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’ and ‘to sit with our collective grief’ against the backdrop of ecological breakdown, unfolding systemic social injustices, worldwide pandemic and an economic crash.
I used to call myself a performance artist (as I chose to perform externalised inner psychological worlds – exposing personal/societal facades) but through learning, ageing, loving, living, grieving, hands in soil, dark nights in woodlands, conversation and challenge, reading, sniffing through the undergrowth of life to find something authentic and connected; I think what has been taking shape is something far less perfect and controlled than a performance piece. It has been about learning to hold space for the liminal, understanding beginnings and endings, not externalising or exposing something, but sinking in to that space and waiting. It is a journey of transition, a call to move through our grief into growth and hope. It’s a never-completed journey around a continuous cycle against a backdrop of a system calling for continuous growth.
As a social practice artist taking people into the physicality of a space (woodland, borderland, city centre sanctuary) and guiding them through a series of processes which call on instinct, archetypes and a deeper concept of time allows us to individually and collectively move through transition at a point of change.
In it’s purest form this practice has meant six months collaborating, researching and observing the cycle of life in Ash trees; developing a 12 hour woodland process for women; opening a temporary sanctuary space – an immersive exhibition in Bristol city centre: six months journeying and collaborating – exploring liminal space and trauma of land; it has meant taking part in a pilgrimage of wells and springs as activism in central London.
Right now it is about responding and applying this learning to mainstream society and the ‘how to’s of change – developing a process to help school children to recognise, understand and have validated their experience of lockdown and to move through this into hope and active change; it is about joining grief-workers to adapt sessions of Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects for the general public to help them process personal/collective loss though Covid19; about creating an immersive piece for a collaborative exhibition about Coral bleaching; about approaching a local cemetery to request time and space to create a residency programme on the land – a base for connection, collaboration, for developing open practice for mainstream grief.
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 and take up new projects that might help us learn to die’, refusal 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.