International Clean Conference, University of London Union

22nd – 24th October 2010

Clean Language is a questioning technique refined to minimise the effect of any pre-conceptions or interpretations that the questioner may have. Characteristically the technique produces a state of ‘exquisite listening’ in which the conversation is focused to an unusually high degree on the experience and world-view of the client or interviewee, developing their awareness and understanding of their own ‘metaphor landscape’ which in turn facilitates new levels of creative problem-solving, clarity of communication and sense of Self, with both agency and ownership resting almost entirely with the client/interviewee.

This was the third annual conference organised by the Clean Change Company, drawing together Clean Language experts, leading researchers in the field of metaphor and practitioners from a range of backgrounds.

As a research student based in the inter-disciplinary Institute of Creative Technologies[1] (De Montfort University), I have been looking to draw strands from a number of disciplines to make sense of a critical framework for my practice with mobile technologies, public engagement, sensors and landscape. I was introduced to Clean Language in August 2010 in a workshop with business and executive coach William Pennington[2] who lectures at Derby University. William kindly facilitated a knowledge sharing workshop for postgraduate students at De Montfort, Leicester.

I was interested in attending the conference to find out first-hand how Clean Language can be applied to different situations. I wanted to get a feel for the current areas of usage and what the technique might have to offer me as a practicing researcher: perhaps as a philosophical approach, methodology or practical techniques and methods.

This report aims to share some of my experiences as a relative newcomer to Clean, to reflect on the richness of the event as someone coming from an arts practice and academic research foundation, albeit with an earlier career as a holistic therapist and tutor.

“As a practicing artist, facilitator and PhD researcher, Clean partners my intention to open a space where others may become aware of their own positioning, a unique relationship within the landscape of their environment (literally – with satellite tracking, pervasive media, participatory user-generated content; metaphorically – as a creative and potentially transformative opportunity for the individual and the community via re-presented reflections).


Clean also touches my former work with archetype, narratology and therapeutic processes of alternative reality journeying: imagery that allows a story to unfold, realisations to occur, easily arriving in a forward-looking place of cohesion and synthesis.


I am excited to learn more!”[3]

The term ‘Clean Language’ is used to refer to the methods and methodology arising from the body of work instigated by New Zealand psychotherapist David Grove from the 1980’s until his death in 2008. The work has a therapeutic background and utilises the understanding that human thought processes are constructed in metaphor. We make sense of the world from the time we are born, constructing our understanding of ‘reality’ through association of the unfamiliar in terms of the already familiar.

Clean Language is also used as a tool for spatialising attributes of a desired outcome, problem or issue, through a process known as ‘Clean Space’, often resulting in ‘emergent knowledge’. Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioners and registered psychotherapists Penny Tompkins and James Lawley extensively modelled the work of David Grove during his life-time, articulating the processes they observed as ‘Symbolic Modelling’. They, along with a core group of ‘Clean’ experts, continue to develop ‘Clean’ practice and explore new applications, whilst maintaining an integral awareness of the models of Grove’s unique and profoundly successful methodology.

As an adaptive and transdisciplinary tool, Clean seems to successfully draw people from varied backgrounds, without compromising principle or pulling people out of their respective disciplines. It was fascinating to meet people working in accountancy, coaching, primary education, midwifery, visual arts, complementary medicine, psychology, cognitive science, movement, management, marketing and probably quite a few other fields beyond. What I quickly discovered was a common quality of attention, a respectful curiosity that people had for one another, and what seemed a genuine interest in uncovering what the other person had come here for, and what they hoped to get from the experience of the conference.

The pre-conference workshop on Friday 22nd October offered experiential and contextual workshops exploring the current frontiers of research, development and application of ‘Clean’ practice. In a mature, supported framework and high-level working atmosphere, the short workshops rapidly provided profound experiential insights into the applications discussed.

Rupert Meese opened the workshop with a presentation ‘Reasoning with Metaphor Systems’ which considered the need to respect individual metaphor systems alongside the metaphor of a group or organisation, and how these can be related using a Clean approach in order to inform a mutually successful outcome. Examining Clean epistemology, Rupert presented a mental model of an information network and assessed methods to establish the degree of reliability of information, providing a model for inference and certainty. Rupert combines a scientific sense of order with an aesthetic of appreciation of diverse voices and the value they contribute to the whole. A rich first-hand knowledge of Clean facilitators working with organisations evidently underpins this approach.  Although a little difficult to follow at times, the presentation gave structure and form to what could easily have become an abstract debate. The method for determining reliability at first struck me as falling short of an iteration re-consulting the individuals concerned. However, when we experienced a short practical exercise designed to highlight the process, I was surprised to find that my experience demonstrated a smooth and comfortable integration of the individual with the group.

