Their heart beats … from this

A woman a man a woman their shadows cast against the wall a shadow play what is this she tells him faces him but I can’t hear I can’t hear can anyone hear what is it I can’t hear her and he turns from us so we can’t see his face. Is this what I think it is, this separation?

dancer

dancers_facing   The woman and man's shadows are tall against the wall and cast across images on the gallery wall of a man and mirror with water in its frame

They dip dip in time is it work a factory line are they making something is it preparation sustenance exercise manufacturing is she at a sink a conveyor belt a bench she gazes out to us as if through a window and she must see us we are so close and I see us some of us in her eyes her wide wide open eyes I don’t know what to do I want the woman and man to stop to be still but if we are all still and they are still what will there be? And the woman on the side sitting on a stool facing the audience is she excluded do I do we presume this? I worry for them oh I worry at so much work how it continues. Dip squat stir place back and up again down.

A woman in in a bright orange dress, it seems she is making something with repetitive movements over and over

Is she working, dancing, making … what is she thinking … ?

A large shadow of the woman with her arm raised a if she is working, making something

A man holds a glass of water for her to drink water, and she drinks

A member of the audience quenches her thirst

An audience might be happiest on the other side as that is where they know how to be but some join in as I did I did last time not knowing what to do now one blows their breath on the sweaty skin at the nape of her neck and then her forehead another brings her a glass of water but she gestures he should hold the glass for her to drink so there must be rules are they made in the moment or before for us to find what can happen what has been decided what is possible here?

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

The child can disrupt her touch stops the working woman engages her response as there is no acting I believe here compassion in these moments for being and others want like I resolution being apart and then together again but this is is connection and a look is possible between the man and woman but not more any more not a touch only mirroring they stay apart face away only shadows touching the audience a bridge sometimes.

A child from the audience hugs the woman an makes her stop, the man till stands with his back to the audience

The child from the audience makes her pause and smile

The large shadows of a woman from the audience turning the woman and man's head so they look at each other

Looking

A woman from the audience danced with the man and they swayed together, I could see her smile and his possibly his smile reflected back to us through hers another made herself into a chair on hands and knees so he could sit with his back to us this balance held for a moment. One of the audience pleaded and we could hear what they said they seemed strange these words to me did they to others our words our want for their stillness our pleading and distress foreign and if they stopped if they stopped dipping working making even if it seems without meaning what could there be anymore? Voice in drum and wind shifting dipping with them working marrying us in space and song and violin holding us threading us, the still woman’s voice singing here I am here here I am … A woman in shadow with her head bowed down and eyes closed, singing Last time I stepped forward step after step and held the working woman opening my arms to see if I could and she stepped within them and I patted patted her back she was burning burning hot she and her heart beat beat beat fast in me fast and we swayed she like my child as her heart beat slowed slowed the drama of  uncertainty for me which is only mine it was her heart I felt in this and that I did not know her and I could still her her heart if she wanted was allowed to quiet to a resting beat and share relief it returned just then before I hesitated hesitant in how to leave.

I attended two performances of Little Dove Theatre Art’s ‘From This’ at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in association with their Pulse: Reflections on the Body exhibition. Very moved by the first performance, I was determined to return for the next one, and bring my family. Dylan Jones took the photos in this post. We were part of the rhizome of the audience, shadowy, close, subterranean, sprouting and blooming and connecting unexpectedly. I look forward to seeing or hearing how this project continues to develop and to Chenoah Miller‘s ‘Evangeline’ on soon in Canberra as part of Art Not Apart.

PULSE: reflections on the body

Pulse

 

he finds my pulse, pulse—

milk squirts—our—blood—drum—strum—his—

small hand— on my throat

I have a rather rapid heart rate and pulse rate that is most likely encouraged by high levels of caffeine. I found it embarrassing when I was at school when such things were measured in Sport and Science. (But then I think I found nearly everything at school embarrassing.) And I have caught myself wondering over that esoteric observation that everyone is allotted a certain number of heartbeats in this life; that this is predetermined. In my case, this is not comforting, I have been using mine up quite quickly.

a chalk drawing of a dalek saying recaffeinate outside a cafe

Always. And always with Dr Who reference. Thank you, Lonsdale St Roasters.

