Michelle Wilkinson & Sue Gardiner

Make Your Mark! Squiggla at ArtLab

Make Your Mark! Squiggla at ArtLab

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Sue Gardiner, Co-Director of the Chartwell Trust, and Michelle Wilkinson, Programme Producer Creative Learning Centre, chat about how visitors can unleash their creativity with Squiggla at ArtLab

ArtLab will open in the Creative Learning Centre at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki on Saturday 15 April. This space is designed with families in mind to be a place where they can explore different aspects of art making together and discover new perspectives of the art on display in the Gallery.

Throughout its life, ArtLab will continue to engage and challenge our visitors with different themes and materials, which will allow them to build a toolbox of skills to explore their own creativity.

We are proud to work with Sue Gardiner and the Chartwell Trust to bring you Squiggla for ArtLab’s first iteration. Squiggla is a project developed by the Chartwell Trust to introduce mark making and creative visual thinking into everyone’s daily routine.

Today we talk with Sue about Squiggla and what to expect to see and do when you visit ArtLab.

ArtLab will open in the Creative Learning Centre at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki on Saturday 15 April. This space is designed with families in mind to be a place where they can explore different aspects of art making together and discover new perspectives of the art on display in the Gallery.

Throughout its life, ArtLab will continue to engage and challenge our visitors with different themes and materials, which will allow them to build a toolbox of skills to explore their own creativity.

We are proud to work with Sue Gardiner and the Chartwell Trust to bring you Squiggla for ArtLab’s first iteration. Squiggla is a project developed by the Chartwell Trust to introduce mark making and creative visual thinking into everyone’s daily routine.

Today we talk with Sue about Squiggla and what to expect to see and do when you visit ArtLab.

Michelle Wilkinson: Welcome, Sue. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. We are very excited to work with you to produce the first activation in the ArtLab space. Squiggla has been developed by the Chartwell Trust over an extended period of time. Can you explain what Squiggla is and how you came up with the idea for it?

Sue Gardiner: Thanks for having us, we are delighted about this collaboration. Squiggla is Chartwell’s outreach project. The Chartwell Collection, which is held on long-term loan to Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, provides constant inspiration to us. With over 2000 artworks by a range of creative leaders, the collection helps us to understand creative thinking (both sentient and rational) within an aesthetic context.

Squiggla offers participation and creative visual thinking for all. Our goal for Squiggla is to break down the barriers to participation and to reveal the deep satisfaction that comes from the creative, open and energising process of making. If more people come to trust and understand themselves as being creative and value the importance of creativity in living a fulfilled life, then we have met that goal!

For ArtLab we see the Squiggla Making Space as a gymnasium for creative visual thinking, where visitors can freely exercise, explore and train their creative brains and hopefully incorporate their experiences into their everyday life.

MW: It is really special that the Chartwell Trust is interested in promoting art making and participation though the development of the Squiggla programme as well as by collecting art. There has been a lot of research into the science behind Squiggla and you have worked with many experts throughout its development – can you tell us how this has fed into the project?

SG: The Chartwell Trust has always sought to reach a broad audience for the visual arts and provide opportunities for everyone to be creative. We developed Squiggla with valuable input from researchers including University of Auckland based neuroscientist Professor Cathy Stinear, who is Chair of the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand's Council, as well as Professor Peter O’Connor from The Centre of Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) at the University of Auckland. We were interested in research that sought a deeper understanding of the creative process and its value for us all and how the creative brain works. This included debunking the myth that the right hemisphere is the only part of the brain involved in creativity. In fact, recent research shows that the creative brain is a highly connected one across multiple parts of the brain. The American neuroscientist Anna Abraham recently said that creativity isn’t something that only a few people need or have but that it is in all of us. She noted that creativity is like any muscle that has to be exercised in order to strengthen it. The importance of a creative routine was really fundamental to the development of Squiggla.

