Monday, February 29, 2016

Social Justice Forum

I'm back at work after another lot of family leave and it was lovely to be at Aitken College today helping to lead a Social Justice Forum with the JIM Unit. There were some incredibly special guests from Sri Lanka Unites who led us through some provocative Forum Theatre. I wanted to put the reflection I gave at the beginning of the day up here because I tend to lose things if I don't post them:

Every day we are asked to make decisions and to give our opinion
We must make subject choices 
We are asked to think about what we want to do
who we are going to be
how we are going to live
“Don’t doubt yourself” they say
“Be strong”
People tell us it is good to be sure.
To know what we think about issues.

But life is complex and changing
Issues are complicated
Does justice for some mean justice for all?
Do I have to know it all right now?
I know I am blessed, but sometimes I don’t feel that way.

What if
What if we invited more space for doubt in our lives?
What if we adopted a posture of doubt
What if we admitted we don’t need to know everything in this moment
That admitting we don’t know might be the best thing we ever did.
Because when we don’t know, we stop. 
We breathe. 
We ask questions. 
We start again. 
We look to our neighbour with curiosity. 
We start to humanise people and hear their individual stories.

“ will not be our blind faith but our humble doubt that shines a little light into the darkness of our lives and our world, and lets us raise our voice to whisper, or to shout, or to say simply: there must be another way.”

I feel really privileged to be with you today.
Today we will have time to step away from our busy lives
I invite you to take some time to doubt, to open your hearts and your minds.
I invite you to take time to breathe.
I invite you to remember that there are billions of individual stories in this world.
I invite you to take time to think about our own unique stories, and how our stories connect with a larger story.

A global story.

6 billion stories

Our stories are human stories
a tangled mess of contradictions
and understanding
of decisions made in every moment
to say yes
or to fight
to relinquish
or reclaim

in every moment
every breath
the choice made new
of how to live

and there’s nothing unusual about this
nothing extra-ordinary
- this is what it is
to be alive -

six billion stories
and counting,
every one.

(6 billion stories is by CherylLawrie

Let’s begin.

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. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Return to work

A couple of weeks after I returned to work, we welcomed 100 year 9 students from Billanook College into our building at 130 Little Collins St. The City 9 week is a wonderful experimental collaboration between the Culture and Context Unit (in which I work) and Billanook College. This week puts the agency and individual gifts and interests of each student at its heart, as young people work in small groups to explore and learn from all the city of Melbourne has to offer. It's adventurous, fun, intense, challenging and there are lots of unknowns and surprises. My new colleague Laura was organising the logistics and managing the myriad of relationships required in planning for this week long event. (Basically she was doing all the hard work). Daniel Donahoo, (and Adrian Pyle (@adrian_pyle) and a team of Billanook teachers had done all the thinking and planning to make this happen....

...And I was lucky enough to waltz in at the last minute and be assigned the job of curating a space in our small chapel for some of the students. We took two hours out of the Thursday morning and gave them the opportunity to reflect and spend time stopping in the midst of their transformative week.

I worked with art installation group, The Seam, to create some stations for an installation in the space. The four women who make up the Seam, all have backgrounds in art therapy, so it was amazing to spend time working out a process of artistic inquiry with them. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary art practice, The Seam explore the space between shared experience and invite others to pause, notice and be immersed in a quiet visual world. The Seam are informed by creative arts inquiry processes, having studied together at the Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy. Usually, with this kind of work, there would be a facilitator in the space, in order to depth the artistic explorations of the young people. Because we were allowing the students to explore at their own pace and will, we developed ways of facilitating this exploration through written instruction. We started our process by sitting with the questions that underpinned the City9 week for its creators: "How is Melbourne changed by having you in it this week?" and "How will Moorarlbark be changed by you after you return from your time in Melbourne?"

We were looking at the smaller world, and the larger world by exploring in the installation:

This little world we are creating      The big city world outside 
Known                                            Unknown
Small                                               Big
Welcome                                         Stranger

As students entered the space they were greeted by a box of index cards, and invited to take one that they felt drawn to.

Activity 1 
A guided free writing exercise 

There is a box of alphabetised index cards - on each card there is one sentence to get the students started. 

"This week, a moment that made me curious was…."

After the students spend time writing their letter they go to the second index card box. 
In this box there are instructions and 2 small envelopes. 

After you have written the letter: 
Read over your letter and underline words that stand out to you. 
What word stays with you now? 
Now it's time to share your word with a stranger.
On your little card, write your keyword and pop it in the two envelopes. 
Leave one in a special place in the city. Take one back with you to Mooroolbark and leave it for a stranger there. 

