Werk In It: Documentation

When I began to think about art therapists and counselors I wanted to explore the ways that we understand a staff member has been there. While one way of looking at staff is as replaceable or interchangeable, as demonstrated in the rotating vanity, there must be other ways we consider or take note of those who have come before us in our professional positions. How do we know the people who came before us? For art therapists and counselors, often we hear the stories or names of therapists who came before. That doesn’t necessarily translate to a tangible form of existence.

I began to think about what is tangibly left behind when an art therapist or counselor leaves. Sometimes there are the artworks of participants or office space arrangements, yet these are not evidence that an art therapist or counselor was present. It occurred to me that one of the few ways in which we see art therapists and counselors named and represented is in our documentation and notation. My name exists on every therapy note submitted into an internal system, on every document rendered to an institution for programmatic documentation, in every court document turned over to the judge of family court cases, and on every billable occasion submitted to an insurance company. The language we use as art therapists survives and follows us from organization to organization.

I didn’t want to impede the natural wear and tear; after all, documentation is only stored for a time and then it is purged from recording systems as per legal requirements or discarded and never referred to again. To represent this aging, and the changing standards of documentation requirements, I chose to tea-dye the paper in stages. Where the garment begins to leave the waist cinch, the paper is crisper and white. The further from the waist cinch the documentation is the more tea stained it is. Tea staining is often used to falsely age or weather paper products for use on-stage, on-screen, or in artworks.

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It drapes around us much like a cape but cinches around us in the ways it’s ultimately connected to grants, donations, insurance payments, and contractual obligations. As I began to sketch it looked more and more like a bustle or a waist cape. As I scaffolded the garment I took time to explore shape and scale, experimenting with how a single medium to the full expanse of it’s possibilities.

When thinking of materiality, I wanted to use documentation in a very concrete way, as with the rotating vanity. Documentation for a conceptual, interactive art exhibit must be handled delicately. It is not actual documentation that I wanted to reveal. The potential for exposing participants’ information, or leading an exhibit experiencer to consider their own potential therapy notation was too great. Instead I wanted the documentation to clearly represent the way an art therapist is recorded, and records therapy sessions. So I began by adapting various templates of ways notation is often required. Every workplace is different, and so I reached out to various art therapists and counselors to ask for a blank format of their notational documentation. From there, I filled this documents out with fictitious information. Wherever participant information might appear, long censor/ redaction bars are used. What is left is a description of art therapy and counseling interventions and my name and identifying information as an art therapist/counselor.

I experimented with various forms of paper folding, crumpling, sewing to understand how best to turn paper into a light and beautiful garment. Settling on a few folding techniques, a few geometric textures, and a way to layer the papers on top of each other; I found that I would also need some form of base wiring to offer intermittent structural support. A paper garment is likely to weight down or crunch out of shape in an interactive exhibit.

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As I considered how exhibit experiencers were to wear this garment. I began to think of the waist cinch as a practical portion that must be adjustable and still tight. The waist cinch is covered in fake money, after all documentation is often the way in which institutions with Mandatory services receive funding. It is only through documentation, tracking, and data collection that grant applications are awarded. Insurance pays out only to services that can provide credentialing and documentation of services. Donors only support organizations that can prove they are doing something of value. The documentation is as connected to the money as it is to the therapist. Program funding and documentation strains are often two of the stressors that art therapists and counselors face most regularly outside of therapy sessions.

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This garment asks several questions of art therapists and counselors while offering exhibit goers the ability to try on the weight and expanse of our documentation requirements. This garments if we consider documentation a form of artwork? Do we consider the way in which documentation is one of the few concrete ways in which the work of the art therapist and counselor is seen? Do we believe that documentation is a lesser form of legacy, less important than the artworks art therapists and counselors create? What is left behind when an art therapists leaves? What is it to pass along this obligation from individual to individual, all of whom have different bodies and different experiences? How lasting is the recorded memory of documentation? Does it tear and rip and fall apart with very little interaction?

I have hopes that exhibit goers will find the garment as intimidating as they find it beautiful. It takes training to walk with a train, to practice how to move in space with a garment that vastly changes our shape or size. Through the practice of learning, this garment is likely to be damaged. I have hopes that they will move beyond potential fears of trying it on in a public sphere, where they are observed, into attempting to rock this garment. In reality, documentation is very straight- forward; it has concrete rules and objectives. Anyone can write note, really, with very little training. The importance of training lives in the art therapy and counseling. The skill of our work is shown in the construction of the garment, and it’s complexity but the act of wearing it reflects the simplicity of the mechanism employed to represent such complexity.

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