It was SUCH FUN!!! I loved learning self defense for one, but the act of pushing each other while also collaborating was awesome. I loved every piece that came out of this activity! A lot of times in society you aren’t exactly encouraged to get rough or go all the way, to really let out energy in such an extreme way. So this was really fun to let that energy out!! I think when you tell someone you are ready to go even further with a project or whatever and that YOU want them to push you, then that gets them more involved. I think people like the invitation to push people, and then the dynamic starts.   -Kaley Bales, animation student

The thing that was the most fun was when we were practicing beating each other up we were so gentle, the minute that whistle blew and we had to get drawing, we were animals, we were just crazy with each other. It was a lot of fun seeing our personalities change right in the middle of the whole thing.   -Peg Grady, artist

Collaborative Combative Drawing was everything that name promised and more. Even the brief warm-up and introduction to combat techniques left me with an appreciation of just how effective a tiny amount of training can be. Our combat/drawing session was a rolling on the floor laugh-fest and a fantastic way to bond with my fellow artists. I only wish we had done it sooner!   – Jonathan Luskin, playwright

I thought the collaborative combative drawing was great. I was happy to see everybody getting into it and having fun with it. I was expecting something more serious and avante garde so it was a nice surprise that the approach was really playful. There seemed to be a childlike aspect to this activity that allowed everyone to feel comfortable playing and letting go of our adult egos which I really liked. As adults we are pretty conscious of our personal space and collaborative combative drawing offers a fun disruption of that. Overall, I thought collaborative combative drawing was a good reminder of the value of playing and engaging with the people around you. – Carl, student

The combative drawing activity is something that everyone should experience. It is interesting how we can relieve our stress not from anger but from drawing a certain animal that represents who we are and by wrestling with a friend. This method works well and should be used within other spaces and be utilized by other beings that have stress other than art students.   – James, student

The combative drawing experience is not only fun, but is also a way of breaking away from specific social dynamics and getting to know others in a more intimate way in little time. It certainly works as a workout, as stress-reliever, as an “ice breaker” and as a method of creating art that lets us express ourselves almost in a primeval way.   – Liz, student

I found today’s exercise really inspiring. Although the activity seems to be violent, “uncivilized”, it really helps participants to express something we don’t have a chance to express in modern society. We are told to be polite, non-violent and keep distance from others (mentally and physically), but we are also isolated from the world. Through today’s activity, we all had a great chance to express and embrace ourselves, and I think it is definitely worthwhile.   – design student

Today’s society expects us to be civilized, collected, and non-violent. Some of Melissa Wyman’s work encourages participants to tap into the primitive side all humans have somewhere inside of them. Her other work explores people confronting emotional or mental challenges in a physical form by a person taking on the persona of whatever non physical issue they are dealing with, which is in a way mimicking the non physical fight in physical form. Today was interesting. Reminded me of what its like to be a kid, which may be the point of it.  – design student

heart brain

Heart vs. Brain by Olivia Mole and Melissa Wyman, 2014

The Text from Glen Helfand’s article in SFAQ issue 15, 2014

The mind body split is particularly pronounced in contemporary art. We are encouraged to use the clean white walls of a gallery space to give any experience a critical contrast, a zone to rethink the ordinary—drinking beer, eating curry, binge viewing trashy television shows. We can stand at a metaphorical distance and process, putting a hand to the chin to ponder our interactions with lowbrow appetites. It’s a process with cultural value, though one with distancing side effects. Too often an artist, trained to anticipate theoretical weakness, can be overtaken by a crippling self-consciousness, while viewers who grow to mistrust their instincts in reaction to a piece, or are free of implication.

Those of us steeped in that sense of critical distance perhaps yearn for art experiences that tip to the other side and offer a bundled array of input: a sense of exhilaration and endorphins along with the artistic aims. Melissa Wyman’s work fits that bill in her ability to address interpersonal interactions in a physical manner. Her subject is how we as humans might productively negotiate conflict. Informed by graduate art school curriculum—she got her MFA in Social Practice from California College of the Arts in 2008—along with extensive training and practice in jiu-jitsu (the Japanese and Brazilian varieties), Tai Chi, and mixed martial arts—her practice brings together interactive performance, therapy, drawing, video, and installation.

Her projects have employed intimate interaction and group dynamics. With her 2008 Fight Therapy project she supervised training and wrestling sessions between two individuals negotiating various sorts of relationship concerns, a piece that is perhaps the most directly reflecting a therapeutic component of her subject. (She’s published book on the topic, Fight Therapy: A Discussion about Agency, Art and the Reverse Triangle Choke, available on Amazon.com.) She’s tapped in to the audience-galvanizing effects of spectator sports by organizing public matches such as the staged art school battle, Art vs. Craft, 2008, in which a weaver duked it out with a conceptualist, and the 2009 Spring Play, in which Wyman wrestled her husband, a diplomat, as part of a public arts festival in South Korea.

Her more recent project, Collaborative Combative Drawing, operates in a charged middle ground where multiple matches happen simultaneously, and result in dually rendered works on paper that fully acknowledge the idea that collaboration is literally messy. If you elect to participate, and I highly recommend that you do, you’d be wise to suit- up in workout wear as you’ll sweat and depending on your drawing medium, will get dirty. This evolving project, which has presented at various venues since 2012, begins with a training workshop in self-defense techniques, and wrestling holds and how to maneuver from them. A period of drawing follows—each participant in a pair selects an animal to articulate on a large piece of paper with a line dividing the center. A leisurely amount of time is allotted to sketch the body of the beast. But after that period of calm, the time-frame radically shrinks and each participant is charged with drawing the head on the other side of the line, with their opponent doing the same. Both attempt to block the other from realizing their animal’s face.

At this point the project clicks into raucous athletic mode. The room is activated by grunts, squeals and laughter as creative energy mixes with full- edged aggression. Wyman orchestrates a moment of catharsis and exhilaration that may come as a surprise to anyone who thought they were a calm, cool, collected art viewer. The best of the drawings reveal an expressionistic energy at the intersection of primal energies, though as in the most effective relational works, the takeaway is an eye-opening sense of surprise and the memory of an exquisite, mind/body endorphin high you’ve been able to share with others.

Combat Drawing_Torreya and Qilo desaturated
Southern Exposure, 2012