Tuesday, 1 March 2011

What does a Story look like?

Is it piece of music, or collection of sounds? Perhaps objects or collection of data (personal or otherwise).
Or it is a person's experience recorded, played back or re-enacted through a game, play or written word?
It can of course be all of these things, and it was a collection of talks about individual projects like this that I heard about at last week's conference 'The Story 2001'. Top speakers took to the stage to tell us of their own (or others) stories, and it was a superbly awe-inspiring day.

First up, were Lucy, Ben and I to showcase the wonderful project, The Ministry of Stories, that I regularly mentor and illustrate for. The aim of the Ministry is to provide children with access to free writing and storytelling workshops, to unleash their creativity and give them the confidence to believe in themselves and their potential.
As a mentor, I certainly see first hand the difference of a young shy child, or someone who has no self-belief, open up, have fun and enjoy being creative. The school trips also involve a refreshing break for kids to experience the Monster shop and mystery of The Chief behind closed office doors. It's great fun, and I enjoy going as I get to be a bit of a kid again!
I also illustrate for these youngsters, who challenge me with their wild ideas of creatures with fans for faces, eight legs with upside down knobbly knees and inside out toes! We put this simple task to the test at the conference, giving the audience the chance to create their own monster. They too were certainly imaginative. And there it is: The Pedicurist.


It's eyes, round and yellow like pickled onions; it's mouth as vicious as an amoeba with a head cold, with teeth as hairy as a hippy's armpits.
It has three nostrils, all of varying sizes and its arms are as irregular as the Lib Dem's coalition promises. It's body is wrinkled like
a condom stuffed with walnuts, and it's tail, long and sharp. It has extremely beautiful feet.

Karl Jones contrasted the morning with his very powerful and emotional Dialogue Project, whereby he collects and records conversations with individuals. He is more of a story listener than a storyteller. He talked about the power of listening, and that all we have after listening is the change it has created : be it the support it has provided, reassurance, or focus it has given the other person. He played extracts from conversations that were very moving, about schoolchildren who felt isolated and and treated like "something on the bottom of their shoe". Yet there was a feeling of hope for these kids as they realised as they were being listened to, the respect that they may not receive could be a result of respect they don't give out. So if we're better story listeners, it may well affect the outcome of the stories that are told.
Next we had Turner prize winning Cornelia Parker. It was great to see her talk about her work so modestly, yet also to hear the explanations behind her 'stories' first hand. She talked about her beginnings as an artist, and how she loves used objects - how they all have a story to tell. It's the life & death of objects that she was concerned with in her well known artworks of an exploding shed, fragments of ashes from a church spire & bricks from a building, adding "Friction starts a good story".

In 1997, she decided she'd take a closer look of Einstein's theory under a microscope. The piece makes the chalk marks from his board almost look like fluffy clouds (a much lighter hearted way of looking at it).

This was just one example of how looking at objects (or pieces of art) can be interpreted differently. each person has their own version of the story to tell. For instance she displayed a two beautiful metal shapes cut to form a Colt gun the pro-gun brigade thought it was “beautiful”, the anti-gun lobby were pleased Cornelia had “aborted” the gun before it became a dangerous weapon.
Another example of her dry wit was her piece in the Tate where she wrapped Rodin's famous sculpture, 'The Kiss' in rope and called it "The Distance (A Kiss with String Attached)". Her sideways approach really shows that objects are not necessarily what someone says they are - you can give it a whole new story.

Right, I've been rambling on so much, I think I'll have to finish this report in parts. Stay tuned!

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