Dr Jill Goodwin: From ‘doing’ to ‘being’

Dr Jill Goodwin is an installation artist with a background in primary and special education.  We will be working with her over the next few months on a new installation project designed for use in school, hospital and community settings.  Jill’s doctoral research sits at the heart of the project, and she explains a bit about this, and her connection with Oily Cart below. 

During my teaching career I was particularly captivated by the challenge of working with learners who are non-verbal communicators.  My connection to the wonderful work of Oily Cart goes back to when I took part in one of their Summer Schools in 2006, which was a ‘Eureka!’ event for me.  The experience prompted me to integrate my work as an artist with my work as a teacher, practices I had previously seen as very separate.  It also helped me to recognise that my work in both spheres – my interest in atmospheric art installations, and my use of music, story, drama in the classroom – was already very ‘theatrical’.  When I later left the teaching profession to concentrate on my artistic practice, I used my learning experiences with Oily Cart as my guide. 

You can see one of my multisensory installations in use here:

In July 2019 I completed my PhD study, ‘Sharing an Aesthetic Space of Refuge within a School for Pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities: Golden Tent’.

Over the course of the study I took my practice in a new direction by focusing on the quality of the “in-the-moment” contact between someone with, and someone without, profound disabilities.  I had noticed that my own “busy-ness” sometimes got in the way of me really attuning with an individual with PMLD – particularly someone whose physical impairments made them appear passive and whose cognitive impairments made their response times different to my own. 

Image of large golden fabric tent inside a school hall.

I became interested in how the arts might help support-partners to shift from a busy “doing” mindset to a stiller “being” mindset.  Golden Tent was created as part of the research process and was presented in school as a sensorially immersive space within which participants were encouraged to simply experience the colour of the space, and the soundscape surrounding the tent.  Conceptualised as a ‘space of refuge’ away from the demands of busy classrooms, staff were encouraged to temporarily let go of pupil learning targets in order to simply share the aesthetic experience together. 

Image inside a golden fabric tent, with a golden cushion and stool.

Analysis of staff feedback showed that they valued this escape from the classroom, and also that they saw the space as somewhere pupils could ‘express themselves’ free from expectation, potentially revealing more of themselves.  The atmosphere and immersive experience of Golden Tent was seen as pivotal to this process.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to further extend the impact of my research and to continue exploring ideas of mutual sensory-being with the Oily Cart team.