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Pockets of Shame: Using Clean Interviewing within an Art Project


Many of you know that a few years ago – after two pivotal sessions as client (one Symbolic Modelling and one Clean Space) – I began studying art, first on a foundation course and now as a degree student. To begin with, I imagined just having a lovely time painting and making things. I knew I wanted to learn how to make original work but did not know whether or how that could happen. And now, almost 3 years since my first day at West Dean College, and by using a research / project-based approach, I am producing original work.

This blog post is about a piece of work I completed recently, called “Pockets of Shame” and about how I used Clean Interviewing as part of my research.

The initial idea for the project came from a conversation I had with a friend some years ago, during which she told me that she had written a list of 40 things that had happened in her life that she was ashamed of. I found it hard to believe this at first – she didn’t seem like the sort of person who would have done anything to be ashamed of – but she shared a couple of the incidents on her list, and I could start to see what she meant. When I got home, I wrote my own list – and discovered it was quite easy to get to 40!

Not long after that I did some work on all this shame in a few Symbolic Modelling sessions as a client. As is often the case I have very little memory of what happened in those sessions. I do know that afterwards I started taking care of myself in a different way than before, but the only metaphor I can recall is that all my bits of shame were hiding in little green pockets distributed all around my body…

Fast forward to the start of the degree course and the project was to be about ‘place’. This could be interpreted literally (by choosing a real place to study and make work about) or metaphorically, so I chose to work with the idea of a ‘place of shame’. Initially I thought I might make a ‘dress of shame’ which would be covered in little green pockets, but this idea didn’t captivate me fully and, while I was researching ‘pockets’ in Ariane Fennetaux and Barbara Burman’s book, The Pocket, I discovered that, ‘between the late seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries, British women and girls of all social classes wore detachable pockets … tied around their waists independently of their clothing, reached through openings in their petticoats and dresses, and put them on and off at will.’

Learning about detachable pockets freed up my thinking and it wasn’t long after this that I hit on ‘the’ idea for my project: I would interview some Clean Language colleagues and students about shame and then illustrate their metaphor landscapes on old-style detachable pockets. And I would display these ‘pockets of shame’ by hanging them on a washing line, to represent 'airing your dirty linen in public'.

I interviewed five people individually and three people took part in a group session, so I collected eight metaphors for shame. In the time available, though, I only managed to complete the two pockets shown above. The transcripts of the two clean interviews these pockets were based upon are shown below (with permission from the interviewees). But before that, it’s worth saying that, of the eight metaphor landscapes, five had a ‘downward’ motif – as well as the ‘sinkhole’ and the ‘mole hole’, there was also a trap door, a well and a bog. It seems like the ‘place’ of shame is often underground.

During the foundation years, I had started making a list of ways that art and Clean Language could be combined but it’s only been through this project that I have seen how one way-in to art can be through research and just how useful Clean Language skills can be to creating original work. A big Thank You to everyone I interviewed for this project.

If you are an artist and would like to learn how to use Clean Language Interviewing as part of your work, our next training starts on April 25th (morning or afternoon) – and if you have questions about the process or the training, join us for a free Q&A webinar on February 29th.

NB The second transcript has been edited to make it a reasonable length and I have removed all the repeating back in both the transcripts that follow…

The Merchants and the Mole Hole

Shame for you is like what?

It's an impossible situation; impossible to survive. I'm torn.

What kind of torn?

It’s like being torn by two equally strong forces that won't let go. I'm being pulled by my right arm and left leg.

What kind of forces?

I’m being pulled by my right arm in relation to what I am supposed to be, what I have unwittingly agreed to being.

And left leg?

This one is tearing my trousers down. There's some kind of hook on my trousers.

Whereabouts is that hook?

In the bottom end of my trouser leg. It pulls the trousers down. It's linked to something below the earth.

What kind of hook?

Old, rusty. The size of a quarter of my hand.

And what kind of something below the earth is it linked to?

I want to go there. It's an escape route.

What kind of want to go is that?

It gets me out of the scene above the grass. It's dark and I'm not visible.

Is there anything else about that?

I like it. It offers short comfort. A rest. It's safe. It's intermediate comfort.

How far below the earth is that escape route?

It's like a mole hole below the grass. I don't stay for long, but I can rest my whole body and I'm safe for a moment.

And then what happens when you've rested your body and been safe for a moment?

If I stay too long, I will go blind. I have to come up again. I put my nose up the next morning, a little further away.

And then what happens?

I mustn't put my nose up too close - I have to be careful that they don't see me - those pulling my right arm.

And those pulling - what kind of those are they?

