cards that have passed through minds, hands, time and space to land with us and pose their questions. I ponder the decision to do it this way rather than by email and consider the difference. In this primitive-seeming, time-consuming, space-occupying journey; the intangible process of thought and reflection is made into an art object. Not one to be observed from afar, but one that can be felt in the hand of the distant observer and experienced anew. An experience as unique and connected as the scavenged objects we held up to our virtual windows… “something alive.”
For me thoughts keep turning, a seed has been sown, potential unveiled. I’m inspired to make art objects from the processes of the residency. Objects that can facilitate more processes, be experienced up close and personally. To gather echoes, imprints and traces along the way too, the “footprints in the sand.” But more importantly create compasses for new journeys, not replicating but navigating from the one we are on right now.
About the Author
Moray-based artist Kate MacKay is a member of the Combine to Create Collective.
Kate studied Fine Art at E.C.A and has worked as a community artist for over 20 years. Kate’s practice incorporates upcycling, storytelling, costume, illustration and mural painting. She has exhibited widely including: the Royal Scottish Academy, Mall Galleries, South Bank Centre and Edinburgh Printmakers.
Kate participated on the panel of the Culture Collective Scotland ‘Nourish’ event in 2021. Watch the video.
Find out more about Kate, Combine to Create and Culture Collective on our project page.