A Develop Your Creative Practice project 

by Helen Thompson 

Funded by Arts Council England

In 2022, I was awarded Arts Council England funding for my project titled ProPriOception, as part of the ‘Development Your Creative Practice’ initiative.

ProPriOception focuses on exploring the fascinating concept of proprioception, which refers to the body’s remarkable ability to sense its position during movement and make intuitive adjustments to maintain balance and stability. Inspired by my deep interest in the biomechanics of movement, this project draws upon my extensive knowledge and embodied experience from years of training in elite gymnastics.

For a long time, I felt unable to pursue this interest within my artistic work due to negative experiences I had encountered in the gymnastics world. However, in 2020, the gymnastics community faced intense scrutiny in the media, leading to wide-reaching investigations. Although this period was challenging for me, it ultimately paved the way for the inception of my project.

The primary focus of ProPriOception has been on the dedicated and repetitive practice required to perform acrobatic skills at an elite level. Leveraging my personal experience in elite gymnastics, I bring a unique perspective that allows me to visually explore and express the physicality of dynamic and technically demanding skills that rely on highly developed proprioception.

To bring my vision to life, I collaborated with filmmaker Rachel Gibson, working closely with coaches and gymnasts at the City of Lancaster Gymnastics Club. Together, we captured captivating footage for a short video that highlights the profound connections between acrobatic movement and my art practice.

Additionally, I had the privilege of working alongside esteemed artist and mentor Celia Burbush. Under her guidance, I delved into the realm of mark-making and drawing, experimenting with a variety of materials, collage techniques, and layering methods. As part of my journey towards developing intuitive drawing skills, I collaborated with Northern Heights Dance to create rapid contemporaneous drawings of aerialists performing live.

The experience of embarking on this development period has been profoundly positive for my creative practice. Through this project, my work has evolved significantly, and the change in direction has laid a robust foundation upon which I can continue to build. Looking ahead, I am excited to create a new body of work that seamlessly integrates the personal themes I have begun to explore and the newfound creative methods I have acquired throughout this transformative project.

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