I went to the opening of an exhibition PULSE: reflections on the body last week at Canberra Museum and Gallery. I highly recommend it. Twenty-seven contemporary Australian artists are represented, and the public program involves performances, floor talks, and a seminar, and as you know I am jumping in by facilitating a writers workshop – Writing on the body on November 15, 12-5pm at CMAG. We will have some time to view the exhibition, and I will guide writers through exercises and games to respond to the exhibition and to discover and refine writing with/in/about/out of the body. I hope this will be the first of a series of guided writing workshops in response to exhibitions and collections at CMAG and around Canberra. Let’s see how this first one goes.

Write with a sense of the body. I have often offered this advice over my many years of creative writing teaching. This is not just about physical descriptions like hair colour or length or style, eye colour, height, or shape of your characters, but how they actually feel (or even not feel) in their bodies. The body is something we can all relate to, whatever our gender, culture, race, or other cultural definitions that accompany us, and if it is left out in crafting fiction or even poetry, something vital is most likely missing. I often find that this one piece of advice will lift a piece of writing to a new level, and often solve a number of other problems as well.

PULSE: Reflections on the body, is so rich, so stimulating, and so accessible. I really can’t do it justice in a little blog post. But I will engage with the exhibition in this space over the next weeks and invite anyone in town, nearby or passing through, to join my workshop, and more importantly, just go along and enjoy the exhibition. For the workshop book through the ACT Writers Centre, 02 6262 9191 or online https://app.formassembly.com/forms/view/10261

My haiku at the beginning of this post was inspired by Patricia Piccinini’s To fall under gravity, which I wondered over at the opening. This is the artist of Skywhale fame, and dear to many Canberrans’ hearts. In my first encounter with To fall under gravity it seems to me to be a series of floating nipples (or pimples) or they could even be air bubbles. They could be female or male nipples, and they are unassuming but also erotic, and quite plain, just ‘there’. Everyone I watched viewing it smiled, and some (like me) shoved their hands deeper in their pockets, resisting the urge to touch them. This exhibition actually affects your body. Of course it does. Can’t wait to be over this flu and cold (sniff)  and to get back to CMAG and Pulse. (I didn’t get the germ there, don’t worry! I got it at a dance class, or from my mum.)

ecard for Writing on the Body

 

Foot

Medical models of two feet, one with veins and tendons on cross section, and the other a skeleton

Don’t you love medical models of body parts?

 

I long for foot massages, and beg my loved ones anytime we are sitting down together and relaxing, to please rub my feet, to please manipulate the joints and stretch the tendons. In general they kindly comply. I don’t think good feet run in my family (sorry for the pun). I have suffered a lot of pain over the last few years that has meant I have had to stand up a great deal, and now my feet are the sore points. I pore over pictures of foot anatomy and try to locate the exact points of trouble. They have been x-rayed, ultra sounded and injected, and they still hurt to blazes. Massaging can make them better, and can also make them worse, but it is a risk I’m happy to take as it is sheer bliss in the moment.

I have always considered my feet as a point of distinction, as I have two webbed toes on both feet, and whenever I am asked that ‘getting to know you question’ in a class, Is there anything special about you?, I always reveal  the duckiness of my toes. Do you remember those great scenes in Local Hero when the marine scientist, Marina, (played by Jenny Seagrove) randomly emerges from the bay in her wetsuit like a Venus, and then later when Oldsen massages her foot and discovers her webbed toes? (He is played by a young Peter Capaldi, the latest Dr Who incarnation.) Mermaid heritage, I have always believed.

Writing about ‘the body’ has always interested me. Creatively, I have found this preoccupation rich and engaging. It is somewhere we can connect, through our senses, through the rhythms of our flesh, our creatureliness, our pain, our sexuality, our being. It has become an area of research for me as well, the place of body in philosophy and how it is represented in literature. But more of that later.

