For absolute clarity I will start by saying that this not directly related to my Level 3 Body of Work or the Sustaining Your Practice course module.

It is however related to me being an OCA student, and to my recent disclosure of finding it difficult to be motivated of late – this thing that I’m about to explain was a big part of me getting out of my funk and rediscovering my creative mojo.

Preamble: Keeping up Momentum

A couple of weekends ago there was a virtual OCA study event (aka a Zoom call) organised by Helen and Richard of the cross-discipline OCA London regional group, with support and workshop-style guidance from tutor Bryan Eccleshall. The event was titled Keeping up Momentum and was aimed at helping people cope creatively with the new restrictions we’re all under.

As an aside, Helen invited me to do a 10-minute ‘bit’ as part of the virtual event, talking about some techniques of kickstarting one’s inspiration when faced with a creative block. I talked about three things that I found had helped me in the past, separate but interlinked:

  • Re-read an old book that had previously inspired you
  • Research other art practices / forms
    • to see what you can learn from them and apply to your own work
    • or indeed just have a go at another art form
    • “get out of your lane”
  • Reframe your thinking by finding a way of looking at your work in a new light
    • see if it leads to new ways of thinking and new ways of working
    • the example I gave was from the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, where he outlines a concept that I call cognitive isolation, namely that “all media of communication are a by-product of our sad inability to communicate directly from mind to mind”


(This struck me at the time of reading as the best explanation of how and why art ‘works’ than anything I read in a regular textbook)

Anyway, the point of that digression is that I decided to take my own advice, specifically the second point, and to “get out of my lane” of photography to try something new.

The creative challenge

Bryan set us a challenge to work on before the follow-up session later in the month. He proposed eight artworks (ranging from paintings to sculptures to poems to book extracts) to use as inspiration for works that we could create in the following few weeks. All the prompts were somehow related to ideas around the current Covid-19 pandemic situation – isolation, distancing, imprisonment, dislocation etc. The idea was not only to make artworks in response to the prompts but ideally to collaborate across participants – taking each other’s ideas and evolving them.

The two artworks that I immediately responded to were Piet Mondrian’s 1943 painting Broadway Boogie Woogie and a one-page extract from Italo Calvini’s 1973 novel Invisible Cities.

The former appealed to me as the strict grid patterns evoked a sense of rigidity and claustrophobia that reminded me of the lockdown restrictions. The text I liked not for the overall narrative but more as I saw clusters of appropriate words jump out, almost like staring at a word search.

I wanted to find a way of knocking these two together to make something new. I started by printing them out to work with them as physical artefacts. The text I printed out on pre-perforated card so that there would already be arbitrary cuts in the text (hey, if you’re going to work with restrictions, may as well make them even more restrictive… as Bryan said in the session: “art is not freedom”). Then I cut out words and phrases that appealed to me and kind of said something about the current situation, albeit sometimes a little obliquely.

In parallel I started cutting the Mondrian down into strips. My initial idea was to make a simple grid of lines and text fragments as per the image here:


I decided to sleep on the idea and for once that worked in a quite literal sense – I kind of dreamt about the whole thing and woke up with an idea almost fully-formed in my head.

I woke up having made two specific decisions that led to the end result:

  • I wanted to make something three-dimensional that gave a sense of imprisonment or containment (and it needed to be transparent so you could look inside it)
  • I wanted it to include something personal to me, not just a remix of Mondrian and Calvini

The first point was the more straightforward of the two: I knew I had in the kitchen cupboard a small perspex cube that Nespresso sent me as a free gift once. The second point I mulled over for a bit longer, but after a while it became (retrospectively) obvious – I have been taking an ongoing series of abstract photos every day this year (as a 365 project) and for the first couple of weeks of lockdown almost all of them were taken indoors.

So the plan started to come together: I would ‘frame’ a selection of my own abstracts with Mondrian lines and paste them to the faces of a clear cube. Inside the cube, behind each printed image, would be a text fragment made from the Calvini source material.

What I’m aiming to get across is the idea of isolation, with the outside abstracts representing the surreality of the external world and the text inside representing my own internal anxious thoughts.

work in progress

(at this point I could lie and say that I made eight pairings of image and text so that I had a set to choose six from, but the truth is that my mathematically-inept brain seemed to think that a cube has eight sides…!)

The end result looked like this:

The text fragments inside are hard to see from the above photos so here are some close-ups:

Lastly, there’s a video of the final cube (opens in a new window).

Footnote – collaboration!

I posted all this up on the Padlet for the event and apologised that I had made something so hard to collaborate on, it being three-dimensional and needing to be handled in person to see the insides and all that – but was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had indeed collaborated on it!

Richard, studying creative writing, took the video and edited it in with other found material to provide visuals for a poem (or is it a prose poem? I’m no expert) titled Square Boxes.

Richard’s video is here.