Artist: Jonathan Polkest
Assistance: Joe Cornwell, Samantha Grace Drew-Griffiths and Daniel Crawford
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'Draw Me / Tedne Ve' booth, is an ongoing public portrait project by Cornish artist, Jonathan Polkest. ‘Tedne Ve' (which is Cornish for Draw Me) creates an instant portrait gallery by offering an opportunity for one person to draw another regardless of artistic ability. The ‘Draw Me’ is a camera obscurer built into a specially designed booth consisting of two compartments. On one side sits the subject whose image, via a lens and mirror, appears upside down on a piece of paper for the person sitting on the other side to draw. There is no fee for creating a portrait
The Draw Me booth is much more than people drawing attractive pictures of each other in a community arts participatory event, it is about uncovering of the facial mask, the expression we wear for others. Our event on Cliff Terrace, Cliftonville took place on a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-August. Over 80 people stopped to partake as they passed in the street, the majority drawing someone they knew. As the day progressed a gallery appeared as more portraits were pinned to the wall.
The event looks to unravel the way people see those who are closest to them, it is often the case that the closer the subject-drawer relationship the more revealing the image. The art within the ‘Draw Me’ is how often the drawing is not so much a likeness of the subject’s physical features but more their inner selves as seen by the drawer. Drawers often capture a side not recognisable on the conscious level when looking directly at the person. There is frequently deep surprise when the subject sees how they have been captured and the picture resonates with some deeper feelings about themselves and their own being. The affects of this are often quite profound on the subject themselves.
The intention of inviting Jonathan’s booth to Cliftonville was to use it as a representational tool; revealing the community of area, exploring what lies behind the facades. The success of the day was beyond expectation.
Understanding ‘regeneration’ through changes in the built environment is relative straight forward to analysis and there is a wealth of solid literature on the subject. The affects on the rooted community is much more difficult to research, especially in the early stages of renewal.
Getting to understand any community takes time and is often complex. Using empirical data is reasonably useful method but in a highly deprived area like Cliftonville, where churn rate is high and many people are suspicious of authorities, it can become more difficult. The portraits exposed the sheer diversity of people walking along a road, which for many is a derelict space. The majority who partook were local with a splattering of tourists.
The booth gave an opportunity for us involved to meet many neighbourhood people who would not venture into the café space or, it seemed, to places like the Turner. The larger the wall gallery became the more confidant people were to stop and become involved. The portraits only give an indication of those who drew; the numbers stopping was probably close to 200.
One of the key theories behind the Moonbow Intervention was to discover how or whether using conceptual art and exhibitions helps in the understanding of art-led regeneration. The ‘Draw Me’ intervention indicated that there is a willingness in the streets around Cliff Terrace to become involved and there was a clear appreciation of the event with many thanking us for bringing it to the area. The day gave a deeper understanding of the many issues facing the local populace. It also indicated that many did not engage with the Turner or seemed to have much knowledge of it. There was a clear understanding in most participant of the way the pictures resonated deeper than just a sketch of a face and the day brought together many people of Cliftonville for the first time.
We feel that the event succeeded in getting under the façade of Cliftonville and the images gathered are an important documentation of an area on the cusp of major upheaval. Funding allowing, Platform-7 plans to return with the event annually until 2014 when an exhibition will be held comparing all the images gathered and to reflect on the community impact of the Turner led regeneration.
 Although used extensively this is not a word that sits easily with many people interested in urban change.
Follow Jonathan work at http://pagettypow.wordpress.com/