Thursday, November 27, 2008

can art speak for itself?

This is the first very rough draft of an article I am working on. Feedaback is welcome. Its not finished

The Roaring Silence: Does the work of Art speak for itself?

A number of years ago I went to an artist talk at the Gold Coast Art Gallery. Fiona Foley an indigenous artist of international standing was speaking. I was confronted with a paradox. From the beginning my impression was of warm, highly intelligent women with a great sense of humour. At the same time she was presenting slides of her art -work that was often referencing the most disturbing aspects of white-black relationship. In my mind she had stepped into the unenviable position of being both artist and cultural therapist or healer.
One piece of work had large rectangular open boxes placed on the gallery floor with a base of black charcoal. She told the story of a massacre that occurred in West Australia less than a century ago and how the problem that confronted the murdering white men was how to dispose of the multitude of bodies. Men, women and children. They were heaped together and burnt. Later investigation found bullet shells with remnants of human remains, teeth and pieces of bone amidst the black charcoal left by the fire. It was a shocking, disturbing and confronting image.
I later saw this installation in an exhibition in Sydney. Strangely enough I recall being struck by its beauty whilst simultaneously recoiling from the horror. For me it was great art, beautiful and horrible at the same time.
Fiona then went on to comment on how when she originally presented this work it was met with a silence that she interpreted as denial.
And here again her words seemed to echo amidst a great wall of silence in the room. The silence around me felt like a great weight. I sat quietly with a whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts stirring inside me. I knew from my therapy practice that silence could mean a whole range of things and that to interpret it too quickly ran the risk of alienating the client or in this case the audience. Fiona was trained as an artist and I assume like most artists had only rudimentary knowledge of therapeutic communication. Believe me many psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers have only a rudimentary knowledge of therapeutic communication so that’s not meant as a put down to artists. It is a skill and an art in itself that is best learnt experientially not from a textbook. And technically speaking denial is what is called one of the most primitive defences in that it’s usually unconscious and kicks in to protect the ego from a sense of unbearable pain. It’s a last ditch survival mechanism. As a reaction to a piece of art it was perhaps the last possible option of many. Immediately I was reacting on a number of levels. My guess is that Fiona was speaking about the immediate reaction to her work and also speaking to a cultural and historical process where the voice of indigenous peoples had *****been silenced and the reality of denied basic human rights. In that sense she was both profoundly right and yet at the same time off the mark.
It’s impossible to speak for the audience but as for myself I found myself in a state of shocked dumbfounded-ness, a complete loss of words. What words could bridge this gaping wound. I felt that I was being asked to respond on multiple levels at once. This too sometimes happens in the therapeutic setting and can be incredibly difficult and complex juggling act. In that setting I would have slowed down the process and attempted to slowly unravel the multiple layers of communication, here the talk just continued as was to be expected. This was an art gallery not a consulting room.
So now at a very cool and safe distance let me see if I can unravel the experience that stole my words. Perhaps most easy of all was my aesthetic response. As I mentioned before the beauty of the work struck me. The materiality of the charcoal, its blackness, its smell, its texture being contained in the large coffin like boxes resonated inside me. Dare I say it there was a feeling of reverence or profound respect, as I knew I was staring at death? Remember in American Beauty when the young man tells how he looked into the eyes of a dead person and he saw “Beauty”. And beauty has a power inherent in it. Was it Plato who said something like beauty ceases motion? Whatever horror had occurred for whatever reason death is the great leveller Death does not discriminate. And at the same time the horror, the utter horror was present too. And as many of us know this horror had been (and still is in certain ways) perpetuated and justified all across the planet on the basis of the colour of ones skin. In its most elemental form “White against Black”. This long historical, cultural and spiritual process is still unravelling and by being white as was 98% of the audience I was inadvertently a part of the horror. At some level it was hard not to feel accused and rightly so. Again from my training in therapy and conflict facilitation I have learnt that there is always a partial and usually painful truth in every accusation. The best way to defuse a conflict is to honestly find where the accusation fits even if it only 1% true. That said the usual human reaction is to want to defend. Let me see if I can say it another way. On the one hand yes it’s true that I as a white man have not committed atrocities to indigenous people and as far as I know neither has anyone in my family background. In fact I can muster counter-stories of acts of compassion and understanding from my parents and grandparents. In that sense the accusation isn’t true. And yet on the other hand by the very fact of being a white man growing up with the privileges that brings me I am as implicated as the men who pulled the triggers and lit the fires. That’s a very difficult truth to swallow and yet it paradoxically free’s me from the legacy of the past.
To understand this I have to take what seems like a detour through psychotherapy. In reality the two fields need each other for both to operate effectively. In an ironic twist cutting edge approaches to psychotherapy can often draw as much inspiration from indigenous healing methods as from the latest discovery in quantum physics. What they both say in different ways is that trauma and its consequent suffering is a phenomenon that has a field-like nature. What that means is that it not only lives inside the individual psyche/body which it does but also seems to live across time and space. In this view everyone in Australia is both implicated and affected at some level. Healing is both individual and collective some times simultaneously.
So if I can return t o the silence in the art gallery it comes as no surprise that I was dumbfounded! Freud used the term “the unthought known” to describe experiences that are often carried or felt in our body yet are very difficult if not impossible to put into words. If they can be articulated then by oneself or by an empathic other then there’s often a sense of relief and an uncanny feeling of having always “known” this. The more pressure that is applied t o articulate the less likely it will happen. So for me as I sat there I had a great sense of the inadequacy of words. This being amidst the darkest days of the Howard regime even to utter a heartfelt “Sorry” felt to me like a feeble attempt at wallpapering over a large crack. I wonder if the only adequate response is aesthetic. Like a homeopathic cure, only like can cure like. If I had been able t o sing a song, or recite a poem or better still perform a movement piece maybe my body would have found the “words”. Experience articulated into words is the basis of conversation, the base of civilisation and yet the spoken word is radically intertwined with and emerges out of the multiple voices in the body and its ecology. It’s ironic that artists who perhaps more then anyone know that gestation comes before communication are disappointed when audiences don’t have conversations about art.
I raised this issue with an indigenous curator recently and her response was somewhat clich├ęd; the art can speak for itself. Again this is a partial truth. A one –sided truth. Carl Jung was fond of stating that all neurosis is one-sidedness. In this sense much art and many artists are trapped in a neurotic bubble unable to release the healing energies unable t o allow the voices in art to be effectively heard. Don’t get me wrong I do not want t o return to the romantic notion of isolated mad artist’s. This observation is a lament as I feel passionately that it’s the voices of art that are needed desperately in the one-sidedness of contemporary culture.***This is an affliction we all suffer with and must move forward from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