I remembered a piece I wrote, Foot, that was published in Body lines: a women’s anthology edited by Jillian Bartlett and Cathy Joseph, published by Womens Redress Press in 1991, and thought it was time it got its socks off and came out for an airing. So here it is.

FOOT 

I hold a foot, freshly washed, with dirt ingrained in the whorls of its sole. The flesh of the toes is soft like fruit. I bite it and the skin is powdery and white, but smooth. The sensitive arch cringes, and I hold it firmly as the foot wrenches in the air, and we laugh. It is the foot of a city walker, a pattern of callous, ridges the shape of shoes.

But this foot is made for wandering over plains, for long stretches of earth, for hills. It is made for me to kiss and bite. The toes fit perfectly in my mouth. They only just fit shoes, and they make holes in socks.

I separate the metatarsals, the delicate long bones and ligaments. Remember your foot when you were a child I say, it was like a hand, flexible and playful. Feet at rest and relaxed, relaxes the whole body, and your mind. Toes, their strangely different lengths separate, and manipulated, are free and grasping. The fluid in the joints flow, they rotate.

* She bites my foot again and the pain is so beautiful I nearly kick her in the face and fall off the chair. I can’t stop laughing until she digs her nails in and then massages the sole. She says my feet are dirty even though I just washed them. I don’t care. Remember your foot when you were a child she says. She captures my foot like a fish, trying to slither away. *

I am the massage. My hands and the foot are covered in oil, like they’re ready to be cooked. She kicks the bottle of oil over and it sinks into the carpet. Heat and cold pass between skin. Soft skin, rough skin, the two parts, hand and foot, manipulator and runner. The foot of a dancer. The foot of a singer. Touches the ground, heel and side and each toe in turn. And again, hips swaying, stamp after stamp. I feel the dance in this captured foot. I feel them dangling from a tree, about to touch the ground. I twist it and she loves it.

The other foot is less sensitive and more stubborn, it avoids my teeth. Like grains of earth under the skin, I can feel grit in the sole, small painful pebbles on which she walks. I draw the toes out, pulling them till the joints separate gently. Run my knuckles over the sole, into it. I bend the foot back, and pull it forward. She is almost asleep. I release the foot, the reflection of the body. Her mind is still as I put it down. We rest our feet together, sole against sole.
………………………………………………..

It is good to imagine pain free feet! It is interesting to look back over your writing and to come to understand your preoccupations, what your work might be ‘about.’ “The body’ definitely is important to me.

There is an exhibition about ‘the body’, just opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Pulse: Reflections on the Body. I am running a writing workshop on Saturday November 15 in the afternoon, where you can view the exhibition and write with me and in a group in response to the exhibition. If you are a local or nearby you are most welcome. It is being run in association with the ACT Writers Centre, and you book through them.

ecard for Writing on the Body

Writers Workshop: Writing on the body

with Sarah St Vincent Welch

12pm–5pm Saturday 15 November

Discover how developing a sense of ‘the body’ can take your writing to a new level. Explore the exhibition Pulse: Reflections on the body, at Canberra Museum and Gallery, through writing, with Sarah and a group of fellow writers. Be inspired by visual art and learn ways to bring your writing to life. This guided and immersive workshop caters for all forms, and will include writing exercises and games, time to view the exhibition, and time to write and discuss. Follow up material to encourage participants to continue writing will also be provided.

Sarah St Vincent Welch is a creative writing facilitator with over fifteen years of experience. She received a citation from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for ‘devising playful writing spaces that surprise, stimulate and support creative writing students to write and keep writing.’ Her short fiction has been published and anthologised, and has won the Marjorie-Graber McInnes Short Story Award twice. She won the inaugural Marian Eldridge Award, and The Jessie Litchfield Award. Sarah is interested in leading a continuing guided writing workshop that responds to exhibitions and collections.

Venue: ACT Writers Centre workshop room
Code: All
Cost: $54 members, $48 concessional members, $84 non-members (includes 6 months of membership)
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.

