Visiting Artist – UBC Okanagan located on the unceded traditional territory of the Syilx peoples
‘We are breaking through to new horizons of sound and feeling.
We are beginning, just beginning, to suspect what still lies beyond.’ (Greene, 2001, p.17)
‘Reality is a matter of revelation. Subjectivity, not the laboratory, is its site. The artist’s studio houses both. “Drawing from and writing through our arts practices, ………we offer insights into creative ways of being present, in the moment and also open to what is not yet known.”’
above quotes taken from Foreword – William F. Pinar
Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching – Honoring Presence
Edited by: Susan Walsh, Barbara Bickel, and Carl Leggo
In May 2017 I participated in a day long pre-conference workshop of the CSSE annual Conference held in conjunction with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Ryerson University in Toronto on ‘Dish with One Spoon Territory’. The Dish with One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee. The workshop was an iterative offering co-created by the editors of this book and drawn from the research practices of ten artists/researchers/teachers. It was a transformative experience for me to find myself in an academic environment where the ‘teaching’ resonated so harmoniously with my own art and spiritual practices, in its contemplative nature.
This July 2018, Barbara Bickel delivered a summer intensive on Arts-Based and Contemplative Practices at UBCOkanagan and invited me as visiting artist to co-facilitate two of the classes on collaborative practices developed through our work as members of Gestare Art Collective.
The MA pose practice was presented on my first day with the group, three days into their course. We (the Gestare Art Collective) developed and teach this contemplative practice in which we use art in relationship with the body as embodied curriculum. We adopt and hold one of a series of thirteen poses for a set time, listening to the body wisdom drawn forth by our physical positioning, and our intentional focus on breath and ground. The poses invoke the stages of life both human and more than human in relationship to the divine feminine. The practice is drawn from the work of three women, Dutch historian and theologian Annine van der Meer, ‘The Language of MA the primal mother’; Lithuanian archeologist/anthropologist Marija Gimbutas, ‘The Language of the Goddess’; and American linguist and anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, ‘Ecstatic Body Postures’.
Invocation Pose, Uplifted Arms
The group of students some from the teacher education program some teachers from the field, brought their varied disciplines to our engagement with the MA poses. Teachers of art, sports, theatre arts, film, some seasoned, some early career, all deeply curious about the potential to apply contemplative practices to their work. Gathered in the bright welcoming space of UBCO campus’ largest building, we moved from power point presentation into practice. Barbara guided the group through the Mary Magdalene pose a deep grounding release developed by our colleague Nané Jordan, into holding the Invocation Pose, Uplifted Arms, chanting MA-n-MA three times, holding the pose for seven minutes, repeating the MA chant, then releasing again with the Mary Magdelene.
Sounds weird doesn’t it – it is certainly not mainstream art practice or teaching and perhaps that is what I like about it, its edge-pushing quality. What it is for me is a way to step into the liminal, the beyond, the ‘not yet’ known, and find the space within opening to the ‘more than’ as it holds me in powerful presence. After an experience of this nature it is a challenge to find words that fit our attempts to articulate that which we now know and feel. If we are just able to hold off the cognitive mind long enough, a free-write can reveal the mystery we glimpsed as we stood with the ancient indigenous, earth and body-based wisdom of MA.
A Nap-in took place the next day.
In 2011 Barbara, Nané and I met together at a residency held in a private East side Vancouver home on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. We held a loose intention for the residency simply to be together, share each other’s most recent artmaking and find ways to collaborate and co-create. As we sat together for the first time, a common theme emerged, we were all feeling exhausted with the demands of our lives and needed rest. We made an agreement, at any time during the residency any one of us could call for a nap and we would all nap together. This moment was the birth of the Nap-in which has since grown into a socially-engaged art event which embraces performance, activism, social research and art making with the Dream Scroll initially a twelve foot long textile sculptural hanging now grown to thirty-six feet. Nap-ins have now taken place in upwards of thirty locations in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.
The components of the Nap-in are dream pillow making, labyrinth walking, a nap, textile art-making and the releasing of the dreams. The Nap-in represents subtle resistance to the pressures of production and speed so present in our current realities. The labyrinth laid on the floor beneath the dream scroll offers a centring walk connecting to the earth, honouring the process of gestation and birth invoked by the womblike qualities of the labyrinth, and inviting compassion for ourselves and others caught in the busy-ness of life. The communal napping and art making process invites dreaming, contemplation, and the space to wonder.
With the students’ help the dream scroll was hung over the labyrinth they had laid on their first day of class on which they had been walking and working during the week. During the telling of the Nap-in story and exploration of perspectives on this arts-based contemplative practice, the students worked with scrap fabrics, needle and thread to create dream pillows stuffed with Mugwort to promote dreaming and Lavender for relaxation.
Large cushions, yoga mats, blankets strewn on the floor created nests for napping. Barbara and I played singing bowls invoking a dream state as the students settled around the scroll.
After their nap, a deep meditative silence cloaked the group as they focused on making their dream scroll offerings. Writing, painting, stripping, tearing, sewing and resewing the art began to take form.
Gradually words were spoken, the conversation began, the students were actively imagining ways to bring this contemplative practice to their school rooms, and their teaching practice. Every Nap-in has its own character. I was surprised by the level of focus and attention this group paid to the making process after the nap, the quiet intent in the room was palpable. It was a wonderful gift to hear the ideas and enthusiasm shared around the table for ways that this practice could be included in their curriculum.
The dreams were completed later in the week after I had left. Barbara tells me the group’s releasing of the dreams on the final day of their course was unique, a surprise – stay tuned on this one!!