Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Under My Desk
When I started exploring identity, I realised that I often equated my identity, 'who I am', with 'what I did'. I enjoy and take pride in juggling disparate activities in a busy schedule and reconciling my city-student identity with a rural smallholding background. As many others do, I often describe my activities or my background as a way of describing myself - reeling facts off protects one from more personal questions. In medical school, your identity becomes tied up with how you perform around others and you are shaped by the experiences you are involved in. However - I do worry about a world in which we define ourselves based on our actions. Whilst how we act matters, I worry about a culture of competitiveness extending to one's personal life such that all free time must be used for self-improving activities. If we choose to do less, or are unable to do certain things, will be seen as lesser people?
With lockdown, reflections on identity became more pertinent. I've had a love-hate relationship with lockdown. Many of the activities that I would normally be doing are impossible and I've struggled with loneliness. I'm very aware that other people's suffering during lockdown have been enormous. Yet lockdown also provided opportunities for reflection, connection, creativity and hopeful rainbows.
My piece - 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Under My Desk' - explores doing and being in lockdown (but also more generally). On white paper I wrote the Lockdown Slogans - Stay Home Save Lives Protect the NHS - before folding the paper into origami shapes. Origami was a useful representation of the lockdown experience - it requires strict adherence to paper-folding rules (I'm not very good as a sloppy folder!) but it also involves creativity and intuition as one 'feels-out' the next steps. Using origami, I represented some activities that were curtailed or changed as a result of coronavirus: hugs, going to the library or to school, going to the seaside, exploring with an umbrella on days out, socialising, going to church, listening to a patient's chest with a stethoscope, flying in a plane, seeing the butterflies on the farm. I've also included a red crane - a symbol of hope and peace. My piece is an expression of mourning for all that was lost during lockdown, and also an opportunity for reflection, appreciation and being-in-the-moment. Light and dark, black and white, stillness and motion.
What struck you from what the other artist said?
The faucets of our identity as origami is a really interesting idea! What struck me is the idea of what we do shaping our identity, and since we can’t do anything what does it become?
The extremity of the filter of self-scrutiny that lockdown enforced and a feeling of guilt that aspects of lockdown have been positive – whilst so many are outrageously disadvantaged and bereft.
The emptiness and potential of paper resonated with me. Paper is a lovely and important invention; and good at preservation.
I find making origami very peaceful and it’s striking seeing the messages we now all know and have whatever emotional response to, used in what I find to be a meditative process. In a way, folding paper with ‘Stay at home [...]’ feels like a way to meditate on the message itself, similar to a mantra.
I was struck by the unusual camera angles and interesting light positions, the resultant dislocating feeling I thought is rather effective. The extreme close-ups add to this intense, almost claustrophobic feel that I very much like.
The first thing that struck me in your piece, Sonya, was the choice of location, hanging the origami figures from the underside of the desk. Perhaps it was simply a choice out of practical necessity, but I felt it gave the arrangement a hidden, secretive feel, as if you were revealing aspects of your identity that were precious and needed shelter, rather than being exposed. This seemed to relate to what you wrote in your supporting text for the piece, about the methods we use to ‘protect’ us ‘from more personal questions’.
How is that relevant to your experiences and did you have any new thoughts as a result of the creative piece?
Also, the idea of always striving to do more and ‘competing’, and not being content most of the time. We’re always looking to the next project, the next goal or the next thing to keep up occupied, only to have it be effectively destroyed when it’s over. If we’re always looking ahead where does it leave us in the present?
Taking the time to creatively explore the balance-point between perceived limitations and lost freedoms may create a more ‘healthy’ dynamic in the future as we edge towards another normal…exploring authentic ways to be alongside those whose experience of lockdown is profoundly negative.
I felt a little of what was felt when bad news arrived; I think I'd have felt it more when I was a student. I liked the way that the origami figures were hung from the underside of the desk and not, say, the ceiling; I liked the thought of them hidden away under work.
I use usually use blank pieces of paper to fold origami. I wonder how it would affect the meditative process of folding process to see other messages written over the paper. What kind of emotions would ‘Stay Alert’ invoke in me? How about ‘Black Lives Matter’ or the more violent ‘All Cops Are Bastards’?
Like other people, I am spending much of my time at the moment watching and looking at things, the view from my bedroom has become a moving image of sorts through which I interact with the world. The unusual framing and lighting of Sonya’s piece suggests new ways of looking at the things around us, an attitude I find particularly attractive at the moment when I think we all feel rather passive in the midst of the events round us.
I also found the thought about the process of creating origami as a metaphor for the process of lockdown striking, because it chimes with my overwhelming experiences of the lockdown: rules, repetition, and monotony. The writing of the slogans of the lockdown on the paper, over and over again, brought this to life, emphasising the repetition of the folding in the process. All three processes – the writing, the folding, and lockdown - require discipline but can be used creatively. Taking time to look more closely can give us opportunity to see between, what Sonya terms, the ‘light and dark, black and white, stillness and motion’. Indeed, the stillness of the figures in the images conveys something very peaceful and poised, but thinking about them as free objects made me envision them in motion, swaying with the movement of the air in the room, with the breeze. Overall, I found your take on the lockdown inspiring: ‘an opportunity for reflection, appreciation and being-in-the-moment’.
It is interesting seeing how my artwork has stirred various different responses in people. Some have responded to it with a focus on the negative aspects of lockdown – self-scrutiny, guilt, monotony, claustrophobia. Others have seen the piece as an expression of more positive aspects – reflection, creation, appreciation, inner peace. The piece holds and reflects both sets of emotions.
Some people commented on the piece being under my desk – although this was due to practical considerations, I too appreciated the ‘hidden’ nature of the piece. It represents a lot of highly personal experiences. I experienced lots of conflicting and emotions during the intense private experience of folding the origami – from frustration to hope – and the piece is an intimate one.
What an amazing representation of the last few months! I love the discipline you have used with each carefully folded origami piece containing a lot of written feelings, slogans and emotions about this time. Your origami pieces for me personally, felt like you had a degree of control (the art of the paper folding is so controlled and precise) in a world where everything we knew as 'normal' suddenly went out of our control. Watching the origami pieces moving gently in your video made me feel very calm and reflective. (Tracy)
Sonya, your work really resonates with me as a fellow medic and iBAMH graduate (2016-2017). As someone who leads a busy life of many enriching activites, being forced to stop them by an outside force such as the lockdown, can be felt as a challenge to one's own identity. Realising we are more than our activities is a really important lesson that I am still learning! I really feel the kindness that you allow yourself through the creative act of producing your piece and placing it in a secure, safe and secret place under your desk. I hope that the process of making this work has helped you on your journey of self-care and self-expression and that you have found the iBAMH as thought-provoking and as wonderful a space for exploring your ideas with others as I did. (Hayley)
Excellent and thought-provoking, Sonya. Very original treatment of the slogans that have ruled all our lives during lockdown. Your feelings of isolation from the things that matter to you in 'real' life come across strongly, and the 'air raid shelter' claustrophic sense of being under your desk (and your work) emphasises that. I thought your origami was pretty neat for a self-confessed 'sloppy folder'! The splash of colour with the red crane is a good touch - see the film, 'Schindler's List'. What will you make of this when you look back in 2, 5, 10 and 25 years' time? It'll certainly bring it all back to you. Thanks! (Gareth)