Organisational Diagrams for Everyday Life
The Drawing Room Residency October 2016
Everyone has their routines, making tea, sorting socks, climbing a mountain. The Drawing Room residency was the perfect setting to try out a new idea and to open up my practice to a new audience who weren't at all shy about talking about and/or drawing theirs! My working processes normally involve much research time spent on site talking and walking with people to uncover what is distinct about a specific area, before making work - including live events, walks and artists books - that build on or respond to these processes. The Drawing Room enabled me to try the reverse. The action of drawing people's everyday, mundane and even unproductive routines, starting with my own, provided a means to begin to uncover what was specific to Newtown in terms of geography (How to Climb a Mountain) and employment actual or remembered (Piano Lesson / Milking Pick Up).
The room itself curated by Amber Knipe was perfect to inhabit and create a setting through which people could engage with the residency on different levels – something I often do in my practice. A selection of life manuals and time management guides such as 'Doing It Now' and 'Getting It Done' occupied a centrally located sofa and coffee table. This, alongside a list of habit breaking and making Apps, provided fertile thinking ground for the 'Working Table' where people could join me to draw, comment or simply talk about their routines. To draw they could use various drawing devices bought with me or borrowed from the gallery, including a light box and a very popular rotary drawing board alongside designers' and architects' text books. The architects Metric Handbook (or bible for architects with its spatial measurements for EVERYTHING) proved endlessly inspiring.
Over the 3 days the routines were pinned to the walls of the drawing room, but just as important as the diagrams were the conversations they generated about routines and wider issues. A woman with 5 children told me how the whole family would all gather round a huge pile of socks on a Sunday evening for 'Sock Night' - pairing all the freshly laundered socks - which somehow her son managed to get out of. Another woman told me how her husband, a songwriter, wrote a song about her overflowing sock drawer. A couple of women told me how, just after their respective marriages, they'd been advised by older married women to plan their meals according to specific days. One man made a flow chart of his journey round the room and pinned it to the comments board. A woman from Denby told me how she used to wait for her father to reach a pause in milking to pick her up from piano lessons – and how the places in which these events took place (school, piano lesson, home) were all geographically located – on the hill or in the valleys on the flat levels. Artist Penny Hallas' diagram of a walk with Caroline Wright up a mountain also spoke of the local geographic context.
Melissa Pritchard's diagram 'Week Day Morning' focused on the critical time frames between different waking up scenarios, provoking lots of discussion about how timings get precise when you start to draw them out. Of course the notion of reviewing maintenance as or through art practice is not new. Feminist artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles' seminal work 'Maintenance Art Manifesto' challenged the separation of Art and Maintenance in the 60's, which, alongside her piece 'The Sorting Of The Socks,' is a regular source of inspiration. Nevertheless, what might be everyday or mundane for some is inevitably not for others. The life manuals proved hilarious but also prompted conversations about the darker sides to domestic life including 'mother's little helpers.' While in another conversation one woman told me how people with dementia may forget simple steps of tea making, making it a hurdle, rather than an accompaniment, to everyday life. My 'Tea Making' diagram prompted a long conversation with a man about how a cup of tea makes you feel 'normal' how certain tea making methods are specific to Wales or England and how to explain it to people from 'other' cultures.
While I was drawing 'TV Watching' flowchart one man without a TV asked 'Well, why?' 'Why are you doing this? Why that?' I think that incredulity is great. For me, the aim was to use dead-pan and comic techniques to playfully critique those organising devices, whether life manuals or the proliferation of lifestyle Apps that promise to "change you to who you really want to be," critiquing their consumerist models of maximised human productivity. The messiness and unproductive nature of many of the diagrams spoke of a life that is not so easily or simply separated into yoga time / getting up early time / and dog walking; questioning 'Why that?' At the end of the residency I collected all the diagrams together to make a handy 'Productivity Portfolio'® which critiqued the notion of productivity itself, taking people through a series of routines through which they might learn how to improve their daily unproductivity. The 'Productivity Portfolio'® remained in the gallery for others to leaf through and take advice from for the rest of the Drawing Room installation.
I am planning to develop 'Organisational Diagrams For Everyday Life' further for longer periods of time in other spaces. Perhaps including diagrams specific to the residency routines or to the spaces of the gallery itself, which started to happen over the 3 days as staff members joined in, with one drawing her 'Learning to Be Mindful + Failing Repeatedly' route to work. On my last day, I discussed these ideas with gallery assistant Laura Olohan saying I would have to include the journeys to and from the gallery, going to Tesco's, going the B&B etc. after which I exclaimed 'well, it's not very glamorous is it?!' Laura replied 'well that's the point isn't it? And that is the point – life isn't glamorous. However much we try to project ideas about ourselves and our lives on social media or try to re-order them through life changing devices, we all know most of life is made up of unglamorous, boring everyday routines. However, these routines can be inspiring. We might not all climb a mountain everyday but, as feminist art historian and curator Helen Molesworth has written in relation to the work of Ukeles, it is through these less dramatic daily routines that the self is structured. Ultimately, the residency explored how sorting socks, making tea, getting up, even watching TV are indeed how we come to inhabit ourselves but it also uncovered how we do this in similar, yet different, ways and for me it is in these differences, as the amazing selection of routines and conversations I engaged with in just 3 days, demonstrates, we can find much inspiration.