novel in progress

I have started another blog jeffnovel.blogspot where I will post a chapter of my almost completed novel. Its been sitting on my computer for way too long...Publishers I know your out there. More than you are is a old Grinspoon song that gave me the idea many years ago. i am great at starting but not so great at finishing. But is so close now.


Reenchantment of Public Space project

I wrote this about 4 months ago, when I was unemployed dreaming of what I really wanted to do with myself.I let it sit on the computer (and got a job),till now then thought why not just put it out there as is. I am still committed to the project in a different format.Its good to dream...

The Re-Enchantment of Public Space Project

You are invited to join a coalition of like-minded souls for a unique experiment in Community Dreaming and Carnivalesque Psychotherapy!

Whenever Illness is associated with loss of soul, the arts emerge spontaneously as remedies, soul medicine: Shaun Mc Niff

We may have to return to childhood and recover its truths, its vision, its logic, its sense of time and space, its extraordinary cosmology, and its creative physics if we want a way out of the black-and-white world of disenchantment: Thomas Moore

After many years of working as a therapist with people from all over the world, it seems to me that ignoring the Dreaming is an undiagnosed global epidemic. People everywhere suffer from a chronic form of mild depression because they are taught to focus on everyday reality and forget about the Dreaming background: Arnold Mindell

But if there was in fact a beginning to the epidemic of depression, sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, it is of obvious concern here, confronting us as it does with this question: Could this apparent decline in the ability to experience pleasure be in any way connected with the decline in opportunities for pleasure, such as carnival and other traditional festivities? : Barbara Ehrenreich

Australia becomes an ideal place for the birth of a new dreaming, a dreaming that could be an important experiment for the world at large: David Tacey

Dreaming together is a new kind of social activism: it means going deeper to find the basis of personal and social healing: Arnold Mindell

…many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or “mind,” not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of, along with the other animals and the plants, the mountains and the clouds: David Abram

Enchantment is an ascendency of the soul, a condition that allows us to connect, for the most part lovingly and intimately, with the world we inhabit and the people who make up our families and communities.
We have yet to learn that we can’t survive without enchantment and that the loss of it is killing us. A culture dedicated to enchantment recognizes our need to live in a world of both facts and holy imagination: Thomas Moore

My passion is to bring together anyone who is committed to making life magical, enchanted and deeply meaningful. To begin to heal the rifts so many of us feel between body, psyche, community and ecology. Especially welcome are artists of all varieties, therapists and healers from diverse traditions, community workers and those who are ecologically minded.
That we experiment with one-off projects that focus on new forms of small-scale carnival and ritual/ceremony. As Victor Turner observed “each kind of ritual, ceremony or festival comes to be coupled with special types of attire, music, dance, food, and drink…and often masks, body painting, headgear, furniture and shrines”.

My vision is form a core group that can flexibly come together for a project and also support and collaborate where possible in our normal practices.

Who am I and what I can bring to the Project?