The importance of attending to individual systems of being and creating a respectful space for that expression within a group or community is paramount in my arts practice. In community arts this can be seen as facilitating opportunities for creative participation, for example assisting under-represented or marginalised groups to create media voicing their individual and collective experiences to a wider audience. An example which I have been engaged with is Dads Matter Too[4], an award-wining project in which young fathers raised issues for the benefit and recognition of other young people, social workers and healthcare professionals, local and national government. In terms of technology, the critical approach of philosopher Bernard Stiegler raises important notions of the benefits of embracing technicity and individuation[5] – relationship of individual and collective. To what extent can we pull away, before we are reminded of our relationship and contribution to the whole?

Over the three days of the conference, we experienced many facets of the use of client-generated metaphor.

A personal highlight was the session with primary school teacher Julie McCracken, ‘Cleaning up the Curriculum’ in which Julie outlined the circumstances that had led to her introduction of Clean into the classroom, and the subsequent changes that are steadily rippling into the rest of the school.

A slideshow of images showed young children’s responses to focusing on listening at their best. The individual creativity and expression was inspiring and moving, in particular as Julie recounted how the children had been able to discuss personality and behavioural clashes in terms of the metaphors developed. For example, a child who learns at their best when bouncing like a grasshopper will need space to move in, but equally, needs to learn to bounce quietly so they do not disturb another child who needs silence to learn. Night-time and daytime children may work better when apart, and a flower needs sunshine to grow, so is better placed close to the sun.

Julie demonstrated a giant magnifying glass with which the children ask each other Clean questions (about whatever topic they are studying) before showing us some intriguing video clips of the children aged 5, 6 and 7 years old (a class of around 30 mixed year 1 and 2 children) self-organising as they almost wordlessly plan and collectively improvise a complex multi-faceted play for part of the school Christmas celebrations.

Equally inspiring was the session on polarities run by Clean Change Company directors Wendy Sullivan and Margaret Meyer. Representing polarity through their dress, positioning in the room, and gradual integration and reversal, the facilitators invited us to work in pairs to explore polarity in our own lives. I chose a strong issue to work with that I expected to be quite problematic and disparate. The initial task was to choose two images from tables of miscellaneous postcards (or draw our own), to represent the polarities we wished to explore. Then we simply placed the postcards wherever we wanted to in the room. A great way to get people moving and engaging with the space as some climbed over others, putting postcards on opposite walls, on the floor, tables, under, over. Next we were to place ourselves in relation to our cards. Surprise: I found my cards overlapping, and myself standing over them as if circling with them beneath and within my ‘space’. And now the questioning starts. ‘And that ‘x’ is like what?’ ‘And is there anything else about ‘x’?’ ‘And what is the relationship between ‘x’ and ‘y’?’


“What I love about the experience of Clean is that I can draw my own picture that communicates everything I need to know, without the need to explain it or turn it into other people’s words. As I am facilitated on my journey I feel ripples of movement, find things along the way that catch my imagination and enrich my understanding of me.

Creating my own pictures, I feel traces of my routes, my roots. I draw my own conclusions in my inner language: multidimensional metaphors.


Clean and noninvasive is the way I aspire to work.”[6]

A light bulb moment, when I looked at one of my postcards – a brightly coloured umbrella in a stunning black and white natural environment – and discovered there was no rain! The impact of that observation made me realise that there is no ‘rain’ in the situation it represents, that things were not as I had imagined, that in fact it is an easier and more effortless experience to be there. Externalising through a symbol seems to elicit the possibility of learning from that symbol. I am now able to be a lot more relaxed that answers are around whenever I need to them. It is less a case of looking for, and more a case of co-existing and recognition.

The realisation that information is available and present at any moment in any place also played out in a session in which we explored ‘4 Fundamental Modelling Vectors’ with Penny Tompkins and James Lawley’s expert guidance. I was initially unsure whether to join in, having heard of ‘Clean Space’ but with no preparatory experience of this technique. However a perfect partner arrived, announcing that he could coach me at the same time as participating, being happy to guide and be guided simultaneously. The session, although complex in activity, was clearly articulated and easy to follow.