The next station was filled with jars, magazines, scissors and other bits and pieces:

Activity 2
Preserving your week. 

Which pictures represent how you feel now about your Melbourne experience? What things do you want to hold on preserve and treasure? Put them in your very own jar. 

The last station was all about maps...

Activity 3 
Mapping Melbourne- a private/public task 

The image cards are laid out on the floor and the large Melbourne map is on the wall 

1. Think about a moment from this week. Choose an image that feels connected to that moment. 
2. Describe your image in a few words. 
3. Put your words on the map. 

I enjoyed creating this space with The Seam so very much. The students were so still in this place, and many asked to come back again later. It is incredible to watch young people when they take on an ownership of a space. What makes them feel comfortable? How do those multi-sensory elements change a place and invite a sense of stillness? A few fairy lights do a lot to change a room, that's for sure. This space reminded me that I should make more of those space changes in my own home and everyday life. I felt very lucky to be back in my workplace, and given opportunities to do this kind of work with young people.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

trying on fragility this Christmas

My colleague, Andy Calder, hosted the brilliant Lorna Hallahan in Melbourne a while ago. (She has a wonderful essay 'On Being Odd' in the recently released Best Australian Essays 2010. I can't recommend it enough.) On the day she was with us she spoke a sentence I've been thinking about ever since:

"our obsession with perfection has inoculated us to the fragility of humanity."

I am grateful to have that sentence to sit with this Christmas.

I am also grateful that yesterday Cheryl reminded me of Tim Minchin's song "White Wine in the Sun".  I listened to it three times in a row.

And most of all, I am grateful to be heading for Adelaide tomorrow to spend time with my beautiful family. I want to remember to be thankful for them more often.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the precariousness of home

This is a photo of my house taken by my friend Ben who visited our farm for the first time on the weekend. He said while he was sitting on our lawn drinking a glass of wine: “You guys own all this. The grass, the garden, it’s all yours. You won’t ever have a landlord come over and inspect your house again.” It’s a weird feeling to come to terms with, owning a home, and I don’t think it has become any less weird in the past nine months. This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a house that’s been owned by me or any member of my family. I was always hesitant about the idea of “home ownership” and have never really able to articulate my unease around questions of place and belonging.  

I spent time with a group of Chaplains yesterday as part of my work with schools. One Chaplain spoke of her interest in the sacred within Australian literature and this encouraged me to do some thinking today about notions of a spiritual home within the Australian context.

A few years ago I did part of a Graduate Certificate in English at Melbourne Uni and took a subject with Jennifer Rutherford called: “The Uncanny in Australian Literature”. She completely broke my brain- in a good way- and it has changed the way I relate to Australian film and literature. The course explored the haunting of the Australian landscape found in much colonial fiction and poetry and questioned this country’s sense of the sacred, of home, of place, of identity….

I came across this essay today by Lyn McCredden from Deakin University entitled 'It's a hungry home': postcolonial displacements, popular music and the sacred. It is continuing to provoke my understanding of home and strangerhood being in constant negotiation with each other. I wanted to share some of the essay here:

“Is this oscillation between home and homelessness – experienced differently by colonisers and colonised - able to be seen as dialectical, or are we dealing here simply with contradictory and necessarily antagonistic motions? Can the human desire for home, belonging, land, place – so powerfully voiced by Indigenous and diasporic peoples, and differently by colonisers – hold at its heart, in reasoned, social human practices, its opposite, a significant acknowledgement of homelessness, rootlessness, journeying, and the exclusions, expulsions, barriers caused by defending home? What can this dialectical epistemology of home promise to achieve? And what distinctions need to be maintained in regard to colonisers and colonised when thinking about this doubleness?....

…what is the particular dynamic that needs to be acknowledged and worked through for white Australians, now? Is it possible for white Australia, looking into the distorted mirror of Australia’s history, to see both the ongoing Aboriginal dispossession and to see its own face reflected, but differently, transformatively? The argument of this essay is that to do so, and to continue the processes of renewal and justice, it is necessary for non-Indigenous Australians to learn to think and practice “home” and “dislodgement” together…”

McCredden later goes on to reference my brain breaking lecturer:

