in june of this year i attended a study week at wysing arts centre, it was coordinated by the artist jesse darling. she had chosen the theme of ritual for the week:
since thinking about contemporary art only twists me up in knots, I’d rather focus on the practice, on the habits, on the actual applications: the rituals themselves. Ritual is also a word used to describe the mechanisms people use to calm down or feel more in control; tapping, counting, stimming, washing your hands. When people try to quit their addictions, often they say it’s the rituals around substance use that they find hardest to let go. Rituals are the application of a certain kind of desire: a way of praying through doing.
(jesse darling, from the open call text)
during the four days we shared our rituals with one another. there was a watercolour painting session, acts of erasure, drawing with the body, lip-synching, creating affirmations in lipstick, burying half-eaten apples, talking to a fire, morning bed-making, and many other practices, all thoughtfully and personally shared by individual group members, and i shared my experiences of meditation and ideas for daily practices.
looking back now, later in the year, i am struck by how different the experience was to any other professional development opportunity or process i have experienced as an artist. all of the rituals and practices offered had a quality that combined the intensely personal with aesthetics. they were shared in an atmosphere of mutual appreciation and connection: we didn’t do crits, or discuss theory. we tried to live the practice.
it was an intense process, and one in which many of us were revealing our vulnerability amongst others. it was the process of shared ritual that enabled this: enabled us to step through our constructed artistic practice, and into something else.
i realise now that this is precisely what i have been trying to do with the singing lessons, dance lessons, meditation, daily drawing practices that i have been doing over the last year. i have been trying to step through an aesthetic practice and into something else. at first i thought that the ‘something else’ was my authentic self, my hidden, real self, but now i’m not so sure. it seems more like a space of openness, a space of possibility. and it is the rituals, the practices, the repetition and structure that helps me get there.
traditionally we associate the idea of rituals with religion, with christmas, with folk dance, with what might be called non-western cultures. within our (white, european, intellectual) conceptions of what rituals might be, or be for, there seems to be an idea of preservation, of guarding, of keeping safe. but perhaps there is also a generative process, a creative iteration that is just as much about potential and change as it is about preservation or the past.
the ritual calls upon a power or a realm beyond our immediate present: whether that be the past, the future, magic, or the imagination, and it opens the channel between the here and now and that power or realm. in the opening of the channel lies the potential for safety or stability, but also danger and change. it is through repeated acts that we become open to something new, open a pathway to the new.
image: Kheel Center, Circle dance on the lawn in front of the early Unity House lodge