In contrast, I came up against quite a lot of jargon relating to techniques and practices during the three days – ‘power of 6’, ‘emergent knowledge’, ‘embodied awareness’ and others – which on first view seemed exclusive – not easily accessible to those unfamiliar with the language of the technique. This struck me as being somewhat of a misnomer in comparison with the resonance that Clean Language seems to be presenting, and contradictory to the benevolence of the presenters themselves.

The vector exercise had us moving around the conference room in pairs, myself following my ‘client’ as he explored a ‘peak experience’ – in this case related to public speaking. It was intriguing to witness the fluidity with which my ‘client’ identified his own metaphors, coached me in questioning and documenting his responses, and swiftly moved to different perspectives – as both speaker and audience member, amongst others. In each space we left a small post-it with a short phrase recalling the focus of the experience from that perspective. The sixth and final position was one ‘outside’ of all the other spaces. Here I was prompted to ask ‘And what do you know from here, about all of this (gesturing to the other spaces)? And what do you know now?’

I have experienced the ‘magic’ of physical space as used in vision quests, ceremony and earth-rites, but not in a linguistic context in a conference setting with a room of people whom I had hardly met. The simplicity (albeit clumsy for me as a complete novice!) and elegance with which profound shifts in perspective, realisation and a comprehensive overview were achieved is quite remarkable, and yet even now reminiscent of a dream-state. The combination of writing, moving and articulating seems to help to anchor realisations and to create a map for either partner to revisit and learn from; although I am sure that my able partner had no need to map or revisit, his insights seemed integrated almost instantaneously as they occurred.

My PhD interrogates the potential of pervasive media (media ‘out in the world’ – in the ‘right’ place at the right time on the right platform or device) to enhance the holistic or multimodal user experience in the ambulant landscape (i.e. experience of walking through an environment, either experienced directly at the time, or re-located at other times/places/online/gallery-based). Recent experimental walks seek to draw out some of the ways in which we subjectively experience our journey – what may catch our attention at any given moment in time and space, and the sensory information and awareness such moments can bring. Clean Space certainly seems to share a common itinerary. I am aware that I need further practice, experience and continued discussion regarding the process of Clean Space in order to fully understand where this system could benefit my research and vice versa. Fertile ground to explore, one step at a time!

During the last three years I have developed several mediascapes (media layered into the landscape), exploring ways to articulate the relationship between individual movement, perception, experience and community/context. The works use gps (satellite tracking) to record individual routes, triggering customised sound and image live for the individual walking with a mobile device and headphones, or played back as a collection of walks and unique films in online galleries and public space. For example, in e-merge_a filmmaking mediascape[7], walkers carry a hand-held computer (PDA) with headphones as they explore St James’s Park, central London, choosing music commissioned for the piece that then becomes the soundtrack to their walk (and subsequent film). Some eighty short video ‘clips’ are ‘hidden’ in mapped regions of the park. As the walker enters a region, they ‘unlock’ the video clip and it is automatically added to their growing journey for later recall. The walker continues wandering in any direction for any duration, until they choose to stop and play back the short film, unique to their journey, combining all the ‘unlocked’ clips they have gathered, effectively editing their own unique short film from the footage mapped into the landscape.

Structuring a mediascape around notions of Clean Space could be a challenging and interesting experiment for a future piece of research practice.


Several keynotes were of particular interest to me in terms of a critical academic approach:

The work-life balance study, and hot-off-the-press publication, is the first funded academic research project using Clean Language, a partnership between Dr. Paul Tosey, Assistant Director of the Centre for Management Learning at the University of Surrey and the Clean Change Company. This was of particular interest to me in considering how I might integrate a Clean approach within my own research – as practice and as an interview technique for eliciting individual approaches to making of media art and experiencing work in the physical landscape (areas of my current research). Of note, but by now not surprising, was the fluid exchange and mutual respect evident amongst the team who had come together for this pioneering study. The group presentation naturally held a place for each to contribute, in their element. It would be very interesting to see results from a larger study, ideally moving into other locations and perhaps using a variety of facilitators and settings to explore continuity and comparison of results.

