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Could I remember how to be creative?

Amy-Conway-smlii Amy Conway

Amy Conway

It’s hard to talk about anything that’s happened in the last two years without referring to the big ‘P’. The Pandemic has changed everything; we are all changed because of it and we will continue to change because of it. So I would say that it’s important to talk about anything that’s happened in the last two years with reference to the Pandemic. The Pandemic has created a very specific landscape which in turn creates an often hostile climate that affects everything we do. Covid 19 brought loss, isolation, fear and uncertainty to many, including myself, and so the gradual re-emergence of life brings hope but a whole lot of other feelings with it too. 

I was delighted to be accepted as a Collaborating Artist onto Magnetic North’s long running creative lab, Rough Mix, which took place at the Macrobert Arts Centre in January of this year, but I was trepidatious. I was clear in my application that I was keen to collaborate with a diverse range of artists, experience new ways of working, and enjoy being truly in the thick of it when it came to creating with others. Yet there was a huge part of me that wasn’t ready. Almost two whole years of home, solo working and having to make my living outside the performing arts meant that the prospect of being in a space with up to 15 creative people was intimidating to a degree I hadn’t experienced since graduation. Could I remember how to do it? And by ‘it’ I mean, be creative. Could I come up with ideas, contribute insightful reflections, respond to stimulus freely and openly without being derivative?

There were certainly some exciting provocations from the five lead artists who each brought a creative offering in the form of a project in its infancy or a new way of working they wanted to explore. And the majority of the performers were makers and leading artists in their own right which meant that the wealth of skills and experience in the room at any one time was abundant. This may have been the perfect environment to stretch creative wings and simply play but for me the stakes felt high. Opportunities for professional development this rich are few and far between and I was there to glean every last ounce of wisdom and utilise every last chance to demonstrate my worth as an artist, my reason for being there.

The first couple of days felt like a careful improvised dance as everyone in the two work spaces navigated how to move and be around each other during a time when Omicron cases were still high and mask wearing and social distancing was still observed. But the one thing Covid times have taught us is that the human capacity to adapt and thrive (given the right support) is incredible. And so was mine.

During the two weeks I spent at the Macrobert with Rough Mix I remembered how much I love being around artists. Artists and performers are some of the most emotionally generous and encouraging people I have come across in life, and the “rough mix” of people thrown together by Magnetic North were no different. My greatest fear when I come to a new project or work space is that when we are called upon to create something from nothing, there will be awkward silence and the shuffling of feet. But the wonderful thing about Rough Mix is that, while there are some lead artists to nudge the process into being and to guide it along the way, there are also many supportive, sensitive and inspiring hands to keep it in the air. I was one of many turning up every day eager to see where each idea would bounce next and simply by responding in the best way I knew how as a practising artist and as a human being, I was fulfilling my role as a collaborating artist.

The two weeks in Stirling culminated in a filmed works-in-progress performance of the work that was subsequently shared online and despite having a few conversations with nervous artists about how they didn’t feel they had anything concrete to present (a feeling I relate to so hard!), the sharings were dynamic, diverse and full of material showing depth and detail. I went away from the process feeling I had joined a new artistic community, unlikely to ever come together again in the same configuration but connected by a shared experience and a communion of ideas, skills, practice and philosophy. I know I am still living in a world where Covid continues to devastate, but people are resilient and new artistic communities are forming all the time.