Siân Quennell Torrington's PA2024 installation ‘How is your heart’, running 24 - 25 February, offers audiences expressive wearable sculptures and drawings to stand in for words and convey complexity, beauty, hope and fear. Expressing the internal externally without judgement, these sculptures are an invitation towards empathy for ourselves and others.
Ahead of the festival installation, Siân shares reflections and photographs from the studio and street in this photo essay.
Cradling the Heart
This is me in my studio, cradling a big, complex heart. It's held together with effort and time and practice. It's made of pieces people have given me. It's made from pieces that have been part of other sculptures, experiences, places. It's heavy, it's beautiful, it's strong and fragile. It's a physical version of what's on the inside. I've learnt for myself that it's easier to be compassionate and gentle when I can see it on the outside. Like it's vulnerable, and I can respect it all. Hold it gently, and learn from it all. Like it's another person, or living being.
I've learnt too, from people visiting and interacting with these pieces, that this process works for others too.
No words needed, just moments of recognition, curiosity and care.
I also know that this practice helps me to create space in my heart for the world, and others. So it's a piece of my activism and resilience practice I want to share too.
The studio is a place where I listen, and make. This is a place where all feelings are allowed. Brought through, practised, seen. Struggled with, I push them away and they rise again needing to be acknowledged. My job is to let them be as they are, let them teach and transform me. They are fragile, scruffy and lovely. They bring everything to the front, and I started wearing them in these times when what needs to be felt is too much to hold. Make the space bigger, bring it to the outside so others can see, so we can be together. So our hearts can guide and energise us, even in grief and pain. And the heart is not a certain size. As it is acknowledged and seen, felt, it can expand—it wants to be bigger.
...the heart is not a certain size. As it is acknowledged and seen, felt, it can expand—it wants to be bigger.
My friend Amos took these photos of me, with the support of my partner, creek. On the day they took them, I was so sad – experiencing a lot of grief. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to look anything but grim, and I didn’t want that for you. I needed to show that a heart can be many things, and that the feelings in it can change and shift. Not trying to change anything, just gently being together. [Amos and creek] were playful, and managed to make me laugh. Over the afternoon, a flow of feelings became possible, as I let myself be seen. And these are the photos I share with you, knowing that change is possible, when we are together, gently acknowledging what is true, while not gripping so tightly that it can’t let go and transform.
Taking the Heart into the World
But this project isn’t about me. I practise in the studio, try things out on myself. And then it is time to take them into the world. Where you are.
As one of the photography subjects said, the project is “an experience for them, the audience, but also, an experience for you.” And that’s exactly right. It’s something we do together, with these physical objects to help the alchemy happen between us. I don’t know what’s going to happen, because it’s alive. Just like I don’t know what’s going to happen in the studio—the materials, the energy, the mood—everything comes together, to do something that is often unexpected. And that is the joy of it.
The gift is being together, choosing, sharing through the artwork and the moment. Some people shared their words, and I am always grateful for those, but never expecting.
I asked people I know; friends, workers in my local café, the rental car guys where we always get our cars, if they would wear a sculpture, to help explain and promote the project. They said yes, and we drove around with a car full of sculptures to meet people. I laid out the artwork, and invited people to choose one – the one that feels like you, or your heart, today. Each person was very decisive – it felt clear who they were today, or what they needed to share. And no words were necessary.
What people chose to share with me, and seeing how it worked, affirmed that yes, this makes sense.
I explained the project, and answered questions, had a laugh. But they didn’t need to give me anything in return. The gift is being together, choosing, sharing through the artwork and the moment. Some people shared their words, and I am always grateful for those, but never expecting. It’s important that the experience is yours—a moment of colour, weight, walking around, finding something and wearing it.
What people chose to share with me, and seeing how it worked, affirmed that yes, this makes sense. “It’s what you see, isn’t it, and everyone will choose something different, be cause we all see differently.” And, “It’s been all swirling around and messy, trying to say how you are, but this is like, putting it out there, so you don’t have to do that, aye?”
Yes, and yes.
—Siân Quennell Torrington