Are you still single?

 Q. “Are you still single?”

I was one of 25 people standing shoulder to shoulder in an art gallery. It was 1999. Three metres away, opposite me, was another line of 25 people. We were encouraged to breathe and look at the person directly opposite us. Not the sort of thing you’d welcome on The London Underground or the family dinner table. It was a bit embarrassing to be honest. The one saving grace was that we were fifty strangers, we’d never met before.

I’d noticed her on first day when I signed up for this ‘happening’. Straight away I saw this mysterious woman shining brightly while the rest of the crowd seemed a bit muted. Consequently I steered clear when we were invited to get involved in various interactions on Friday and Saturday. Why? From doing a few of these events before I was confident that when the deeper connections were facilitated on Sunday evening the lead artist would say, “Choose someone you haven’t worked with yet”.

Sure enough, three days later and 49 people down, there she was right in front of me. The exercise we were asked to do was quite simple. In complete silence we were to look into each other’s eyes for five minutes. Giggling was discouraged, spontaneous bursts of laughter tolerated, but the watchword was ‘surrender’.

Sounds easy huh? It’s excruciating. But after a couple of minutes we got into a groove of tentative authenticity. Then, and I don’t know why or how, I started hallucinating. As we dutifully held our gaze I saw my new friend gradually change into an Elizabethan lady, then a jackbooted Nazi, Joan of Arc, a Broadway star and at least ten other characters. I was faintly aware of everyone else in my peripheral vision remaining normal. It was weird.

At the end of the five minutes, without any processing, we were invited to ‘complete the experience’ with our partner in whatever way seemed appropriate. We walked slowly towards each other, stopped, reached out both hands like in a movie and I heard myself say, “You’re beautiful”. She replied, “So are you”. She’d had a similar hallucinogenic experience. We embraced lightly with tears rolling down our cheeks.

It took several months of circling around each other but we finally got together under the London fireworks on New Year’s Eve. We partied like it was 1999. Then, in the morning we had a whole new century ahead of us. I don’t think we’d have stayed together if we hadn’t learned to use some crucial tools on that initial weekend. Those artists taught us how to process triggered anger, resentment and daily outrage. Luckily, given that we’re both ‘strong’ characters, we began our relationship equipped with processes to get us back to our natural state of compassion, love and empathy fast. We were even able to help each other ‘get clear’ in cafes and bars if things went badly wrong, rather than having to sort it out alone at home when it would probably have been too late.

Q. “Wow, what gallery was this, and who were the artists? It sounds amazing”.

Did I say gallery? I meant Conference Hall. Did I say artists? I meant personal development trainers. I keep getting them mixed up. Let me explain why.

Visual Artists (VAs) want us to question the way we look at the world. Their work is designed to dazzle us with ‘difference’, stop us dozing and dare us to dream. Leaving our bags in the cloakroom we accept their invitation to step out of the rat race and walk through the gallery door. Here we’re free to stop, think and feel. Via their exhibitions, installations and ‘happenings’ spirit is made tangible. Our hearts wake up to our true potential. We are transformed.

Personal Development Trainers (PDTs) want us to question the way we live in the world. Their work is designed to dazzle us with ‘difference’, stop us dozing and dare us to dream. Taking our baggage firmly in with us we accept their invitation to step out of the rat race and through the training room door. Here we’re free to stop, think and feel. Via their processes, peer support, and 21st Century Rituals spirit is made tangible. Our hearts wake up to our true potential. We are transformed.

I reckon Personal Development Seminars should be recognised as New Art, or at least The New Happenings because they achieve so much of what modern artists have claimed they wanted their work to do for decades. They should definitely be up for The Turner Prize next year.

Q. “I read all the art magazines and no one else is saying this. How many coffees have you had?”

Three. Let me be brief. I was an art student in Leeds in the late 70s and Jeff Nuttall, famous for spearheading The Situationists, was one of my tutors. I was always more interested in ‘happenings’ than making art objects. Consequently, having tried to bring about change through all sorts of artistic and musical events for 20 years I was stopped in my tracks when, at the age of forty two, I discovered personal development courses. Personal development trainers were quietly and methodically doing what artists have been striving to do for centuries – transforming society, person by person, to value imagination and creativity above money and consumerism. With very good results which I’ve recently taken steps to measure.

Q. “Oh yeah, how?”.

You know those three button ‘customer satisfaction’ devices you can press at airports these days? ‘Unhappy, Neutral, Happy’. I’ve installed customised versions outside all UK art galleries and Personal Development seminar rooms. ‘Bored. Entertained. Transformed’. The data will be collated in a month, and the results will be published in September 2020..

Q. “You’re kidding me!”.

Indeed I am, but I’m serious about the subject. Stepping out of your comfort zone is counter-intuitive. Nobody does it voluntarily, however ‘open’ they claim to be. The paradox of taking risks is that people will only do it if they feel safe. They need to be cleverly cajoled.

VAs and PDTs are subtle persuaders. They have to work carefully to get our attention, after all, you don’t need what they’re selling. Your life is fine without it, you just sometimes think maybe you could do with a little extra stimulus, a bit of weekend magic. How do they supply this?

VA Pamela Wilson, who paints and exhibits around the world, says, “Visual Art is a conversation. I don’t mean necessarily a communication in the sense of full conveyance of a complete thought, but a series of half-thoughts, comments, questions, love and humour. Paper aeroplanes flying here and there with notes on them… I always make work that aims for ‘otherworlds,’ steering way clear of blatant current social and political references. I want to take the viewer for a ride, an escape, a visual retreat, an unusual vacation, a short trip, a journey away”.

PDT Dawn Ellis says, “Personal Development is a conversation. I don’t mean everyday chit-chat, but an interaction designed to tease out and shine light on our individual essence. During the seminar we do battle with inner and outer limitations that keep us from our full potential. I like to take people on a journey back to their authentic selves. Imagine a world where men and women make heartfelt decisions based on their true purposes rather than a subterranean tangle of fears and projections. It’s not rocket science, we provide the tools, make sure they know how to use them, and they bring themselves home.”

Q. “Escapism. Coming home. Are you sure they have the same goals? I love Pamela Wilson’s paintings, they’re so strange and disconcerting. The art world never mentions Dawn Ellis though.”

Escapism has allowed Donald Trump to be elected and Brexit to happen. If we don’t all come home soon there will be no home to come home to. Dawn Ellis is one of the people in the vanguard of this more structured underground movement. She may currently be unrecognised by the art world but her achievements and the achievements of her peers cannot be ignored. Her Wild Twin courses are secretly transforming people worldwide and she’s one of the most accomplished New Artists of our time. Oh yeah, and she took the risk of marrying me in 2005, we facilitate it together.

Q. “Wow, you’re full of surprises.”

There’s more. Waiter, another coffee please. Now, what was the question again?

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