constructivist ideas in practice

erica costantiniI worked with Erica some years ago at the ICP Padua where she studied at the School of Constructivist Psychotherapy, and our paths have crossed since at a variety of conferences and summer schools.

In July this year, Erica and her colleagues from CREAA (Innovazione Creaativa) presented a workshop at the European PCP conference with artist Rok Bogataj.

They offered us a taste of their latest joint project ‘Creative Bump’.

Erica and I met again on my recent visit to Padua.  


MF: It’s lovely to see you again Erica! Tell me more about the new project.

EC: Yes, it’s great for me to have time to tell you about it.

The background is that CREAA have been working with artists in organisations in various ways for some years. This might involve connecting an artist with an organisation for a creative project, for example by working on a set of photographs, or helping re-design a website. These are things that the organisation would already be doing, which can be very much enhanced by bringing in a professional artist. For example CREAA's project “Tratto Non Comune” (“Uncommon line”) is an arts residency for digital communication projects, a tool for companies willing to have an unusual and characteristic online identity. CREAA listens to the client needs, then proposes a communication strategy and a bunch of selected artists to work with. The artist is involved in a residency in the organisation and CREAA works alongside as facilitator, supporting the dialogue and managing respective tasks. There have also been a variety of EU projects supporting these kinds of opportunities for artists, and of course we can emphasise to businesses the tax advantages of commissioning and buying original art. All of these collaborations can help artists work in new settings, on a larger stage, and on a larger scale.

We recognised that there are many more creative possibilities in this field - projects which would involve more people from the organisation in the process of making art, which would help bring creativity into the working life of the organisation. I had the opportunity to join a workshop with CREAA, and with representatives of industries, entrepreneurs, and artists, where we exchanged ideas and thought together about possibilities. It was a very energising and stimulating event.

So when we saw the call for papers and workshops for EPCA 2016, we thought it was an opportunity to share what we were doing, even in a short time.

MF: Your PCP background seems to be very well-accepted and valued in these projects …

EC: Yes, very much so. The PCP ‘experience cycle’ and ‘creativity cycle’ are very close to the artists’ views of their creative process, and also the idea of rhythms of ‘loosening' and ‘tightening’, and the importance of experiment, so we have a shared sense of many things which can be helpfully described in PCP terms.

MF: At the conference workshop you described the team approach: a producer, who knows the artists and is expert in innovation processes; a facilitator who works with the group process; and an artist who designs and leads the creative activity.

EC: It is a strong team at Creaa, with Elena Tammaro who is the art director and Federica Manaigo who has a background in communication and organisations. The role of the producer in each project is important as they already know and understand the artists and they can make a good match with the type of organisation and what they want to explore and achieve.

In the workshop itself, the facilitator and artist work alongside each other. We plan carefully in advance but there is always the need to improvise and to work with, and respond to, the group. It is challenging, but it is also easy in a sense. It is creative for us as well as the participants. It helps that we all like each other and we have a lot of fun working together - we think that’s an important part of of what we do!

MF:Yes, you were clearly enjoying working together and that made a very good atmosphere. I have sometimes seen groups react quite negatively to arts experiments in the hands of generic trainers, but working with a professional artist is a very different experience. In the workshop, Rok introduced himself through some of his astonishing body of work, and subsequently working with him was something people took very seriously.

EC: Yes, I think it is a completely different experience. The artist leads the art work and the creative process. The facilitator is the one with her eye on the group process. The artist’s theories are theories of art, and the facilitator’s theories are theories of group development. It is the facilitator who will be thinking about things like timing and how the organisational objectives are being met. The artists make art.

MF: The combination is very powerful. It was felt by us as a shared ‘presence’, and l also see that there are times when we are busy in the group activity and you can consult together very usefully.

EC: This will be important for new projects because artists do not necessarily have the same sensitivity to how the group is working, who is dominating, who is perhaps not involved. The chances to confer are useful you say. Having said that, our next plan is a workshop for the artists, to give them some ideas about how groups tend to work, and things to look out for, and work with constructively.