Dr. Daniel Casasanto, Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and pioneer in his field, presented iterations of rigorous experiments demonstrating

the validity of the cognitive linguistic understanding that people not only use metaphors to describe abstract concepts, but also think in terms of metaphor, and actually take metaphor literally. Casasanto went on to outline experiments concerning metaphors that arise from nonlinguistic cultural practices, and metaphors that are rooted in the ways we use our bodies to interact with the physical world. To quote from the abstract of his comprehensive keynote:

“Understanding the origins of our mental metaphors is the key to harnessing their power to shape our thoughts, feeling, and judgments.  Beyond metaphors in language, recently discovered ‘culture-specific’ and ‘body-specific’ mental metaphors stretch before us as a new frontier whose therapeutic possibilities await exploration.”

Robert Bottini, Psychologist and PhD student in Anthropology and Epistemology of Complexity at the University of Bergamo, and a student of Casasanto, presented thought-provoking research on the metaphorical construction of temporal thinking.

Charles Faulkner, Director of Programs for NLP Comprehensive, gave what he described as a ‘top-down’ understanding of metaphor in his inspiring keynote focused on pattern, sacred geometry, number and relationship. Faulkner had constructed a stunningly beautiful collection of imagery, a welcome visual use of powerpoint and escape from text, that oozed meta-communication in it’s cycles of repetition.

As a visual artist I thoroughly enjoyed Charles’ seamless presentation and the ripples of information conveyed through his language, images chosen, and pause.

Process and cyclical integration is a necessary part of material craft and equally of the iterative practice demanded in working with creative technologies. With the mediascapes that I have been making, there is a constant process of iteration: trying out sounds and images in the place in which they may be experienced, testing this media with its intended audience, adapting the technology to the aesthetics of media, audience, place, time and context, re-testing and re-visiting, working within the constraints of the technology and skills available.

Complementing the keynotes, the conference offered its own iteration of plenty of time for practical workshops, networking and sharing experiences.

With the open support of delegates far more experienced than myself, it was a real privilege to ‘jump in the deep end’ and get a first-hand taste of the techniques on offer, innovative applications in the field and to discuss potential application in my own research with highly experienced professionals from a range of fields including the arts, education, health, business, marketing, coaching and organisational change consultancies.

I am in ongoing dialogue with several participants and speakers from the conference, and am drawing up a project proposal that will involve some Clean facilitation alongside more familiar interview techniques, to generate content for a locative media walk.

It will be exciting to see whether, and in what ways, the Clean methods and use of metaphor may contribute to my research interviews with other artists and creatives, or to my current exploratory practice with creative transdisciplinary methods for subjective expression/ data gathering and holistic user experience of the ambulant landscape.

I wish to acknowledge the financial contribution made by the Art and Design research committee at De Montfort University to enable my attendance at this conference.

Thankyou to my son Zephan for a welcome resting-place during the conference and most of all for the inspiration and encouragement to pursue this doctoral research journey.

I am extremely grateful to Wendy Sullivan and the Clean Change Company, who awarded me a subsidised conference fee for my written submission to their open competition, and who have generously provided training, supervision and access to materials that was essential for my participation in the pre-conference workshop and that has allowed me to be able to engage at a meaningful level with the presenters and their subject matter, and to explore potential collaborations. It has been a highly valuable opportunity to survey the field of metaphor in research and practice, to make fruitful connections with people from varied disciplines and with some exceptional levels of expertise.


Jackie Calderwood

December 2010

Please feel free to contact Jackie with your thoughts and responses to any of the challenges she raises.

[1] The Institute Of Creative Technologies (IOCT) is a unique research environment which sits at the intersection of science and technology, the arts and the humanities. Launched in 2006, it comprises a network of Research Centres and Groups embedded in the Faculties of De Montfort University.


[3] Response by Jackie Calderwood to the question ‘What Draws you To Clean?’ posed in the Clean Change Co. newsletter, prior to the 2010 conference.


[5] STIEGLER, B. (1998) Technics and time. 1, The fault of Epimetheus, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

STIEGLER, B. (2010) Taking care of youth and the generations, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

[6] Response by Jackie Calderwood to the question ‘What Draws you To Clean?’ posed in the Clean Change Co. newsletter, prior to the 2010 conference.

[7] Commissioned for the innovation strand of Birds Eye View film festival at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, funded by Arts Council England and supported by the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol and Royal Parks.

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