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displacement & daily practice | hanging out with what I don’t yet know

September 6, 2015

Working in Northern health care, I’m partly in and partly out of my own culture, partly in and partly out of a familiar sense of place (familiar health care culture and clinic setup, unfamiliar host culture, terrain and climate). I end up sitting with lots of questions, and few places to talk about them in helpful ways. That’s the main reason I started this blog – to connect with people who sit with related questions.

Journalling has helped somewhat. Making things with my hands and walking on the land/ice has given me space to turn over these questions in my mind. A regular, loosely-structured image-making practice helps a lot, but even though I am an art therapist who believes deeply in the power of creativity, I have not been so good at sticking to a daily creative practice.

Lately, my questions have crystallised around the notion of “displacement.” I’ve voluntarily displaced myself in order to follow interesting work that happens to be with an entire culture which has been displaced involuntarily. I am clearly away from home, even when I’ve made a home in Nunavut (which means “our land” – but not mine). Then I return “home” to the island where I’ve spent most of my life, as a Settler on Coast Salish territory. Or I visit my ancestral “home”lands, and mourn the displacement of the wild in those highly tamed places — George Monbiot’s “bare waste of sheep-scraped misery” comes to mind (from Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding) — even as they return me home to the familiar and comforting territory of childhood books like Wind in the Willows and Swallows and Amazons.  I’m sure that there is value in Settlers looking at our own displacements as a way to live slightly unsettled, a little lighter on the spaces we occupy, with more empathy for people whose displacements are not so comfortable. I have enormous questions about how to disrupt colonising forces in my own work, so as not to harm while healing — and more than that, how to work across differences, as allies, in what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning — how together to grow faster and more substantially than we’ve ever been called to do before, to face the changes that are threatening us all. Big questions, indeed, and too much for one little person to answer, unsupported.

Back to personal practice… Here are a few artists who are inspiring me to be with the themes which dance in me, supported by daily art practice. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

Helen Terry kindly describes her daily practice and recommends a few artists.

Often when I spend time on something that doesn’t directly contribute to making work – reading, drawing, mark-making – my mind starts running on all the things I think I should be doing instead. Which pulls my attention away from what I’m doing and creates a conflict between what the experience could be and what it actually is. I think part of the value of a regular practice lies in assigning time for something and giving it your full attention. Giving yourself a chance to notice something you didn’t already know.

Part of the delight for me in Terry’s work is that she is inspired by the land. People who have read this blog will know that contemplative photography on the land is part of my practice, which both restores me and gives me helpful images from the tundra, about healing and resilience in the Arctic. The weather and darkness don’t permit outdoor photography as a daily practice, though, and I miss it through the grimmest weeks of winter.

Helen Terry’s guidelines are simple:

I committed to 40 days – long enough to see the impact yet short enough to feel achievable. I knew that to be sustainable it also had to be easy – so that on the worst day there would be no excuse for not maintaining it. So there was only one rule – one page a day, any mark, any medium. A single line would count.

Fiona Wilson committed to 365 prints – making a different print block each day for a year. What I love about her daily practice is that it doesn’t need special materials; cardboard, glue and X-acto knives are cheap or free, and easy to come by, even in remote places. Most Inuit communities have some kind of printing studio with inks and rollers, even if it is at a school. There’s always pencil rubbing, if printing supplies are truly out of reach.

Here’s Wilson’s day 35. At day 199, she’s getting tired and uses folded paper as her print. Lately she’s been using styrofoam trays, like the kind vegetables are packed in at the Northern store or Coop.

Leslie Morgan says 15 minutes maximum works for her. (Art therapist Lani Gerity likewise recommends keeping things short and simple, so they are very easy to commit to, in her work on happiness.)

Morgan changes the size of her collage papers from time to time, to keep things fresh for herself. I like how this big brush practice gets the body involved.

I hope this is helpful for you, whoever you are and whatever you do, in hanging out with the questions in your life — even if it’s not clear what your questions are, even if you are just wanting a little playtime for self-care. These were all visual art, but you could do this with singing, movement, writing, acting characters you’d like to connect with… If you play in other media, please share your ideas.

* Somehow it was easier today to pin images and then link to them in my pinterest, than to figure out how to link directly to the images on artists’ websites. It’s an extra step for you, but you can click on the image in this blog, then click again in pinterest and it will direct you to the artist’s website.

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