Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some reflections on "Rain: for babies and their carers"

I'm speaking at Artplay today at an Artist Professional Learning Session about creating artistic works for children under 2. I'm really interested in talking about the collision between intimate and communal space, rites of passage opportunities for parents and babies and how collaboration with multiple art forms can create the possibility for a rich connection between carer and child. I wrote a little piece to give to participants at the forum and have included it below:  

Drop Bear Theatre started thinking about creating an installation performance for babies early in 2012. This project became: “Rain: for babies and their carers”- a collaboration between Drop BearTheatre, The Seam and cellist Edwina Cordingley. “Rain” was created through an emergent artistic process and included a series of development workshops held at ArtPlay that informed components of the final performed installation. Audiences were invited to participate in an experience that responded to the generosity of rain. Carers and their littlest ones were immersed in an intimate and mindful installation space full of surprise, delight and opportunities for connection through sound, touch and performance. This multi-sensory space was created by a diverse team of artists: The Seam are informed by creative arts inquiry processes, having studied together at the Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy. Together with cellist Edwina Cordingley and lighting designer Sophie Kurylowicz, Drop Bear Theatre created a short, rhythmic, cyclic performance in response to the world created by the Seam and the reactions of babies and carers during our development process. 

Creating a space which holds the possibility for moments of connection

Some personal reflections on the creation of “Rain” by Sarah Lockwood, Drop Bear Theatre

I decided I really wanted to make a work for babies when my son Silas was about two months old. I knew from the start that it was going to be a work that was as much for parents as it was for babies. I had so much support when my baby was born, from family and friends. But after about two months, I realised that we hadn’t marked the occasion of his birth in any ritualised way. There had been no "rite of passage." I was flung into the mechanical world of nappy changing, feeding, cleaning, while simultaneously trying to remind myself to drink in the beauty and wonder of my little boy. After a while I realised I was the most full of love and thanks for my baby when I was sitting in a community of loving adults. At a lecture by Robin Grille at Artplay last year, he spoke of the calm that engulfs both parent and child “when they are embedded in a larger parenting net”. I needed to celebrate my baby with other adults. He needed to feel connected to me, but not only in isolation from our wider support network. I felt more intimate with my baby, when I wasn’t feeling alone.

In the first year of a baby’s life, I have found that many parents are searching for places to have rich and meaningful conversations with people, and to find spaces to connect with their child and their own humanity. As one mother said:

“I think that the first year of your baby’s life is a spiritual and emotional rollercoaster...Time spent with your baby can be hugely confronting. It is a whole lot of things- both good and bad. It is hard work, it is exhausting, it is beautiful and eye opening. But no one warned me how confronting it would be. It makes me aware of aspects of my personality that I used to ignore. It forces me to think deeply about my own humanity, my place in the world, reconciling who I am in this new role.”

It is a vulnerable time for new parents, the first 12 months of a baby’s life. Many parents I speak to are exploring their changed ideas and values, often in isolation from other adults. Time spent in a communal artistic space can be a rare and precious thing for new parents. It was important for us that we could create a space which:

-was safe for adults and babies and encouraged intimacy.
-was a place that could mark a moment, celebrate life and the connection between carer and child.
-held the possibility of a transformative moment between adult and baby. 

So, these were the questions we sat with at the beginning of our creative process, and I pose to you, dear reader, as we ponder the kind of spaces we create for babies and carers: 

Which spaces leave room for the possibility of a transformative connection? 
What spaces do we find transformative and what do we mean by transformative?
Which spaces are invitational and why?

These are questions that were asked of me by Cheryl Lawrie when I attended a tour of the UK with her in 2010. We spent time asking these questions of artists and in public art spaces and this time helped me identify ways in which I personally respond to art and environment.  

I ask these questions now because I think we can only start to create a welcome and transformative space for babies, when we understand what we ourselves find invitational and transformative. When we think about which places have changed and shaped our own lives. In this instance, while creating "Rain", the collaborators were aiming to create a space that held the possibility of a transformative moment of connection between an adult and a baby. We wanted to engage all of the senses, to give adults a chance to start thinking with their other senses, and watch and learn from their pre-verbal babies. A quote from Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto inspired us on this journey. He encourages us to:

"...breathe through our pores,
close our eyes to see, 
smell to listen, 
dance to levitate..."

Neto points to a gift that babies bring us; one that we were struck by again and again along this journey. Babies help us to start to unravel our practiced pathways and perceptions. They can help us to feel more comfortable in a state of “not knowing”. In this gentle, multi-sensory place, we hoped there would be enough room for this "unravelling" to start to happen for adults, and that babies would feel loved, special and connected. We hoped that this space could both encourage and celebrate intimacy through a communal experience. 

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