Take us by the hand, arts leaders, and tread softly

Childers St street sign

Who knew Mondrian designed the street signs in City West?

I half ran, half stumbled across Civic last Monday morning on my way to the Childers Group Arts Leadership Forum 2014  at the Canberra Theatre Centre and Canberra Museum and Gallery. I said hi to the Antler Girl as I scooted up Ainslie Avenue, and was splashed by icy spray from The Canberra Times Fountain.

Highly stylised and slightly disturbing sculpture of cute girl in floral tut with antlers on her head, called The Other side of Midnight, made by Anne Ross, on Civic Walk

That Crazy Antler girls says hi (detail of the sculpture ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ by Anne Ross), on City Walk

I thought I might be a few minutes  late, but the organisers had left plenty of time for registration and for participants to talk as they gathered. Phew! I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Design (FAD) at University of Canberra to attend as one of their students, and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Canberra Times Fountain

The Canberra Times fountain – so glad it’s back on, I missed it

I am not an arts leader; let’s get that clear! But I have roamed around the arts in Canberra since 1987, participating in many ways, and loving every second of it, from being amazed by the (literal) fireworks of Splinters Theatre in Yarralumla Brickworks, to tearing down that fourth wall with Benita Tunks in our installation ‘Writing on the Wall’ in the multi-art-multi- media event, ‘Synchromesh’, at Jigsaw Theatre, to joining Dead Poets readings at Poetry at the Gods in the dead of winter.  I have found Canberra’s  arts community so welcoming and inclusive, especially when I first moved here.

Canberra is an interesting environment in terms of arts practice and enjoyment. It is a relatively small place and also relatively well resourced, and the home of major national collecting institutions and galleries, and always just a little under siege psychologically, a little bit edgy. The citizens of Canberra incur the dislike of the rest of the country, as where we live and work and make art is also where our country’s politicians wrangle each other in Parliament in the big house on (and under) the hill. We have a bad reputation because of this, even though most of us have little to do with the machinations of Parliament.

Like the spurned child in the playground, we make our own fun. And what great fun it is.

Canberra’s Centenary in 2013 was a big focus for arts activities, and our Skywhale now swims through the Australian skies singing of the wonder of her hometown and of the places she visits.

I think there is a sense of regrouping in the arts, a feeling of where to now? And in this climate of cut backs, and major changes in direction in so many areas, what sort of leadership do we need in the arts?  Leadership is a quality and practice whose elements are often interrogated, as leadership is key to the success, or at least the viability, of many organisations and businesses and communities.

So The Childers Group gathered together arts leaders to mull over the topic of leadership in the arts. They are an independent art forum, formed in November 2011, and advocates for the arts in this region.

I have decided instead of trying to condense my whole experience of the forum into one post, to reflect on it over a few. So expect more. It was such a rich afternoon  I will be buzzing with what it offered for quite awhile and I want to share some of what I observed. (In fact, I suspect FAD requires me to!)

As a writer I have a special interest in language and story, and my account of the forum is likely to  be influenced by this perspective. Though I saw friends and colleagues involved in writing, like Kelli-anne Bertram and David Vernon from the ACT Writers Centre, and       Jen Webb and Katie Hayne from The Centre for Cultural and Creative Research, (and at last met Rosanna Stevens from Scissors Paper Pen), and of course Nigel Featherstone who represents literature (among other things) so well in the Group itself, I was reminded writing is just one field in a wide and various art scene. But I did notice many references to the importance of language and story during the discussions, central concerns of the writer. (It is good to feel one’s skills may be useful.)

Canberra Theatre Centre

Canberra Theatre Center (with blossoms)

The first plenary session was held in the Canberra Theatre foyer. The speakers were    David Williams (Emeritus Professor), Harriet Elvin (CEO of the Cultural Facilities Authority) and David Fishel (Board Connect and Positive Solutions).