“…Australian critic Jennifer Rutherford is interested in intervening in monolithic understandings of home and nation…. she seeks to disrupt unified mythologies that paper thinly over deeper, psychic struggles for home. In her cultural and literary analysis of Australia, The Gauche Intruder, she focuses on “the way that fantasies of the good provide a camouflage for aggression at both a national and local level: an aggression directed both to an external and an internal Other.” (10). For Rutherford, following novelist Patrick White’s infamous 1950s description of Australia as “the Great Australian Emptiness”, she argues that the good, homey, egalitarian nation of Australia needs to recognise the spiritual dimension of its emptiness, an emptiness which is…

'an aggression towards the Other that has been endemic in white Australian history; the fantasy of the good neighbour and the good nation that has sustained this aggression; and a certain experience of emptiness, of a symbolic fragility or inequality to the task of representing this nothingness, that fantasy has never been able to occlude. (12).'

The Gauche Intruder is alive to the power of national myths, and of the rhetorical and political mechanisms actively constructing such myths. Rutherford places in linguistic, literary and psychoanalytic terms what happens when we buy our own rhetoric, when home becomes the monolithic, protected, expulsive refusal of others, even as it dresses itself up in the very terms of protection of the nation, home, kith and kin; in other words, when home is mandated as this “splitting of humanity into natives and strangers,” (Levinas 232), rather than the double, dialectic sense, for post-colonial citizens, of homelessness within all understandings of home.”

Levinas, Emmanuel. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. Trans. Seán Hand. Johns Hopkins Jewish Studies. Eds. Sander Gilman and Steven T. Katz. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.

Rutherford, Jennifer. The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy, Melbourne: MUP, 2000.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

when there's too much to say...

I got home from the UK almost three weeks ago, and I haven't been able to write anything down in coherent sentences since then. I blamed jet lag for a while, but that excuse is getting a bit old, so I might just write down some partially formed thoughts...

I was in England on Cheryl's oxygen tour. And it really was oxygen for me: it came at a time when I really needed to breathe some fresh air. I can't express how privileged I feel to have been given the time and space to listen, learn and explore with an insightful group of people. Our group spent time observing the role art plays in public spaces and had the opportunity to meet with some incredibly generous artists and thinkers. We spent time in Liverpool, Leeds and London and reflected on the contexts we were visiting by asking:

 "Which spaces leave room for the possibility of transformation?

"What spaces do we find transformative and what do we mean by transformative?"

"Which spaces are invitational and why?"

These questions have complex and multiple answers but I will try to give some personal reflections and examples from some particular places. I think, for me, the most transformative spaces allowed me to experience a different way of knowing. I find safety in thinking with words and mulling ideas over in my mind. For the first part of the trip, I found myself distilling an experience into a single word. Our time at a beautiful sculpture exhibition at the Gloucester cathedral was summarised in my mind as "holy", after sitting with an Antony Gormley piece in the same exhibition I was left with the word "surrender". I was moved by these works, and I was blown away by the quality and the curation and the space. But it wasn't until a week later, when we had been at the Hayward Gallery in London, that I realised the power of a space that can leave you with no words at all.

We were very lucky to be at the Hayward on the last day of the Ernesto Neto exhibition The Edges of the World. Cheryl wrote about the space beautifully on her blog, and I will add some personal thoughts below.

This sentence still sends shivers down my spine: "Be gentle with the edges of the world". The space embodied the word gentle. The installation was immersive and invited experiential knowing. We were allowed to touch, to smell, to live into the space. Everyone changed when they were in this place: people were smiling at strangers. It was only later that I could describe this exhibition using words...Neto's work spilled out of the walls of the gallery and into my world. I felt invited to be my whole self- all of my senses were engaged. The space lingered in me, and encouraged me to think in unfamiliar ways. My body knew that something had changed in me, but it took a while for my body to tell my brain about that shift.

It was only after a day that I started thinking about the violent language we usually use to describe our attempts at pioneering new ways of being. We talk about "cutting edge", "forging ahead", "pushing forward", "breaking new ground". We try to force others into new places...and then we are confused when these violent approaches are not embraced by the people in our worlds. Neto's work shifted something in me, and helped me to acknowledge the violence in my own approach to change. Being in this space, I was able to feel, see, smell, taste and try on a gentler world.

Neto encourages us to:

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

After four weeks I can still feel the softness of the space, evoke the calm smells, the vibrant colours. It takes a poetic moment to remove us from rhetoric, from cerebral understanding, and to allow a space to transform not just our thought patterns, but to challenge our entire being to live differently.

As I move between strangerhood and welcome
sister and friend,
wife and daughter,
colleague and mentor,
I must not forget the edges of these worlds
I must try to be gentle