top of page
  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Ways of Healing – Workshop at Adiacenze Art Space, Bologna – 18/04/24

I arrived in Bologna around 1pm on Thursday afternoon – I am always amused by the fact that nothing in Italy happens on time except for the trains - whereas in Germany, the opposite is true. The other members of my art collective had arrived a few days before me, so I arranged to meet them at Adiacenze Art Space an hour and a half before our workshop. Elena, who lives close to Bologna, in Imola, had ordered all the materials we needed and was bringing them in her car.


When we arrived, after lengthy hugs (as I had not seen any of them in-person for two years) we set up the space and prepared the materials for the facilitation. We needed to hang a banner from hooks in the ceiling, and as the tallest member (see above photo) I had the privilege of hanging all the high pieces throughout the two days we were delivering our ‘Way of Healing’ programme and installing ‘The Vibrant Mind: Embracing Mental Health through Artistry’ exhibition by Gamian Europe – which had funded our activities. Our Ukrainian member, Ania, remarked that I looked like I had "grown up”, I asked her if she thought I was getting old, but she clarified that she thought I was taller than the last time I saw her – I wondered if it is ever possible to grow in height at 30 years old…?


Adiacenze had made the workshop paid, which I didn’t think was the best idea – but in the end we had 10 participants (including members of our collective) which was a nice number and gave the workshop an appropriately intimate feel. Our workshop was split in two, with our Czech member, Kristyna, facilitating the first half, titled 'I'm not a therapist can we still talk about feelings?' and myself facilitating the second, titled 'A Thread of Empathy'. After introductions, Kristyna invited the participants to consider incidents of problematic behaviour they encountered whilst working in the art sector, we then worked in pairs to propose solutions to each other’s problems. She gave out small pieces of card and on one side we wrote the problem and on the other the solution and we hung them from the banner.


Kristyna’s part of the workshop over-ran slightly and then everyone needed a break, so I tried to move through my part at a faster pace, so that we didn’t get chucked out of the space before finishing. There was also some miscommunication about acquiring a guitar, so I had to read the lyrics of my songs ‘A Thread of Empathy’ and ‘How Does It Feel?’ instead of singing them. I’m not used to performing these two songs as poems, and without the rhythm and melody I knew I would struggle to recall the words – so I hastily wrote the lyrics out during Krityna’s workshop, so that I could read them off the paper. Not the optimum outcome – but it was what it was.

I explained to the participants that I was exploring how stitching could be used as a metaphor for care and invited them to think of a time when someone had said something to them which had made them feel small, inferior and less valuable than they are and I asked them to write the hateful words in permanent markers on fabric squares which I had prepared earlier. I asked them to choose a colour pen, which represented how the comment had made them feel. The participants were invited (but not obliged) to share what they had written and provide as much context as they wanted to give (we had assured all the participants that what was said and written during the workshop would only be displayed / published anonymously). I explained that often cruelty can silence its victims, who often lack the confidence to respond assertively to hateful remarks – so, I asked them to consider what they would have liked to have said back (if they hadn’t been able to at the time), to assert their sense of self and reclaim their identity from the abuser. We wrote these responses on another fabric square, again using a colour marker which represented how their hypothetical response makes them feel. Again, they were invited to share their responses (if they wanted to). We had contributions in English, Spanish, Czech and Ukrainian - some were very moving;

·      ‘BE A WOMAN’ – ‘You are far away of being an authority to level how much of a woman I am.’

·      ‘You will never be normal’ – ‘I am good enough’

·      ‘I would never have accepted you as my PhD student, had I known I had to finance you’ – ‘I am worth it!’

I then asked the participants to place these two squares face-to-face (as though they were confronting each other) and to sew along the right hand-edge. The reason for this was the I was intending all the hateful comments to appear in the left-hand column and all the corresponding empowering comments to appear on the right in the final artwork. However, I didn’t explain this very well, as several people sewed along the bottom/top edge and one person sewed all four edges together. If I do the workshop again, I need to remember to give this instruction more clearly.

After that step, I invited the participants to form pairs and to sew their two joined squares together to create 4-by-4 squares. We ran out of time at this point, so we packed up the workshop and took the materials to the exhibition space the following day, so I could assemble the finished artwork – which I decided to title ‘Rewriting Cruelty’.

Another member of our collective who had participated in the workshop, spoke to me afterwards to say that it had really touched her deeply and made her realise that she often brushes off hurtful comments in her personal relationships which she needs to confront. I told her that I had been concerned that the prompt I gave might be too much, but that I hoped people could engage with it on whatever level they felt comfortable, for example, I felt like I had copped out by choosing a troll comment; ‘She needs a fuck and pop out a few kids to give her something meaningful to do’ instead of a hurtful comment from someone close to me, which if I am honest with myself, hurts far more. The troll comment is as ludicrous as it is shocking and the anonymity of the abuser makes it far easier to dismiss as ridiculous internet nonsense – I think I chose it for the entertainment value rather than emotional depth. If I had been truly vulnerable, I would have chosen something else – but I think when you are facilitating the workshop and “holding the space” for tohers - there’s a need to maintain a level of calm collectedness. Or perhaps it's not a need – I was probably just being a typical Brit and overly reserved. Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make is that it was possible for participants to engage in this workshop at whatever level they felt comfortable in the group.

I am hoping to deliver this workshop again, hopefully with a larger group. I would like to create a large patchwork quilt of self-confidence and assertiveness overcoming cruelty. I would have liked to do it as part of Alex Schady’s “Alternative Art School” programme at CSM – unfortunately it coincided with the Italy trip, so I couldn’t make it.

Ania took this brilliant photograph of me "wearing" the artwork like an empowering cape.


bottom of page