MF: I found the workshop process really fascinating. To recap briefly, we were each asked to make a simple 3D paper model, and these then had to be combined to build one structure. We had been asked to write important words or phrases on all sides of our models, and so we immediately had a challenge when one person insisted that none of her words should be covered up in the final structure. That in itself was so interesting - that the words written a few minutes earlier mattered so much, at a core level. And also the idea that if the words weren’t visible, they would not really be there.

EC: It was very interesting and a good puzzle for the group to resolve.

MF: Well it was resolved very beautifully in one way, by joining all the pieces at the extreme edges so that, if you moved the final ‘sculpture’ around, all the words could be seen. But at the same time, we ended up with the most fragile and unstable structure which couldn’t stand up on its own. We had traded stability and robustness for inclusiveness in a sense. The process seemed to me a great metaphor for the puzzling nature of the European PCP community, and so I am quite convinced now of the power of your experiment!

EC: We were very pleased to hear this, and we were also interested ourselves in the way the structure we originally planned changed so unexpectedly.

MF: Rok shared our curiosity about what we had done, but do you think some artists might be disappointed by how their initial design plan changes so radically and so quickly in a group? As a finished product, it wasn’t something that would look good on the artist’s website!

EC: To be honest I don’t think this is a problem. Art is about processes and meanings, and about following the process as much as commanding it. Also the contemporary artists we work with are very engaged with performance, and with the concepts behind the work - they are not so determined about an exact finished ‘product’.

We learn a lot from each experience. For example, we are currently working with a photographer, with a big group of 70 students from an international school. At first we thought we should do a lot of context work, like introducing everybody, giving a lot of information, and explaining the process in detail, but after these experiences we are inclined to move into the creative work sooner, to get active more quickly. We recognised a kind of incoherence between our talk of creativity and experiment, and a long presentation of information or theory! We aim to be reflexive, staying coherent between our theory of collaboration and creative engagement and the practice of our workshop.

MF: Yes, I think it’s usual in a new project to feel the need to explain and give background. As facilitators we want to help people feel clear, safe, and comfortable. But the longer we wait to get started, the more anxieties arise, and also a kind of restlessness.

I wonder, what do you think the artists get from this kind of work?

EC: Well of course it is a great opportunity to do something very new and experimental, and it is paid work which is very welcome for most artists! But also, many artists work alone most of the time, in their room or studio all day. The chance to engage with a group, to articulate their ideas, to explore the process of making things in a more social context is very important, a kind of urgency or need for most of them. And managing an organisational project is not incompatible with the self as artist - it can be elaborative, stretching the artist’s ideas, and leading to new possibilities like running workshops and classes themselves.

There is potential for a new kind of artistic development through engaging with a specific group or cultural setting, through having a deadline, making something sustainable. We expect that some of these projects will create an artwork, or a series of works, which will stay in the organisation, on display, or integrated into their overall design.

What do you think of our project name ‘Creative Bump’?

MF: I love it. That’s exactly what it felt like - bumped into a new experience, a little jolt to the system. And an element of fun, like the ‘bumper cars’ at the funfair.

And how about you Erica? What do you get from this work which is different from other types of facilitation?

EC: I find that working with the energy of the artists is completely refreshing. Their emphasis is on creating something new, on trying things, always moving forward. Our meetings are quite different from the usual effort of meetings in organisations. The meetings with artists are much shorter, and more energising - I come away replenished rather than drained!

And also it is good for my own aesthetic eye. Just yesterday, it was the day of the ‘supermoon’ and it was a very beautiful thing to see. I know that I was looking at it quite differently as I left the meeting - I was seeing it through my own artist’s eyes.  

the creative bump teamThe Creative Bump team planning their next project

Photo credits: Lara Trevisan

October 2016

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