When Night Draws in

Sarah Woodfine

Digby Stuart Chaplaincy, Roehampton
09 June 2006 - 10 June 2006

In spring 2006 artist Sarah Woodfine collaborated with eleven adults who were using mental health resource centres run by Wandsworth Mind, an organisation that provides community based social care for people who experience long term mental health issues. Woodfine and the participants undertook a creative journey in workshops exploring the familiar yet fantastical terrain of the night.

Beginning with concepts and processes rooted in Woodfine’s drawing-based practice, they collectively experimented with the transformation of drawing into pop-ups, model landscapes and theatre sets. The final photographic works play on the apparent three-dimensionality of these dreamlike worlds. From eerie forests glittering darkly in the moonlight to bats swarming around a gothic castle, from prowling urban cats to peaceful country scenes, the work reveals personal tales about what lies in the night.

The final works, alongside drawings and objects made during the project, were exhibited at the Digby Stuart Chaplaincy, Roehampton, from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 June 2006. A limited edition 28-page catalogue of the works was also published.

Image: Planetarium Makes Way For Celebrities by Edward Rowell, 2006

Making When Night Draws in

Sarah Woodfine on making When Night Draws in
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The night is a very important time for me. Not only is it the time when I lock myself away from the distractions of the day to make work, but it is also a time that features greatly in my work. — Sarah Woodfine

Making When Night Draws in

Sarah Woodfine, 2006

Artangel Interaction’s Nights of London series encourages artists to develop creative projects in collaboration with people who have a special connection to the night time, taking their interests and experiences as a starting point. When I was invited to contribute to this series, I had two principal concerns: how, as an artist, could I collaborate creatively to make new work and with whom could I share my practice?

Over the last two years I have had the chance to get to know some of the members of the Heathside centre run by Wandsworth MIND. While working at the centre, I discovered some powerful work being made by individuals there, much of which, I felt, shared an affinity with the obsessive intensity of my own work, both in the processes used and the subjects depicted. These were people who, I believed, also had a very particular experience of the nocturnal city. This seemed an ideal opportunity to build an artistic partnership. A group from two MIND centres came together who all shared an interest in drawing and a desire, as one participant put it, “to work from the imagination.” All of the participants had some previous creative experience; some of them had worked as visual artists before while others were novices keen to take part.

Our journey together began with the idea of an uncharted night and mapping its real or imagined terrain. Working collectively and individually, the group began to probe their own personal night times – a process that at times was neither easy nor comfortable. Their responses to the night exposed a mixture of emotions surrounding it – visions of an outside world of excitement and entertainment were for most coupled with a fear of lurking danger. And nights spent indoors, while offering a contemplative sanctuary to many in the group, were often tinged with a sense of isolation or loneliness. Through a process of discussion and drawing it became obvious that together we were interested in those territories of the night where elements of the real were altered in the darkness to become something less defined. Each revealed some spectacular or sinister aspect of the night time, from flocking birds to sabre-toothed frogs, gothic castles to windmills.

Embarking on this collaborative exploration of the nocturnal city felt unpredictable and out of control, almost like playing blind man’s bluff, especially as my own way of working is quite controlled and hermetic. But as in any creative journey, it was these moments of uncertainty that proved the most exciting. Working within the limitations of a black and white palette and a uniform scale, each week the group would surprise and inspire me with their willingness to take risks and play with the depth and dimension of the worlds they were creating. Our experiments with form, from drawings to pop-ups to model landscapes and theatre sets, constantly expanded our ideas about drawing and making. We began with concepts and processes that were rooted in my own practice which became transformed by the group’s imagination and experiences of the night time. Over the ten weeks of the project we found ways of exchanging these ideas and working techniques that allowed me to take part in the project in a way which would not compromise the individuality of each of the participants’ creations.

These framed images reveal personal tales of what lies in the night. Whether these are observed landscapes or scenes from a play, images from the past or from the future, real or fantastical, remains ambiguous. The terrain of the night time is constantly shifting; the darkness distorts all that we perceive and creates room for the imagination to invent and play.

Eleven London Nights

Artwork created by the Mind participants working with Sarah Woodfine
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Eleven London Nights

Artwork and a selection of excerpts from the Mind participant artists working with Sarah Woodfine on When the Night Draws in, originally exhibited at Digby Stuart Chaplaincy.