MW: Making time to add creativity into your daily routine adds so much in a world where we tend to be so task driven. You have talked of the importance of fostering and embracing creative visual thinking in daily life. How does creative visual thinking make a difference in how we think and act? How can we nurture this way of thinking?

SG: Nurturing our creative visual thinking and making is a major goal for Squiggla and for Chartwell. We understand creative visual thinking as a heart, mind, body, material process that is connected, with intention, to both intuition and intellect. The visual magnifies the way we experience and know the world and how we can come to know our own creative strengths. Introducing regular creative making activities into our daily lives, even for a few minutes a day, is an accessible way to nurture creative visual thinking. While Squiggla is a tool to exercise the creative mind through the visual senses, it is also one for wellbeing – we slow our busy reasoning minds to access our natural, innate desire to create. We can experience this through regular, meditative mark making.

MWWellbeing through mark making is something that is accessible to everyone and can bring so much relief as we make our way through our complicated lives. Most people don’t consider themselves artists and are shy about revealing their abilities (or perceived lack of) – do you have to be an artist to participate in Squiggla?

SG: No! In the world of Squiggla there are no rights or wrongs, only curiosity and possibilities. Squiggla is designed to encourage people who may be hesitant about ‘making art’. We aim to remove the barriers that make people feel like they can’t draw a straight line, or that art is something that other people do, or that leading a creative productive life is not something they can access. These are cliches and stereotypes that people too often assume about their own creative potential. This can become entrenched at a very young age. The impact of this can be lifelong.

While Squiggla is related to a particular kind of visual art called non-objective art or abstraction, we consciously avoid art definitions because they create expectations. We’ve developed our own Squiggla language, which is based around creative mark making. For example, we encourage people to use a Startermark or a line frame called a Squigglaspace –just making one first mark on the page leads to sensing where to make the second one, and off you go! This removes the fear of the blank page.

Our Squiggla activities are designed to foster a sense of trust and create the environment to experience the joy without judgement that mark making offers.

MW: Joy without judgement – that is what we all seek! What will Squiggla look like at the Gallery? What activities and materials will our visitors encounter?

SG: In the Squiggla Making Space, we invite everyone to be an active, playful mark maker and feel the satisfaction that emerges. Children will feel at home in the space, but we encourage parents to share the making time with their tamariki (children) and rangatahi (young people) and learn from their curiosity.

Tapping into the tactile, hands-on nature of Squiggla, we provide a variety of mark-making materials and tools, so all you need to bring is your imagination. You will find activity brochures, ‘how to’ steps and videos to get you started.

You can find a spot to sit quietly and make your own Squigglawork or sit at one of the shared tables. Or you might like to make a Squigglawork and see it projected directly onto the wall! Visitors are also encouraged to add their creations to the Squigglaworks wall as part of the experience – this is an important visual guide to those who come into the Making Space that helps orientate people to Squiggla and the infinite variety of marks, dots and lines. It is also inspiring to see the variety of visual exploration that people create. We love the ‘ah-ha!’ moments and surprises that emerge from the wall.  

We encourage visitors to bring their digital devices to photograph their Squigglaworks, register and upload them to Squiggla Online at squiggla.org or to Instagram, tagging @aucklandartgallery and @squiggla.

MW: The space will change every 2 weeks throughout Squiggla’s time in ArtLab. How do the activities change? Are they stand alone activities or do visitors need to have experienced previous iterations?

SG: You will find joy in every visit and then new inspiration every two weeks. Throughout the entire programme, people can dive into Squiggla without much guidance and begin to explore mark making. Our four themes – Play/Tākarokaro, Make/Mahi, Imagine/Pohewa, and Invent/Hanga – build mark-making confidence.

Play/Tākarokaro will introduce you to the basics of Squiggla, Make/Mahi encourages you to tap into memories of feelings to generate new mark-making ideas. Imagine/Pohewa encourages us to connect mark making to visual music, and Invent/Hanga includes a Squiggla Trail where you can explore the Gallery to find mark-making examples to further inspire you.

