Exercise "Lines in
There is something special with the lines in our hands. We carry them with
us all the time. Sometimes a future forecast of our lives is made on basis
of these "life lines". But in general, we seldom pay attention to them.
This is also the case with many other aspects of our body and the world
around us; we usually simply take them for granted.
This exercise is aimed at arousing and igniting the imagination and to
encourage looking at familiar things with fresh eyes – important aspects
of art practice.
The exercise consists of the following elements:
1) The participants receive a white cardboard of 10 x 10 cm, and are asked
to use a pencil to make a not too detailed drawing of the main lines in
one of their hands. They should use the hand that they ordinarily don’t
use for drawing. The reason for using the "wrong" hand is to cause an
estranging effect and to focus on the lines of the hand that is most
important or predominant in our everyday actions.
It is important that not too much time is spent on drawing, as the lines
should not be too elaborate: rather more sketchy and abstract.
2) The participants are then asked to form small groups of four to five
persons each. Within the group they exchange the cards, so that each
participant has the hand line drawing of somebody else. The group finds a
quiet space for itself. One group member is asked to be reporter to the
later gathering of the whole group again.
3) The participants are asked to spend some minutes meditating on the
drawing of the lines they have in their hands. When doing that, they
should try to experience themselves as being in a landscape, a landscape
that is formed by the lines on the paper. They should try to feel the
different sensory experiences that being in the landscape seems to bring
4) Subsequently, the group members tell each other of how it is to be in
the landscape that they have in front of them, one after the other, until
all have had their turn.
5) After all groups are ready, they assemble together with the others to
one big group.
6) The facilitator then asks the reporters to tell about the experiences:
did the participants talk about all kinds of sensory experiences? Which
ones were easier to describe, which ones more difficult? Was there a
difference between participants who talked about themselves as being
inside a landscape, or looking at it from a distance (the difference
between talking about "I am in a…" or "What I see in it is…"
7) The answers give openings to talk about our (usually) visual-centred
relation to the landscape, compared to more orally-centred perceptions
among different indigenous or non-literate peoples. Visually-centred
people tend to regard landscape as something that unfolds itself in front
of us, as a map we hold in our hands.
8) After that, the participants take their own cards with their own hand
lines back again and go out into the area to locate a spot which in some
way resonates with the lines they have on their card. They should look for
some kind of identification, connection, and this can be in a tree, a bush,
the grass, a rock, or even the sky, or assembled natural objects, Once
found, this resonating part of the environment is then used a point of
departure to make a personal art work, using pen or crayons and paper,
found natural objects; the art work can also be a piece of writing such as
a story or poem. The choice is free. If time allows (there should not be
time pressure), the participants gather again and those who want show
their art work to the others and tell about it.
I sometimes refer to this exercise as the world of the prisoner in
solitary confinement. Reports from prisoners who survived such extreme
conditions and did not go insane, tell sometimes of their "rescue" through
making contact with another living creature in the cell: a flea or an ant,
or a mouse. They could communicate (or feel that they could communicate)
with the other species and through that keep some very basic sense of
social and cultural relations intact. Using their imagination, they could
somehow picture themselves in a richer world than just the concrete cell
This exercise is also about engaging the imagination as fully as possible,
with only some vague lines as point of departure. That these lines are
somebody else’s "life lines" makes it at once more intimate and personal.
Through that the participants in a way enter a different than ordinary
space (in contrast with if the lines on the card would have been drawn
An important aspect of arts-based environmental education is to facilitate
and to encourage participants to open their senses more fully towards
their environment. In the words of Meri-Helga Mantere: "Arts-based
environmental education is a method that supports fresh perception, the
nearby, personal enjoyment and pleasure (and sometimes agony as well) of
perceiving the world from the heart. It aims at an openness to sensitivity,
new and personal ways to articulate and share one’s environmental
experiences, which might be beautiful but also disgusting, peaceful but
also threatening. In short, aesthetic environmental education is grounded
on the belief that sensitivity to the environment can be developed by
artistic activities." This exercise with the hand lines is in a way the
other extreme; this process of enhancing openness to environmental
experiences is turned as it were "inside out": all experience has to be
retrieved from memory, evoked by the imagination. In that sense it can
also be done inside a building, with little or no sense perceptions of a
One of the outcomes can be is that it teaches the participants how rich
imaginary power can be, how easy or hard it is to imagine different sense
perceptions. It brings along the challenge of formulating them to others
in a safe environment. One talks about the life lines of other
participants, at the same time as somebody else is talking about one’s own
hand lines. Participants realize how different the associations are from
person to person. Further, the exercises allows for reflection on what
landscape is and how we relate (or not relate) to it.
Finally, by making a personal art work on basis of finding resonating
elements in the environment, the experience further deepens. Ideally, it
allows for increased understanding of what philosopher/biologist Gregory
Bateson called "the pattern that connects" the elements of the world: the
connection between the lines on our hands, the morphology of our hands,
and the forms and expressions we find in nature around us. This
realization may help us understand and respect a little more what it is to
be part of a larger whole.
Jan van Boeckel, Helsinki, 27 August 2008