Anxiety, Art and Nature
Prosiect Pryder (Anxiety Project) has been a research project that has been funded by the Arts Council of Wales' Research and Development grant for Creative Professionals. The grant gives artists the opportunity to develop new ideas and to collaborate with a creative person or organisation. During this project I have worked with the architect and artist Huw Meredydd Owen.
The three main aims of the project were to design spaces that alleviate anxiety, develop installations that are informed by nature's therapeutic qualities and to solve the challenges of creating work on a large scale.
In order to design spaces that alleviate anxiety, it was important that I gathered the responses of people who have anxiety to different types of spaces. I had my own ideas of the type of places that help to soothe my anxiety but I was keen to discover what would other people’s responses be to these places. I asked the participants to score the work out of 5, with 1 being relaxing and 5 being stressful.
I’ve gathered the responses of 35 participants to an images questionnaire and the responses of 47 participants to a written questionnaire. Most of these people responded to an online survey that included images of my own work. I’ve spoken face to face with three people about the nature of their anxiety and their responses to images of other people's work.
These are the two spaces that scored as being most relaxing. This result has caused me to consider what is the role of the art gallery, in comparison to a more homely space, in alleviating anxiety.
When considering the type of artwork to create there are several different factors to think about. Initially there is the original feeling, the initial inspiration. For me the inspiration has been something that has increased over time; through experiences of sublime nature. Some of these experiences were from my childhood and were intensified by the amazement of feeling a part of the wider universe for the first time. I now understand that these experiences had even more impact because of my relationship with anxiety and my social uncertainty. Nature has been a place where I can get a different perspective on my life. If my main inspiration is sublime nature how can I use it to create work that suits the unique context of the art gallery?
I’ve analysed the work of artists whose work is relevant to my own. These are artists that create large-scale immersive installations. I feel that it is this type of work that is most likely to be able to be able to symbolise the direct experience of nature and its ability to cause a person to transcend their worries.
Minimalist work can have a feeling of energy to it, and its greatness can symbolise the energy of the universe. This type of work often has hard surfaces which can create a feeling of dynamism and flow. Clear structures replicate the defined qualities of the natural world and the uncomfortable sides remind me that life is dangerous and beautiful.
I asked people to score the images of my previous work as they include the techniques that I have been eager to develop.
This is the piece that has scored as being most relaxing, with people saying that it:
+ Is very relaxing. That it’s a good way of changing a conventional room into a place for meditation
+ Is peaceful
- Depends on how many people are around. It could be claustrophobic if it was busy
This is the piece that scored as the least beneficial. It’s also an example of how contrasting the responses to a piece of work can be:
+ Simple shapes, materials and use of light created an eco friendly feeling, respect for the natural world.
- It's like you’re falling into the hole and the shape reminds me of capitalism and money
One of the main objectives of the project was to solve the challenges of building work on a large-scale. I was keen to create new designs for pieces that could relieve anxiety and to build on my previous work. I created a series of designs using the computer aided design software Sketchup. It has been worth spending the time getting to know the software in order to create sketches of spaces that I am able to move around and get different perspectives of.
I’m interested in creating spaces that are circular or without too many corners as it can symbolise a limitless horizon. And I’m interested in the way that awareness of the wider universe can alleviate some anxieties. But this type of experience might not always be suitable for someone who is experiencing acute anxiety.
This is inspired by a large James Turrell piece. When designing these spaces I am aware that they are not easily adaptable for smaller spaces. I'm interested in creating lampshades that could be bought by people and put in their homes. For this piece I was interested in how grades of colouring might be able to raise a person's attention upwards.
I've used a strings quite a bit before but have found difficulties when using it on a large scale. I was determined to solve some of the building challenges. This was an idea I had for a possible frame but I’m not sure how practical it would be. I was keen to create an effect like the sky and clouds, and had an interest in creating a surface that wasn’t completely flat - but I could see that I was going too far with the concepts and that I didn’t have the skills to develop the practical and more realistic side of the work. I went to see a carpenter and metal fabricator to see if they could give me some more practical ideas. After chatting a bit about what could be possible, I created a design based on a previous piece work that had worked reasonably on a smaller scale.
I decided it would be better if the framework was square so that I could trial different ideas inside it. And that it would be a good idea if it could come apart so that it could be moved to different places.
As I reflect on the results of the questionnaires, they have highlighted how subjective is our relationship with anxiety, art and nature.
The context of an art gallery has many connotations that are different to, for example, a space in a hospital, workplace or a private house. Although its white walls reduces the number of things that can draw the audience's attention away from the artwork it also creates an expectation for the work to be of a high standard. But everyone's standards are different because everyone's life experiences are different. This affects their opinion of art, what they like and what they don’t. This also affects the type of places that trigger or reduces their anxiety. The original question of the project was: how can art installations alleviate anxiety? By now I feel that a location or a space is one of a number of different factors that need to be adapted to alleviate anxiety. Other factors can include the dynamics within relationships, self-beliefs, quality of life, social status, to name a few. I believe that the art gallery is the place to create conceptual installations as its context is different to a therapeutic place. This process has helped me see what my personal priorities are and what I can offer that is unique; which is the aim of creating artwork that symbolise sublime nature. With the hope that the experiences that I create could help people to transcend their anxieties.