Although I have previously taught and led artistic workshops, this is the first time I have shared the creative process with others to produce new work. My work centres on drawing through which I invent unsettling worlds that lie between the familiar and the fantastical. As I draw, elements from childhood, fairy tales, films and other found imagery infiltrate the work creating layers of reference which are reflected in the intensity of my process. I use the play between two and three-dimensionality as a way to displace images in time and space, and engage viewers in an intriguing puzzle on perception. By drawing these wood-grain frames, I was able to contribute visually to the works in a way that would add to their mystery and ambiguity, without compromising their individuality. Within the frames, these worlds become pictures that seem traditional yet somehow unreal. — Sarah Woodfine

View the artist's statements alongside their artwork

Image: Katie Swaden, Haunted Forest, 2006.


Wandsworth Mind on the making of When Night Draws in

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Wandsworth Mind on the making of When Night Draws In

This project has been a very positive partnership between Artangel Interaction and Wandsworth Mind. There is a genuine sense of pride and satisfaction surrounding the achievements of all those involved, not only amongst the participants but also many of the staff at the centres. Wandsworth Mind is a charity that provides community based social care for people who experience long term mental health issues and have been referred to us by Community Mental Health Teams and other secondary mental health services. Founded in 1973, we are affiliated with MIND (National Association for Mental Health) which aims to eradicate the stigma of mental ill health and promote social inclusion in all areas of life. To realise this mission, Wandsworth Mind manages two mental health resource centres (Heathside and Patricia Benians), a large number of supported housing in partnership with local housing associations, two work-experience projects and a self-help project in Battersea.

Sarah Woodfine has worked at the Heathside centre for the last two years and built good relationships with many of the members along the way. This collaboration with Artangel Interaction has enabled her for the first time to work with a group of them directly as a practising artist. Her enthusiasm for the project and connection with the participants has carried through in the high level of commitment they have shown and the dedication with which they have made their pieces. With its emphasis on working collectively to explore a concept and sharing creative ideas, this project has differed from ongoing art groups run by the centres which have focused more on members’ personal development. It has also been a good opportunity for the two resource centres to work together, introducing individuals to each other with an aim of encouraging creativity and social interaction. The resource centres support around 300 individuals with educational, therapeutic and social programmes, as well as providing practical help with housing, benefits and indebtedness. The psychological effects of long term mental illness reduce educational possibilities, as being admitted to hospital increases levels of anxiety when subjected to large groups or unfamiliar environments.

At Wandsworth Mind, we have developed group and one-to-one activities and classes that aim to be more open and relaxed than the formulaic or rigid experiences many may have had in school settings. In all the structured groups and activities run by the resource centres, sometimes in partnership with other local agencies, the medium of art is used to enable individuals to pursue their own creativity. Many have exhibited their work in various community centres, museums and galleries. Their work is a testament to the untapped talent that resides in both centres.

Significantly we, the staff, have observed those who have participated in these groups growing from often withdrawn individuals into active people who become involved and contribute not only within projects but also take their new-found confidence beyond the centre, gaining long-term independence in the community.

Image: Sarah Woodfine's workshop for When Night Draws in, 2006. 

Nights of London

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Nights of London

Running for just over a year, Nights of London was a thread of projects exploring the nocturnal life of the city. It ran through cinemas and galleries, was hosted on websites, burned onto CDs, written into letters, performed in nightclubs and broadcast via radio channels, before concluding in an old East End town hall that – for one night only – was filled with bat experts, musicians, cabaret artists and paranormal researchers. We heard stories from the unorthodox side of nightfall. We learned about ways of life that, despite their physical proximity, are all but invisible to most of us, most of the time.

Nights of London projects include:

Night Haunts

Nick Silver Can't Sleep


When Night Draws in

To the Man in My Dreams

Radio Nights

About Sarah Woodfine

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Sarah Woodfine

Woodfine explores imaginary worlds that border between the familiar and fantastical. There is a certain element of gothic darkness to her work. This is conjured up through the relationship between the precise and heavily drawn pencil process she employs combined with the subject matters depicted. Her drawing method employs a repetitive almost obsessive-compulsive process.

All her work centres on drawing. They often take the form of three-dimensional constructions in cases and glass domes. They also exist as two-dimensional drawings sometimes encased in liquid filled domes.

"Woodfine’s drawings, often contained within specifically constructed structures that act both as frames and as physical extensions of the drawing itself, operate as miniature worlds, self-contained systems through which a series of vignettes are staged for the viewer’s careful consideration." (Peter Suchin)

Her subject is strongly influenced by half remembered memories from childhood. She employs a wide variety of visual imagery exploring themes surrounding darkness and magic. Scenes are always depicted at night time as if lit by moonlight.

"Woodfine’s drawings delve into the dark side of our collective unconscious, exploring dreamlike imagery that is rooted in childhood yet easily causes tremor among adults" (Eliza Williams, Contemporary Magazine)

Image: Sarah Woodfine with Fozia Kahn during production of When Night Draws in, 2006. 


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Who made this possible?


Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.