When you reach out to touch me, I recoil. Do I know you? Do you know me?
Breathe in. Breathe out.
My skin and self are distorted and disjointed. My body, my skin contains what I am, not who I am. Who I am is caught between our physical exteriors.
Our flesh fools us into thinking we are different, into thinking we are alone, but we are not alone.
I can’t quite find the words or comprehend the depth of the imprint the three days in Fremantle left on my soul. This, I guess, is somewhat appropriate, since my literal and metaphorical speechlessness is something that coloured both my creative practice and personal experience while there. A week later, when subsequently attempting to describe the residency to people, I still find myself leaning on overzealous and annoyingly vague adjectives – it was “amazing”, “brilliant” and “wonderful”.
The brief and concise nature of this particular residency, was juxtaposed with the multilayered subject matter of 4:48 Psychosis, a play by the British playwright, Sarah Kane. Because the piece profoundly pulls apart the human condition, leaving the raw, real and gut-wrenching stuff of isolation and despair exposed. In the medical context, the protagonist desperately seeks, not so much relief, but a rational way to frame the emotional state, so it will be less likely to destroy them. The work is then punctuated by the added frustration of these feelings being diminished and simplified by their doctor.
My genuine attempts to candidly connect and collaborate during the residency, felt relentlessly fragmented and incomplete, as my mind struggled to understand the intricate inner workings of my heart. I found myself battling to cope with it, and felt myself unable to communicate anything of value. That said, I recognised a sort of forced staccato of my typed/signed words that coincidentally mirrored the inherent and fraught struggle to adamantly express the inexpressible parts of the self in Sarah Kane’s play.
When I entered the room on the first day, I was initially overwhelmed by the amount of unfamiliar voices and people in the room. So much so that when we sat down, Charlotte, a friend who had accompanied me, must have touched my shoulder or something, and I surprised both of us by disproportionally flinching.
I was indeed anxious, to say the least. The hefty subject matter, and the recent and painful ways it has expressed itself in my life, was something I had spent weeks trying to process. I did not know what to expect. “I don’t know what state I will be in this evening,” I said to Charlotte when we were discussing dinner plans on the first day.
However, from the moment we started getting to know each other in the workshop, those furious waves in my stomach lulled to a gentle calm. Jenny Sealey has the amazing ability of being able to hold everyone, and their own idiosyncratic capacities and contributions, in the room. “We will fuck up in accommodating your needs,” she said from the start, “but that’s a part of this process, that’s how we learn.” This sentiment was so authentic and affirming for me, and has rarely been directly expressed in such a setting, with such honesty and with not a trace of guilt.
The room itself was accessible, by anyone’s definition. It had enough space for various mobility aids, two sign interpreters and an awareness of audibly describing things. But that’s the thing, the little-known fact of access is that it is rarely universal, and when it’s done well, it’s not easily seen. It’s more than just the physical or the sensory access of a collective space, it’s also an environment that allows for respect, time and patience for all the people in it.
Although Jenny used it, I don’t like the term “a safe space”, because I don’t quite feel just labelling an environment as “safe”, can make it safe all the time for everyone. For a long time, I have adopted the idea of “practising spaces”, where the practice (and practise) of being kind, actively listening and not judging anyone is the core intention of a collective space. I guess these two terms pragmatically denote the same thing – the relational generosity and acceptance of vulnerability. I guess what I’m getting to is that the atmosphere at DADAA was a perfect example of it working.
In getting to know each other, we laughed a lot, we shared and offered a massive amount of ourselves, and who we were in that time. We measured, drew and explored our own and other people’s bodies, and what makes us, us. All the while, centring our desire to be understandable to anyone and everyone in the room, regardless of whether they could hear and see, whether they could walk and talk. It really is a huge credit to Jenny, to her confidence in and capacity of curating such a diverse group, that she was able to make each of us feel seen and heard. We made work with audio narration, a sense of literal and symbolic physicality, and always incorporated the role of the sign interpreters into the process. This basic access wasn’t ever an afterthought. Rather it was a vital ingredient that further cultivated our cohesion as a group. This was evident in how, during our first lunch break, two people so generously and wonderfully learnt my signed alphabet. From that moment, I was able to communicate in the way that feels the most natural and organic for me.
I rediscovered my visceral passion for performance and for physical movement, because after years of my head being steeped in academia and words, I often don’t have the space or time to think about the worlds outside of that. I rediscovered other beautiful, creative and powerful ways to express things, and it is something I can see myself investing plenty more energy and headspace in.
And that really is the beautiful and creative mess in connection – the ability to be fragile together, explore new experiences, and then imagine possibilities that weren’t conceivable before.