Drew Walker: Always Expect the Unexpected

"My name is Drew Walker and here is a summary of my experience in Project Ability in January 2018.

My week-long short residency at Project Ability revealed to me a place where there was great respect and a dignified approach towards people working as artists with backgrounds of mental illness, learning difficulties or physical disabilities. However, these do not hinder or impact upon the creatively enriching experience, which exists within the shared working space of Project Ability, where the immense variety of talent and creative process surrounding me was amazing to witness.

I contributed to my short residency as an artist who experiences mental illness and a PhD researcher who is looking into art-process, mental illness and recovery. So, I divided my time to do the following:
1. To observe the working processes of the artists working in the Reconnect, Aspire and Create spaces and their engagement and interactions with staff and volunteers.
2. To understand what provision and structure was deployed in the delivery of activities.
3. To bring my own art practice into the Reconnect space, using a collaborative method of creativity.

I began my experience by observing, photographing and talking to staff, volunteers and artists. I had decided to create one of my ‘dead-wooded’ creatures, a staple symbol of my art practice and an integral part my process. The ‘dead-wooded’ stag represents my own recovery process from mental illness. As my art practice parallels and enriches my research, I wanted to share both aspects during my week. My goal was to create a portrait of Project Ability using the language of those in the Reconnect, Create and Aspire spaces.

Conversations occurred naturally whilst I was working and I decided to use some of those words and phrases, placing them on the sculpture of the stag. I wanted to reflect the artists’ thoughts as people, at the core of it all. The stag was painted white and the lettering in a variety of colours.

A few days into my residency, my dad who is my artistic collaborator and who accompanied me at Project Ability, spoke to me about the idea of accompanying the wooded stag with found material from Glasgow. Seizing upon this notion, we found two disused damaged yellow traffic cones in the nearby vicinity of the Glasgow Green. We painted them and transformed them into sculptural pieces to enhance and draw attention to the stag.

Making my art was only one part of the story during my residency, but it did provide the nexus for many insightful conversations and interactions with those who were curious about the stag. I immediately found a connection with the other artists and the staff in the space, feeling very welcome. I was greatly impressed by the sheer variety, resources and freedom found within Project Ability through the engaging activities of Aspire, Reconnect and Create. I understood that the space is a lifeline for some and a platform for every participant, by being together whilst creating art. I found the approach of valuing artists’ work, providing opportunities for exhibiting and potentially selling pieces to be crucial to the humane attitude in Project Ability. Here, the people are acknowledged as artists. They are not labels or categories of people with various diagnoses. The respect I noticed in the atmosphere showed that clearly.

I sincerely hope that in the future more places like Project Ability emerge, providing spaces for the therapeutic process of making art, whilst not being isolated or in a clinical setting. It’s a safe, friendly environment that puts the individual first. There should be a ‘Project Ability’ in every city and town. I know that had there been similar provision for me during my early stages of recovery. I would have greatly appreciated and benefited being in such a place.

Thank you to everybody in Project Ability for making my short residency so rich and inspiring. I would love to come back."

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