MW: ArtLab is a space designed for all age groups with a variety of activities. Are the Squiggla activities the same for adults and children? Why?

SG: Open to all from young families to adults, the Squiggla Making Space is like a gymnasium. The principles of exercise are the same for everyone – the more you do, the fitter you get, the more satisfaction you feel. We usually find that after a while, people forget to follow given instructions and start inventing ideas for their own visual exploration. We think that is great! They have already discovered originality of thought that is personal to themselves.

MW: Something for everyone, then! I love that you have so many options for mark making – there are no excuses not to have a go! Squiggla’s making prompts talk of marks, dots and lines – why do you encourage abstract mark making as opposed to figurative creations?

SG: We know that if we set out at the start to represent a pre-determined meaning, object or story, this isn’t the same experience that we seek to find with Squiggla. Marks, dots and lines are the foundation for creating playful Squigglaworks. Our aim is to quieten the questions we ask ourselves like ‘what is it? What does it mean? Is it any good?’, and instead attune to our senses and the space around us. We seek to be intentionally intuitive without judging if something ‘looks like something else’. Neuroscience research also shows that the creative process works best when experienced in an open-ended context. Visual exploration is key. By generating your own original thoughts, you’re strengthening patterns of creative connections in your brain. We want to let creative flow take over, starting with easy-to-make but powerful and limitless marks, dots and lines.

MW: So, by removing expectations of how something should look we can then explore in an abstract way, allowing ourselves to let our mark-making tools lead us instead of overthinking things. That sounds so meditative! Children are naturally curious and often create using their intuition. How do we hold on to this creative curiosity? Where does it go and how do we get it back? Why might we want it back?

SG: Educationalists indicate that peer pressure and judgement becomes more acute around the age of nine as we become more self-referential, develop a sense of self-image and try to figure out where we fit in the world. Often, a crowded curriculum in schools limits time doing creative projects even when research shows that arts rich schools have better results in literacy and numeracy, and that the arts often make a difference for young people struggling with mental health issues. Squiggla can help us to get that childlike curiosity and natural creativity back.

Professor Peter O’Connor from CAST, in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education, has researched 11 dimensions for the creative process. Squiggla’s activities explore all these dimensions which range from curiosity to risk taking, from collaboration to problem posing, from divergent thinking to critical thinking. These are valuable skills for problem solving, employability, but also our wellbeing! Increasingly, neuroscientific research shows that creativity in and of itself is important for staying healthy and remaining connected to yourself and to the world.

 

MW: It is great that the activities work across age groups – no assumptions about previous experiences or abilities necessary! The idea of young children and adults working side by side on the same activity is wonderful. After spending time in this space, what resources are available for people to continue to explore this programme at home?

SG: We have developed a Squiggla Online programme at squiggla.org, which encourages regular participation at home, school or workplace through online ideas and videos and your own Squigglaworks Gallery. Squigglaworks can be shared with others and teachers can contact us via our website for classroom ideas and resources. As Squiggla is a charitable project, sales of Squiggla Play Books and mark-making materials sold at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki shop will cycle back into funding the development of Squiggla  programmes. We’d also love to see visitors join us on our Squiggla social media and share images from their time in the Squiggla Making Space.

MW: I think visitors are going to love exploring their creativity in Squiggla, Sue. What do you want people to take away from their experience at ArtLab?

SG: Squiggla can offer quite a breakthrough for some people. When people take their time and are excited by their Squiggla experience, they feel how good it is to be in the ‘flow’ – the wonderful thing that happens when you’re in the zone, and fully present in the moment.

Some will experience the making process for the first time in many years or be inspired by the natural curiosity of their children. Others will find Squiggla to be meditative or prompt a new visual ’ah-ha!’ moment. We want visitors to believe in themselves as valued creative thinkers! And to take this confidence and creative freedom home with them.

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ArtLab presents Squiggla is on in the Creative Learning Centre at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki for 8 weeks from Friday 15 April 2022.