A creative soiree

After perhaps too many years of thinking about this, I finally hosted a ‘creative soiree’ yesterday.  The idea was to get different kinds of creatives- artists, designers, poets, writers, photographers and dreamers- to come together to talk about creativity and the barriers they may face to realising their creative potential.  I was so pleased when many accepted.  As the tea and wine flowed and food warmed the cold evening, conversations also flowed and hearts warmed to each other’s experiences of creativity.  The talk ‘Pursuit of happiness’ by the late architect, Professor Libby Burton, that I have used on this blog site before, started off the evening.  From the theories of creativity to the work of creatives- such as the architects Peter Zumthor and Joseph Allen Stein, the Bauhaus, the artist Gerhard Richter, the gardener/blogger, Frances Bellord and Peter Fay, designer Bernard Newman, inspirational writer Julia Cameron and many others- an intense and in depth discussion of what it takes to be a ‘creative’ rather than a ‘technician’ followed.  Difficult as it was to fully document the evening, I have tried to put together some of the main points below-

1. Do something every day that expresses your creativity.  It could be even be a piece of early morning ‘Stream-of-consciousness writing’ as advised by Julia Cameron.  And don’t worry about what others think about your creation. Do it for yourself, not for others. If you don’t express yourself, then you de-value your life if you don’t use the gifts that you have. Remember who you are.  But one has to be disciplined enough to do this everyday in a self unconscious way.

2. Remember your creative self everyday.  You have a financial self that strives to earn to make a living so that you can put a roof over your head and put food into your mouth and you have a caring self that may be caring for others but do not forget that you also have a creative self too.  Try to go back to being a child sometime- being creative is about having a space for ‘play’ in your everyday life.  The daily grind, problems and deadlines may actually focus your creative energy.

3. It doesn’t matter if no one ‘gets’ your work!  Share your work, your talent.  Engage others in the process of creation.  Judgment, justification and self flagellation are the biggest obstacles to creativity.  We also had a lively debate about the ‘modern’ need to reference everything.  The great works of art we love starting from those flowing paintings made by cave dwellers (perhaps that would be called ‘naive art’ today), didn’t need to be referenced to something else- they were just pure creativity.  It is best to reference something after you have understood it perfectly yourself.

4. Produce lots of work and learn to ditch.  Careful editing, keeping of scrapbooks, digital photos of creating the work, thinking deeply about the process and documenting what works and what doesn’t makes the creative journey productive and interesting.  Forget the pursuit of perfection- walk away from it. Does everything have to be for one’s impending future success?

5. Get into the making. Get your hands dirty- by actually making it, writing it or painting it.  Without that actual feel of materials and how they come together, one can’t be creative.  That is why many projects fail because we thought too much without actually doing something!

PS- I am hoping to have more of these creative soirees and if you are in London and want to come, do let me know. 

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Memory and Place: the phenomenology of space

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“Sometimes they come upon me unbidden, these images of places…At other times I summon them” (Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture, 2006, Birkhauser)

Place and memory are intrinsically connected- a place gives us the experiential and behavioral intentions that drive our understanding of it.  But what is a place?  Is it simply a basic space for prospect and refuge?  Is it about the sense of place connected to the sense of security we derive from it?  Is a place about the sense of mastery we get from being safe? Does memory lead to the space? What happens to places when people leave and when voices are stilled?

A place is an experience- a space where we do something and that recollection forms, re-forms and informs our memory.  Without that experience, there is no memory.  ‘This the place where I felt sad because I remembered the good times I had there’- the emotion of the place becomes our memory or ‘I remember the fragrance of jasmine in the garden as I strolled across the lawn that night’.  That said memory is timeless or perhaps suspended in time. What you remember as a child, you can remember as an adult- when you recall that memory, it is as if you were a child again. People can bring memories with mementos to a space when they arrive. Places and memories are inseparable.

Memento mori

 ‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

‘…it seems impossible to distinguish between architecture and life, between spatial situations and the way I experience them.’ (Peter Zumthor, 2006)

Spatial phenomenology is the study of the structures of experience and consciousness in a space (as opposed to the Cartesian system, which perceives the world as a collection of disparate objects, influencing or reacting to each another). Our home is the first place of our memories. Often we seek to create what we lost as we grew up and as designers, often our output is the result of recollections- not deliberately, but almost subconsciously. We may not remember details because details are not important- impressions are.

In an age of technology, we can restore memory to a place through photographs and videos. When I look at a photograph of a wall in my house in Delhi, I remember that I picked the lime wash paint and the plaster from it one hot summer afternoon, while listening to a story. The evidence to corroborate that story falls bit by bit even today, swirling bits of lime flakes. I remember how the lime was mixed with water in empty oil drums, the loud noises as the lime slaked, the wiry brown men who climbed up ladders to get at an errant spider or gecko, making wet slapping noises with their straw brushes and the earthy smell of the newly painted walls. The naughty child’s hands, which plucked the walls have been replaced by an adult’s, but the memory of the lime washed walls remains. People who lived, loved and worked in that place are gone and the memory of their death lingers on.