And here we are now, immersed in a global crisis – the collective liminal space of Covid19. Whilst in lockdown I’ve seen calls to fill the void with worthy time-fillers, to up-skill, to use this window of opportunity to do endless tasks or do nothing at all. There are far less calls to ‘listen deeply to ourselves’ or ‘to sit with our collective grief’ against the backdrop of ecological breakdown, unfolding systemic social injustices, worldwide pandemic and an economic crash.
As a social practice artist I often work with people in physical spaces (woodland, borderland spaces, city centre buildings) and guide them through a series of hands-on processes, which allow for instinct, sensory experience and a deeper concept of time. Working with materials, which relate and respond to the immediate environment/community/landscape and often fusing this with projected image – this responsive and temporary approach helps create the necessary container for individual and collective transition at a point of change.
In it’s purest form (in terms of my own development of practice) this has meant a years fellowship programme towards developing a 12 hour woodland process for womxn facing life transitions; opening a temporary sanctuary space in the form of an immersive exhibition in Bristol city centre: six months collaborating and exploring liminal space and trauma of land; taking part in a pilgrimage of wells and springs as activism in central London. It has also been about learning through ageing, loving, grieving, hands in soil, dark nights in woodlands, conversation and challenge, reading, researching, sniffing through the undergrowth of life to find something more authentic and connected when faced with personal or systemic change.
Right now it is about responding and applying this learning to mainstream society, the ‘how to’s of change and the balance of power. In my practice this means developing a process to help school children to recognise, understand and have validated their experience of lockdown; about creating an immersive performance exploring our collective experience of change in an empty city centre building poised for redevelopment; about taking up the role of artist in residence at a local cemetery – a base for connection, collaboration, for developing open and responsive practice for mainstream grief; it’s about evaluating the value and meaning of underground water systems to communities in order to bring community cohesion and resilience at this point of change.
From a place of lockdown, physical separation and loss this does not come easy right now. Ultimately this kind of work leads us to re-evaluate, to ‘ask new questions’, to refuse to ‘continue along the highway that reproduces the usual arrangement of power‘, to ‘unlearn mastery’ and to ‘linger in places we are not used to’ Bayo Akomolafe, I, Coronavirus. Mother. Monster. Activist.