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Art elicitation. Exploring the birth experienceIn The Birth Project we are exploring women’s experience of childbirth and the transition to motherhood using the arts and then presenting the research findings in films and exhibitions. Our overarching research question wishes to explore what role arts engagement might have to play in antenatal and postnatal provision, especially where post-birth trauma is being translated into bodily symptoms. The Birth Project is also interested in investigating to what extent clinically-related birth practices are implicated in iatrogenic outcomes and post-natal distress. Furthermore, we are also concerned to investigate what is distinctive about an arts-based approach in terms of expressing narratives about birth and the transition to motherhood, so we are interested in thinking about different sorts of arts-based methods. This film is about the art elicitation group which comprised a group of mothers who had been traumatised by their birth experience. The group and was facilitated by a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC, UK) registered art therapist and used a used a thematic approach, as this was felt to offer necessary containment for the strong feelings being expressed.
Mothers make artIn The Birth Project we are exploring women’s experience of childbirth and the transition to motherhood using the arts and then presenting the research findings in films and exhibitions. Our overarching questions are concerned to explore what role arts engagement might have to play in antenatal and postnatal provision, especially where post-birth trauma is being translated into bodily symptoms. The Birth Project is also interested in exploring to what extent clinically-related birth practices are implicated in iatrogenic outcomes and post-natal distress. Furthermore, we are also concerned to investigate what is distinctive about an arts-based approach in terms of expressing narratives about the transition to motherhood. Two sets of workshops have been run to-date for The Birth Project. A participatory arts group, 'Mothers Make Art', has been facilitated by the artist Lisa Watts. Watts has a distinctive art practice called Live Art, described by Gorman as ‘an art practice that presents the living body to encourage a self-reflective exploration of subjectivity, art and knowledge production’ (2014 p.6). One aspect of this way of working is that is ‘engages with how the audience experiences the performing body’s interaction with objects and materials’ (Watts 2010 p.2). Mothers Make Art, asks questions in two ways: what are the effects of participation in workshops for the makers of the art and then what are the effects on others who experience the art that is produced as viewers. The Mothers Make Art group comprised eight women who live in a city in the north of England. They self-selected to participate in a series of twelve workshops. Some of the women were trained in the arts, some not, but all had an interest in visual arts, and an openness to learn and to make. The brief was to use a participatory framework to enable the women to explore any topics they wished with respect to the birth experience and motherhood. In Mothers Make Art structured techniques were used to enable the participants to explore the nature of meaning making and to construct and deconstruct works (physically and metaphorically). An important method employed was the use of everyday objects, (ornaments, clothing, mothering paraphernalia, toys), to help to create stories. There was also an opportunity to be meditative with everyday objects (cling-film, tin-foil, kitchen paper). Rather than making a representation or literal object referring to their birth or mothering, the women focused on the formal aesthetic qualities of the materials. This way of working explores objects with a focus on their material capabilities, rather than having a predetermined vision of where the art making might lead. This not only provided a self-reflective space, but functioned to give the women the skills and confidence to manipulate materials to be able to create their own original art piece at the end of the series. The art works were varied; one women pegged up her boys clothes from the tiny newborn garments to the larger ones representing fads and crazes. She acknowledged the preciousness of each stage with an acute awareness of the fleeting nature of the experience, a heightened awareness of temporality, with poems and a monologue. Another of the installation pieces explored the maker’s sense of stability, with a series of finely balanced and delicately poised fragile mixed-media pieces, comprising living plant bulbs, glass and plastic containers, wire and wood and other materials. Rachel, a medical consultant, spoke of valuing the time and space to make art work. She said that the work was about seeking equilibrium between the domestic, professional and personal realms of her life, as well as exploring notions of what it is to be a good mother. She invited the group to say what her piece evoked: precariousness, balance, complexity, giving the bulbs space to grow, were a few of the reactions.