Imagine a single sultana in the palm of your hand. It weighs almost nothing but you can feel its mass pressing lightly into your skin. You roll it in your fingertips and notice its rippled, wrinkly skin soften under your touch. You bring it to your nose and breath deeply.
You put the sultana in your mouth, but you don’t chew it. Not yet. The sultana rolls around your tongue until – eyes closed – you bite down. It’s a luxurious explosion of sweetness and viscosity. It’s like you’ve experienced a sultana for the very first time.
This is how Steve Pozel wants you to approach art, and the sultana metaphor is his first lesson in mindfulness.
Pozel is the former director of The Power Plant and the Australian Design Centre and his new program Art in Mind is a guide to practicing mindfulness in art spaces. “We’re not suggesting the way we look at art is all wrong,” says Pozel. “But we’ve overlooked this whole other way to engage.”
The “whole other way” Pozel is talking about is “slow looking”, or rather, using meditation and mindfulness strategies to engage deeply with artwork.
His intimate two-hour sessions take place in the morning, before the gallery opens, with participants setting up in front of various works from the collection. Pozel then helps people observe the painting’s physical characteristics in a focused and attentive way, and creates an atmosphere conducive to staying “in the moment” so they can hone their sense of sight.
Referencing Marina Abramovic’s 2010 piece The Artist is Present, Pozel explains why mindfulness programs have been popping up in contemporary galleries across the globe. “Marina’s work really touched on this heightened sense of exploration, this idea that a lot of people intuitively know they want to explore,” he says. “It’s about empathy, focus and attention. Art is so rich and layered: how have we not utilised this approach before?”
Afterwards, morning tea is served overlooking the gardens at Chiswick’s gallery restaurant.
During the month of May the AGNSW will host a four-day workshop Coming To Our senses. More information here.
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This article was updated on May 3 2018.