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.