The notion of ritual is one which brings together many different aspects to creative practice. It has the ability to weave in stories of place and genealogy as well as a way of formulating process.
Ritual is about making things sacred. To honour a process, a connection, a place. This is the kind of ritual that I would like to talk about in terms of creative practice. I will talk about two current projects which are linked, mainly through the use of Runes.
The other aspect I will explore in this talk is how experimentation is woven into this project in terms of its process, outputs and collaborative elements.
To frame this discussion, it is worth showing a couple of images from a performance work from 1995-96, which still influences a lot of my thinking about place, environment and inscribing stories. Scalpland was a simple performance, where my body was a metaphor for land. I clippered off my hair and drew a phrenology map on my head. There was also an audio component, a poetic text which drew analogies between land and body, marking and suburban development. This was combined with layers of meaning about the colonisation of the female body and the symbology embedded in this activity.
Now more than twenty years later, I am still working with symbols. More recent work has explored the use of Runes. This work started with me using chalk to draw Rune symbols in different places when I was in the Faroe Islands on a residency. From there I went to Iceland to do a residency with SIM – the Icelandic Association of Visual Artists. It was here that I started to collect stones and make Runes. It was also the beginning of this project unfolding as a range of collaborations.
In terms of experimentation, the work comes from quite an intuitive space. Often I have little control over what form the work takes, the control is more evident in the process.
I gather stones from rivers and the sea and make Rune stones from them and then I ‘gift’ them back to the water. The intention behind this work is to create an intervention into nature which is both an acknowledgement of the flows and movements of the water as well as a method for ‘stepping lightly’. Mostly I document the process with video, especially when I am at the beach as I like to capture the effect of the ocean claiming back the runes.
The random nature of finding suitable stones and the form they ultimately take is based in a experimental approach. In a way it is like giving over control of both the image and the process. I think this is one of the reasons why working with the Runes has opened up the potential to collaborate with other artists, makers and even healers.
When I left Iceland I gifted some Runes to another artist, Aishling Muller with the simple request that she return them to the sea from where they came. Aishling created a beautiful video of the ritual she performed with the runes.
I then invited Norwegian based artist Anne-Britt Rage to contribute audio to the work. Aishling had contributed a German and English reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Spirit of Water, I had also offered an Australian English version and Anne-Britt gave us a Norwegian translation. This iteration of the work also included another layer of the Rune gifting, this time at Sawtell in NSW.
The next stage emerged from a residency called SCANZ at Te Mahia in Aotearoa New Zealand. There I collaborated with Māori artist Terangi Roimata Kutia-Tataurangi. We made some Runes and released them to the ocean, as Terangi recited a karakia (a prayer). We also played with the soldering iron to do some pyrography, discussing some of the similarities between Māori and Rune symbols.
At Te Mahia I also met Josiah Jordan who is an artist and software designer. We are now collaborating on a project titled Journey of the Ancients, which ties together connections to ancestry, migration and ritual. Our initial work was a meditative video piece which featured music Josiah made from my DNA. Now we are expanding the work into a VR space, using 360 camera footage and developing some Runes using photogrammetry and the Unity game engine. Here is the first iteration of our project. We should have a first cut of the VR component by the end of the year.
This video was presented at Balance unBalance in Plymouth, August 2017.
The intention with this work is to create a meditative environment where the audience can experience the piece in many different ways.
I also presented this video at the Kulturhuset Hovtun in Norway as a guided meditation. Participants were invited to close their eyes if they preferred to just experience the audio aspect of the work.
The last thing I would like to show the group before we go to questions is some images of an outdoor intervention / ritual at Crawick Multiverse led by Chroma Space’s Kate Vega in a work titled The Calling in September 2017. We connected with Vanuatu, Australia, Norway and the USA through simultaneous ritual/performance – sharing intention.
The project brief by Kate states:
How can we create fresh unions of myth, art and science in relationship with the earth and the stars in 2017? We invite you to journey outside conventional science and received Western wisdom to explore other forms of communication with the earth system that we are a part of.
On the 15th September we are connecting across the waters with a shared intent for an expansion of understanding between humans and the land at this time. Animals are guided by the earth’s flows: whale and dolphins “echo-locate” underwater, bats use sound for aerial navigation. Can we open our senses and attune ourselves to feel again the information coming from the earth’s living system?
Crawick Multiverse is an amazing site, where landscape art is used to transform a former open cast coal mine into an outdoor space focused on themes of space, astronomy and cosmology. We used one of the stone circles to create our ritual space.
In conclusion, ritual as a process in my creative work operates on a number of levels. It is a way of inviting collaboration, a means to make symbolic gestures as a form of intervention and an opportunity to activate space and time in different kinds of ways. Exploring ritual combined with making and using the Runes has opened up different ways to experiment across media and this is evident by how the work is evolving as performance, documentation and virtual experience.
I hope you have enjoyed this presentation.