Fresh Milk‘s UK based resident artist Lauren Craig met up serendipitously with New York based Barbadian artist Llanor Alleyne at Hunte’s Gardens. Llanor came out to participate in Lauren’s ‘Cleanse’ session. This impromptu dialogue is a direct outgrowth of questions Llanor posed to Lauren over the past few days.
‘Cleanse’ involved a group of women who came out to Fresh Milk to participate in interactive sessions examining mental and creative blockages that build up through busy, overworked lives. Lauren speaks with Llanor about how our bodies do not discriminate against what information they retain in daily life, and how they act as repositories or ‘palettes/palates’ that accumulate everything, becoming overloaded with unnecessary or negative content. The suite of images attached are born out of the Cleanse sessions that took place at Fresh Milk during the course of Lauren’s residency.
Llanor Alleyne: How did you move from your initial art practice of flower conservation, floral design and installation to the conception of Cleanse? What is fuelling that transition?
Lauren Craig: I think in some ways all the media I have worked with are connected. Dance, modelling, photography and floral installation all come from the same place and have helped me explore my concerns. When I initially named my way of working ‘floral installation’, the term was not being used by anyone else. But with other artists now framing their practice in this way, I felt the need to re-examine my own. Cleanse is in some ways an attempt to distil or turn the floral installation work inside out. It questions the notion of power being given to icons versus the power of collective attention and action. We tend to hold these things as sacred secrets and administer a pedestal to people that are perceived as able to give you the key. In the process, I’ve noticed that despite elements of performance and alternative therapies becoming more overt, photography—or what I like to call image making—still plays a big part. I think what fuels this transition is my curiosity as well as my shortcomings in the skills needed to express what I want to share and find the most harmonious way to do this.
LA: How have you structured the Cleanse practice? Walk us through a Cleanse session.
LC: The Cleanse format is loosely based around a few features. Every edition is different and responds to the space, but I can share the process for the group session. Participants are asked to bring an object that represents a feeling/emotion/attribute they would like to let go of or ones that they would like to foster more. It is also fine if they do not want to bring/leave the object. We open with a two-minute moment of silence. Then I give the group time to ask clarifying questions. We work on the confidentiality bond—communicating with the group things we want to put out of our mind, things that are bothering us and that we cannot change, or things that the participants do not want to focus on in the session. An introduction of each participant to other group members and discussion of brought objects follows. Participants are given the opportunity to leave these objects to become part of a sculpture made up of all the left objects. You can choose your modality for individual/group creative reflection. During this period I work with each participant individually.
LA: What are the basic tenets of Cleanse? Are they rooted in traditional forms we have come to associate with alternative life therapies such as meditation, reflexology, aromatherapy, etc.?
LC: I don’t know if ‘Cleanse’ has tenets, as in beliefs except that in my imagination there is a ‘palette’ that we have; they are like non-discriminatory depositories, they become overwhelmed and blocked, they stop us collecting the information we need and creating the things that keep us healthy. ‘Cleanse’ is about the everyday rituals and social skills we have to keep healthy relationships and environments. It risks questioning what happens if we are given a safe space to let go of what we do not need. These things are equally important to the opportunity to engage in meditation or aromatherapy during a session, if that is what you gravitate towards, also equal is the opportunity to go for a walk, make a sound recording or dance.
LA: What is the significance of the “object” in Cleanse?
LC: I think objects can hold a lot of meaning for people. The physical manifestation of emotions and feeling is much easier to conceive for some people. It adds a visual, spatial element to the session, many people have described it as being a real freeing experience. I am one of these people that sometimes needs to make a physical object that encompasses the ideas. The objects also allow me to do that through the sculptural element of the installation and then the photography.
LA: What does it mean to release our object to you? Do you see yourself as the caretaker of that object or the documenting disposer? What significance does your role as facilitator hold?
LC: I think in releasing the object to me you are letting go and giving in to the process of unblocking and becoming less stuck. I am in some part a taking care of the objects, in a sort of suspended space, I guess. I don’t think I document them, the process is more about including them in the production of the installation, allowing them to become part of the place/site to inform the work. As the facilitator, I call and hold the group during the process. I help set the boundaries, mainly around confidentiality. That is about it, the rest is about the participants and their context and the elements they have chosen to work on during the process.
LA: Can you talk a little about wanting to shatter this idea that life therapy practices are only for a select few and, that in practicing Cleanse as you envision it, you are breaking a cycle that sometimes involves holding such traditions as a secret?
LC: Well, Cleanse demonstrates that we don’t need to bestow power on one person but possess democratic social skills that can heal our issues as a collective. As some issues are site specific, most people in the group are better placed to be support systems than I am. The transformation is theirs; I am not the cause. The Cleanse sessions mainly use methods we can all use. They are resilient, hyper local and idiosyncratic.
LA: If a group Cleanse is done with a pact of confidentiality, does it still hold that the practice has avoided secrecy? Is there a difference?
LC: There is a difference to secrecy and confidentially to me, yes. People share personal things that they are holding on to, so people are courageous and share things that have never been voiced and it is no longer a secret. It is held and then processed collectively by the group and they then have a support network to help them work through it as and when they are ready.
LA: How would you like to see Cleanse evolve and spread? What would you like individual participants to take away and build on after attending either a one-on-one Cleanse session or a group session?
LC: The concept was originally born out of the busy urban environment and imagined as happening in places crowed with artistic and commercial stimuli such as an art fair or outside a gallery, for example. It is most satisfying for me that people take away what they need and let go of what they don’t. That they feel better able to function at their full capacity, or gain a better idea of what that is. I guess a lot of Cleanse is about remembering we have these skills and collective capacities.
LA: Bringing things full circle, how does Cleanse inform your art practice and evolution?
LC: Cleanse allows me to explore how the disparate parts of my practice interconnect within specific sites and cultures. People bring their situation and the work becomes an imprint of that, a cluster or essence of that place and its people. I hope to keep offering Cleanse in different parts of the world, mapping what people what to let go off and building a constellation. I continue to wonder if what is brought to a session in London would be the same as what is brought to a session in Barbados—or Italy or Uganda—and what they would all look like together.
Llanor Alleyne Artist, Writer and Editor
Llanor Alleyne is a Barbadian artist and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Using collage techniques, her work is a dissection of the interior life of her figures and employs tearing, cutting, and layering to allude to the emotional and physical presence/absence mirrored in the wider world. In addition to her artwork, she is the author of the novella, Leave to Remain and the screenplay, “The Mango Eaters”. Having served as a ghostwriter for and contributing editor to Random House, she has also written lifestyle and culture articles for Time Out New York, TheLoop21.com and Metro Newspapers.Llanor is currently a contributing writer and editor for Residential Systems, Sound and Video Contractor, and the London-based publication, Installation Europe.