The Confidence Gap

We think it’s important to share other people’s experiences of what happens during the events we host, this guest post has been written by Sarah MacGregor one of the participants in the second session led by Josie Sutcliffe. The Confidence Gap workshops were  designed to address some of the specific issues women encounter when faced with the prospect of speaking up for themselves and their work in public.

Sarah_MGIn ‘Some ideas for a new art institution’ Rosalie Schweiker envisioned the possibilities for overhauling the traditional gallery mode. In ‘The Confidence Gap’, part of Spacex’s ongoing experimentation towards realising these possibilities, Josie Sutcliffe was invited to facilitate a series of confidence-building workshops for women.

I arrived at the workshop not knowing what to expect. The attendees were of a variety of ages and backgrounds, gender being a loose thread tying us all together. Josie guided us through a selection of exercises – both physical and otherwise. One involved pairing up and learning as much as possible about your partner in a few minutes, before introducing them to the group, now a cheering audience, as one might introduce an esteemed speaker. Another exercise involved standing in a circle, walking into the centre and saying something, ranging from interesting comments or insights to someone’s full name. This was an attempt to walk and speak with confidence, and consider what it means to do so.

We discussed how we see and hear ourselves compared with how others see and hear us, considering what it means to speak as a woman, what it means to take up space as a woman – noticing the ways we tend to shrink ourselves, underestimate ourselves, and not speak up. It seems that there can be certain (negative) expectations placed on us before we have even spoken. I find this kind of discussion valuable because you start to notice where experiences which seem specific to you are actually a shared experience – not based on individual traits but structural prejudices.

In the second half of the workshop we each created a piece of work which represented us in some way to present to the group. These ranged from 2D drawings and collages to sculptures in paper or textile. I think we all appreciated the freedom of being able to play and have fun making something. After an intense morning, everyone now seemed quiet and focused.

In turns we presented our work, then gave each other feedback. The presentation of work itself became a kind of ritual. For instance, there was a sculpture you had to walk up to and look through, which we all did in a procession, or a painting which was presented in the ladies’ toilet (successfully enough, perhaps, that Spacex will consider it as a future an exhibition space? In the new art institution are all spaces exhibition spaces?)

I was one of the last to present, choosing, perhaps ambitiously, to climb up towards the top of the atrium for this. I had loosely planned out in my head what I would say, but the task was still relatively daunting. I spoke about things which had been brought up for me by the morning’s activities: something about presenting your undefined and chaotic self without fear, making vague references Egon Schiele’s ideas about bodies being lit from within and the song ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’ by Magazine.

I was impressed by the work people had made in a relatively small space of time, and even more by how vulnerable we were able to be with one another. Coming into the workshop I barely knew anyone, but within a day there was a sense of intimacy amongst us. One thing which made this a rewarding and engaging experience was how much everyone got involved, even when it was difficult. As others opened up, it became a space where we were more able to be vulnerable with one another.