I was especially struck by Elvin’s reference to the Oxford English dictionary definition of a leader:

One who conducts, precedes as a guide, leads a person by the hand …

One who guides others in action or opinion; one who takes the lead in any business, enterprise, or movement …

The clarity but also the poignancy of leading a person by the hand, its gentle intimacy, but also its respectful quality, resonated with me, and I recognised something in it about my experiences of working with good leaders. I resisted the description ‘effective’ leader here, because I think the adjective ‘good’, also implies a moral and partly selfless dimension that for me is an aspect of the sort of leadership I admire. There is also a sense of travelling together.

To indicate the significance of the arts for our communities Elvin also quoted                 John F. Kennedy’s reflection inscribed on the Cultural Centre named after him. “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” This rhetoric (in its true sense) places art as part of our core, and is a reminder of our possibilities, of our best. (And, oh my gosh, look at that sentence structure! Exquisite.)

But let’s move from this height, to something very practical. I was impressed that as a leader, Elvin measures her own success by the success of her staff. It says it all, really. Oh, that all leaders should think this way.

She also examined what the arts sector had to offer business, rather than what business offered art. Generally the art sector excels at teamwork. It is an intrinsic part of the arts, getting a live performance together, a publication, a film, a concert, or an exhibition, requires extraordinary levels of cooperation and commitment. The arts also embrace ‘creative lateral solutions to problems’, and ‘creative partnerships,’ as it is always looking for ways to make the most of limited resources and to push the limits of what they can achieve and also sustain.

We are always, always tempted to focus mainly on funding and finances, and I was refreshed to find the conversations that afternoon circled around that eternal dilemma, but also widened to refocus on other goals, on innovative art practice, communication and enjoyment.

Elvin’s quote from a Yeats’ poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, was also apt, suggesting how to respond to the love and dedication and sometimes frustrations of arts workers for their work, and how leaders needed to be mindful of their staff’s aspirations and vision as well. I think leaders in general need to consider this (I glance to the hill).

‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’

My walk back through Civic that night was with such a light step.

A portal opened

A shadowy woman waits, there is the outside world and light behind her, she is at one end of the tunnel/portal, she is surrounded by shadowy nets suspended from the ceiling

The soul carer

I found soul stones in my raincoat pocket. I rolled their smoothness in my palm, surprised by recognition, as I stood in the photocopier room at work. They reminded me that a portal opened in the underpass outside Albert Hall. It was raining so I walked into the portal and I met a soul carer there. She called me Time Mistress and gave me the soul stones. I told her I would always be there, when I left. I walked through the portal many times, it was wide and open to our world on 10 November, 2013, underneath Canberra.

A tall poet in the dark tunnel with shadowy figures and light behind him, a grainy strange atmospheric image

Of course I knew the poet! Aaron! How’d you find your way in, brother? Oh, the words!

I recognised a poet. We have written together in other times and places. We shook hands and I listened to his words.

In very low light tinged with red, a woman who is a seer sits on the ground with her enchanted saucepan observing people, who crouch before her to hear her wisdoms

The seer with her enchanted saucepan.

A seer told me my feet are strong. I thought while I stood photocopying how much they ache and burn, but yes, I thought, they are strong. They have to be.

A suited man with a grotesque mask crouches under a stretched net, and talks to a young girl wearing a dark cloak, he is very attentive, and man with a peaked cap is in the background and is about to walk by

The troll takes some advice on where to live next

A jovial being who sups on public figures, sought advice from us portal visitors, us passersby. Where should he live? Who’s tasty out there?

Some like me knew the portal would open. We came with that knowledge. Others were seeking shelter in their usual underpass, rolling their bikes through webs and flickerlights, soothsayers and demons, tucking away umbrellas to sidle past the tailed and taboo creatures so comfortable here and so comforting. Or they paused to listen to the tones of xylophones, crooners, and pianos from Wonderland. Underpass. Portal. Bus stops. Underworlds. Overworlds. Changing Places. I keep the stones in my raincoat pocket to remind me.

A teddy bear crawling along a metal grid with red back lights, a bit creepy or funny, I'm not sure which

Don’t worry, Teddy is only playing.

