The Butterfly and the Bottle
Kate McCoy acted as TiPP’s Projects Director for over a decade before leaving to found a series of amazing projects, including the Men’s Room and Small Performance Adventures. She is now a freelance practitioner and regularly returns to Manchester to work on TiPP projects. Here she describes some of the work that she has been doing on an amazing arts-based research project with women who make use of the Greater Manchester Women’s Support Alliance’s services.
I could tell you about how the donkey represents that part of you that you don’t want anymore and how the marbles are all the little things that have made a difference in your life, but I won’t, because today I want to tell you about the butterfly and the bottle.
TiPP are running a creative evaluation for GMWSA (Greater Manchester Women’s Support Alliance) about women’s experiences and stories of what has made a difference to them in their journeys through the criminal justice system. We have been visiting women’s centres all over Greater Manchester and asking women in groups and as individuals to tell us their stories.
We want this experience to be creative, led by the women and take place in a safe space. This is why we have brought thirty objects with us to all the sessions and used them to unlock stories that women want to tell. The objects free us all a bit, creating new connections, prompting memories and encouraging metaphorical thinking.
I have loved how quickly women relate to these objects and how differently they connect and how much empathy and understanding can be developed when we remove a little bit of focus/pressure from ourselves and place it into inanimate objects.
I thought the easiest way for you to understand the richness of this process and the power of these stories might be to tell you about the butterfly and the bottle. In the one to one sessions, we first ask women to pick an object that represents them in that moment and place it on a large square of paper that is their life. The butterfly has been chosen for different reasons, “it’s me, being free”, “I am a butterfly, I love butterflies and I have butterfly bedding and a butterfly mirror,”, and “the flutterby is me and how I have changed my life in the last five years”. In one of the group sessions it was a symbol of taking responsibility for your actions and then being able to fly. For some women it represented other people “It reminds me of better times, when my dad used to take me to the butterfly house”, “its my daughter who was still born 21 years ago”. For others it was a place “The butterfly is the women’s centre, it is peace”.
The bottle too was interpreted very differently often with connections to alcohol and mental health. “The bottle is my anxiety and depression. It has been overwhelming and I want to put it in a bottle.”, “The bottle shows my relationship with alcohol, I couldn’t go to the shops because I worried I would buy a bottle”. One of the quieter women in a group who apparently does not usually speak up became very animated when she created a story “The bottle is me, its seems empty but it is full of invisible stuff, we need a stone to break it.” Another woman used the bottle twice, once standing up it showed simply that she bottles things up, the second time it was different “the bottle with the stopper off is me beginning to open up and let things out.”
Each of the objects has had its moment in the spotlight and has enabled us to really hear and feel these women’s’ stories and truly see the person in front of us.