They're righteous merchants from the middle ages. They talk and they decide they want to pull me and keep me to my commitment. A commitment I didn't clearly say, so it's not a commitment. I seem to owe them something.

What kind of commitment is it?

Like "I do something for you." I make something that becomes gold. It's an impossible commitment. I feel faulty because I didn't fully commit, and didn't clearly say, "I can't." I let them believe that I can do these things. And it's impossible. And someone like me should be able to do it. It’s double faulty.

And whereabouts is that commitment?

It's between me and them. It's between us. It's like there are two hemp strings attached to my chest here and here (indicates just above each breast).

What kind of attached?

Quite strongly attached. Attached to my flesh and my ribs.

And those righteous merchants from the middle ages, how many of them are there?

A group, like they are in a pub standing around talking. Between 8 and 15. Holding the strings.

And when a group of 8 to 15 righteous merchants are holding the strings, what kind of holding is that?

They are talking with each other, discussing something - and they are passing the strings from one to the other. Some pull more and some less, but the strings are never loose.

And whereabouts is this group of merchants?

They are not in a pub - it's more open, more accessible than that. They're outside in a market place.

And when there's a commitment and "I make something that becomes gold" is there anything else about that gold?

It's Middle Ages gold - guilders. They're shiny and they represent greed. There are not many coins. They have some to buy beer, but they want more. My own greed is in that gold - I am not innocent.

And when they're outside and passing the strings from one to the other and the strings are never loose, and your own greed is in that gold, then what happens?

They talk for a while - about me, but not only about me. Sometimes they turn their backs, sometimes they look at me. Sometimes they tear stronger to get me there. They have the whole morning to discuss this, and they pause.

And while this is happening, what happens to you?

I don't know where I am. My skin is there but I don't know what of me is underground. the whole thing is impossible. The whole thing together is shame.


Shame for you, is like what?

It's very closely linked to failure.

What kind of failure is it closely linked to?

It's my failure, deep failure. So either I'm not able or I'm not good enough and I’ve failed. It's kind of a shortcoming. 

And is there anything else about the closely linked?

Failure is the cause of the shame.

And failure is the cause of the shame. And whereabouts is shame?

It’s like falling into a pit. It's like being swallowed up by the ground or wanting to be swallowed up by the ground.

What kind of pit?

It's as if the ground opens up and pulls me in. There's a cavity that opens up – like a sinkhole.

Is there anything else about the sinkhole?

The failure creates the sinkhole and the falling of all of the debris, that's the realisation of the failure. And then it feels like my essence is crumpled up at the bottom of this pit. It’s like I’m completely naked, exposed, crumpled up at the bottom of the pit.

Is there anything else about naked?

It’s very vulnerable, very exposed, very helpless.

And anything else about crumpled?

Like a bent over posture; just becoming very small and inward looking – wanting to shrink even more.

Anything else about the debris?

Some stones and boulders and debris from the top. As if the ground is falling in because of the failure.

And then what happens when you're at the bottom of the pit?

I'm not sure what happens after that because it kind of feels like that's the end, but it's never the end obviously. But in that moment, it feels like all life is over. But then something else happens. Then then the, “What do I need to do right now?” happens. I think maybe there's a breath somewhere. Maybe there's “OK, well, this is what's happened. What next?”

Then what happens then?

I think then the wheels are turning inside my head, trying to figure it out. What resources do I have? What can happen now? What's possible? I'm still inside of the sinkhole, feeling all of this, and while this is going on things continue to happen in the outside world.

And then what happens as things continue to happen in the outside world?

I still have a sense of failure and a sense of shame attached but the pit is not so deep, it’s more like I’m in a puddle. It’s less painful.

So when it's less painful when you're in a puddle, what's happening then?

I'm not crumpled up anymore. I'm kind of standing. There's still a sense of failure. There's still shame but it's not as bad, it's not as intense.

And then what happens?

After a long time, it's fine. It's green land again. It's irrelevant. Resources have been gathered. Strength has been gathered.

And is there anything else about that green land?

When it's green land there’s still something of the memory of what happened that remains.

And whereabouts is that memory?

It's like when people make ritual trees that they hang things off - it's like a sack hanging from the ritual tree. Memories of incidences that have happened remain somehow in a sack.

What kind of sack is that sack?

Like linen or cotton- it's a tough material, like tough, tough cotton. Not very pretty. It’s grim. It's kind of tight at the top and stuff is inside. 

And whereabouts is the tree?

It’s where the sinkhole was, that isn't anymore. It's green land. And then there's a tree with a sack on it.

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About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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