Looking out of the tunnel we see a little girl dressed as a princess from behind, climbing the stairs in the rain

A princess leaves the portal

In Civic with that antler girl

The American tourists at The Bus Interchange said that Canberra City, our funny old funny new Civic, was a bit quiet. Well, maybe. Why do I even begin this post with them? We so often want the outside observer to validate us. I wish them well and that they find something special here, and I know they will. They already found something pretty special when they bumped into the The Walking Tour with a Difference yesterday.

The walking tour continues past McMuck and The Bus Interchange, led by the antler girl on stilts

Walking past McMuck at The Bus Interchange. We all remember waiting here and missing buses and lots more!

I’ve thought about this seeming quietness of Civic often. I’ve also thought about the seeming quietness of Newtown and Kings Cross in Sydney, on the first days when I came back from India. Where are all the people, I thought? Is it after all just about contrasts, our perception of the character of a place.

The top hatted guide is drumming up the next stories from passersby and the walking tour mob. The mimes are ready. BOOM.

The antler girl, bird people, the mimes, and the top hatted guide on the patchwork of life, just outside Centrepoint.

What of the ever present rumble of stories here, their burble and surprise? They are never quiet, wherever we are, even on the moon. There are stories in this peace, this quietness, this loneliness and community, this everyday, the fragments we shape to place us, and that then make a place for us, and the stories we tell each other and to strangers when we are asked or have a chance.

The mimes and the antler girl and our top hatted guide at the end of the walking tour, back where we began at the Canberra Times Fountain

At the end of the walking tour, phew we’re thirsty, and you can see an antler girl in the background too

We looped Civic, starting at the Canberra Times Fountain. (Whoops, I didn’t even know that was its name until yesterday. It’s just that fountain kids jump in when it’s too hot, where we decide to meet, that sprays us on windy days as we walk past with our shopping, that we missed when it was turned off in the drought.) Civic of African dances and nightclubs and fundraising, sprawling sheep and protests, riding the elephant on the carousel, ravaged art and watching drug exchanges, ice-rinks, stolen poems, gelato, remainder bookstores and Gus’ – double shot espresso.

Antler girl's dress is blowing up in the wind, the saxophone player and mimes help tether it

Shadows and breezes, outside Gus’s gathering stories

What do we say? What do we know and remember? For me it was the terror of those art bastards The Doug Anthony Allstars, and hiding behind a pillar so to hear their last gig. I stumbled across them while finishing the Christmas shopping and listened to their golden choir voices – I heard it through the grapevine! Sprinting across town to get to the SECOND movie – to The Blair Witch Project! Chasing a runaway toddler, screaming his name as he careened towards the road. My Civic is chaotic, loud and physical. Schmoozing at Spiegeltent Empire and following the banana pulp volley, chewed and spat and caught from mouth to mouth (then trying it), watching a child’s first experience of characters on a stage and the stillness of his deep response. We all had stories. These are some of mine. There were plenty of others, from the participants of the Walking Tour with a Difference and from passersby. I hope to go on a Walking Tour with a Difference again soon.

Public places are also our private places, our quiet city, our secrets, our stories here. Thanks Changing Places and antler girl.

Spiegeltent Empire! Canberra!

Bubbles

Bubbles

In the Spiegeltent we greeted, kissed, hugged, breathed, stretched, jiggled, wondered, watched, gasped, laughed, screamed, whooped, clapped, stamped, whistled, heard, whispered, listened, whispered, shouted, laughed, screamed, balanced, spun.

Feat to feat

Feat to feat

Love is in the Spiegeltent, surprise, song, mood on mood, romance, friendship, skill, training, we perform ourselves, ourselves lost and found in mirrors.

Roller skates

Roller skates

Our bodies all so close, in the Spiegeltent. We all laugh about Fuuu – uucking! Oh! Fu…u…u..cking … In the Spiegeltent we are strong and together.

Crazy anime circle spin

Crazy anime circle spin

(All the links to ‘Spiegeltent’ are different in this post,leading to different pieces of information. It is a stunning tradition, check it out.) Newcastle – you’re next!