Over the last few years my creative practice has developed a split personality with analogue and digital identities flourishing side by side in two distinctly dissimilar environments.

As a socially engaged artist the majority of my commissioned work takes place off line and fits neatly into a formula of Creative process + (external funding + target population + located space) = social outcome.

The projects that I facilitate will typically bring together a group of people identified as having a particular need to engage in a creative process in a non-art space. The expectation is that a social outcome will be achieved that is of benefit to the group or the wider community. The chosen outcome is usually derived from conditions of the funding which is often provided in part by non-arts sources.

Although within these types of projects I often find myself with the difficult task of balancing artistic integrity with attainment of desirable outcomes (as justification for funding) there is always the scope to take risks and push the boundaries of what is expected. In my experience, the most transformational effects of creative participation happen on the periphery of a project; they embody the unexpected, immeasurable and often intangible subjective experiences of the participants involved. These unexpected outcomes drive my practice, challenge my critical thinking and prevent me from becoming complacent.

In contrast, my online work lacks external funding which means that activity is not politically led which affords a far greater degree of creative freedom and experimentation; the unexpected outcomes in this environment can often be developed into the focus of a project rather than its by-product. Such projects sit within a ‘gift economy’ and trade in creative content, information and support.

The target population of the offline world is replaced with a community of interest, the located space with a digital environment and the social outcome with a shared goal.
Creative process + (‘gifts’ + community of interest + digital platform) = shared goal

My role within the projects that I develop online slips between artist and participant; I plant a seed of an idea and support a community of like minded people to grow and develop around it. Generally activity is not constrained by time, geographic location or the necessity to work to achieve a preconceived outcome. I love the serendipitous nature of working in this way, the opportunity to capitalise on random encounters and thrill of embracing chance.

My work in on and offline environments, although very different, shares a common driver; a passionate desire to reach out and connect with people and to engage with them creatively in a meaningful way. Both approaches have their frustrations. Offline, activity is restricted to the period of funding for a particular project and I am often left yearning for the space and time to further nurture the creative relationships that I have built with my participants. Working online affords an open ended time scale but interaction can feel 2 dimensional as communicating through the written word is devoid of the subtleties that intonation and body language bring to a physical conversation.

Through reflecting on the facets of my schizophrenic practice it occurred to me that irrespective of the environment, my need to connect with people resides in a curious desire to get to know them better. This notion intrigued me and led me to question whether creative interaction could be used as a catalyst to develop trust and friendship between myself as an artist and people that I had encountered both on and offline. With this in mind I invited nine people to collaborate with me outside of the environment in which we had met and worked together in and embarked on a transformational journey of creative exchange.

©Katie Smith 2013


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