Jeff Power: I have over 20 years experience in youth and community work, family therapy and counsellor training. I have a BA in Creative Arts and a MA in Jungian Psychology. Up until recently I was a team leader and trainer at QPASTT (Qld program of assistance to survivors of torture and trauma). I am passionate about finding ways to connect to the ecology: one tree, one stone, one animal, and one insect at a time. I paint, write, perform ritual/ movement meditation and follow my nightly dreams. I have extensive experience and a love of group facilitation and conflict resolution. I see my primary role as inspiring, envisioning and facilitating the group’s creative process.
I have a sneaking suspicion I was a court jester or perhaps a holy fool in a past life.


Where were you in Sixty-two? Or I lived through the sixties and survived or some cool stuff I learnt while learning about Astrology reading Cosmos and Psyche by the legendary Richard Tarnas

You know what happened during the year I was born? One year; John Glens space flight, the launch of the Telstar (not Telstra!!) Satellite: I don’t know what that’s about but it must be important as it’s in the book?
In September James Meredith, African /American bro attempted to enter the segregated, black skin this way, white skin this way, University of Mississippi. Where else? and this started a riot!!
No place for Nigger boys in this side of the university is what they would have said!! They sent in the army, as you do, and this got national attention. Of cause now days it would be absolutely international attention. Civil rights for African Americans were on the agenda, it was hot, hot, hot! The year was 1962 Barack Obama was one. Who could have dreamed that he would become president? A lot has changed since then .One person can just get the ball rolling and then it snowballs and who knows where it will end or when it will end?
Some other amazing stuff happened in 62, Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles begun!!! 62 had good taste.
The ecology movement began when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. Anyone read it? I haven’t. It’s a classic. I was on the train last week and there’s a pretty young women standing next to me. She was a babe and she’s reading a book, how cool! And its Silent Spring of all books, now that is way cool! An updated version, I spied the cover…being a lover of the book and all books that I am. How cool is that. That it’s returned and a young woman is reading it, whilst standing on a train. That gives me hope. I really wanted to say something like “Rachel was a prophet you know, no I mean a prophetess.” Or something like that. But I got tangled up in my head and said nothing.
And feminism began afresh in a new way with Betty Friednams Feminine Mystique and the reissue of Doris Lessing’s classic Golden Notebook. Haven’t read the first and never heard of the second.
From where I stand we have come a long way with gender relationships but there’s still a hell of a long way to go or ways to go. I like being diverse and different with different groups of people. Gender is so serious we need to laugh about it and laugh about ourselves and our gendered flaws and biases. If I was t o write a book about gender I would fill it with as many twists and turns and contradictions and ambiguities. It would expand your imagination with possibilities. And I‘d use all sorts of theories and get them to dialogue, religion, arts literature…. one day I will write that book.
The Esalen Institute opened. It’s a legendary personal growth centre. I’ve heard so me wild stories about Esalen, have to visit one day… soon.
Maslow wrote Towards a Psychology of Being. I’ve read stuff from that, lots of quotes a long time ago. I tended to go back to the source for my psychology, the classics some Freud but mostly Jung and later Hillman. But that said I’ve never studied psychology formally. Well only two subjects and that taste was enough. No Taste is the wrong word. It was intellectually, creatively and aesthetically tasteless. Utterly tasteless. What is the link between white bread, white trash, tasteless aspects of White Western culture and scientific psychology? Less a link and more a bridge!
As for Maslow I bet psychologists don’t read a book which is a classic in there field. I’m not anti –psychologist but anti-psychology training. The narrow scientific mentality, the extreme focus on statistics and the objective view of people. The unconscious faith in objectivity. Maybe it’s up to psychologists to start their own riot. I know there are plenty who are pissed off with there training, so many over the years have complained and it’s a joke to anyone who has any knowledge. 4 or more years can be wasted. Good hearted people wasted.
I for one used t o carry an unconscious belief that a psychologist was a sort of healer and the odd one is but there training tends to squeeze any latent creative healing ability out of them.
Obviously this is a big unresolved issue for me I will just leave for now and return to in the future.

I’ve got two boys and like every parent it’s fascinating to watch them grow In front of you. And I love to keep an open mind about what life will bring them. Anything is possible. From the best t o the worse and anything and everything in between: life. And next year I will have another son an African Aussie or Aussie African.2009. What will life hold for him? How different will it be for him to grow up in Australia compared to growing up in Africa? When I think of the future into which he will grow I would love Australia to become more African, more Aboriginal, more Black, more community orientated, slowed down, less driven, more enchanted. I’d like to get on public transport, a bus or a train and walk into a welcoming wall of sound, music being shared (can someone please ban isolating I- narcissistic –ego-pods please!), talk, laughter and deep conversation alongside deep meditative silence (Buddhists! alas we will always have with us so we had better accept them and allow them to share their meditative vibe while the rest of us socialise).
What happened in Australia in 1962? Cosmos and Psyche is a red-hot book but Australia barely rates a mention. Well folks a lot has changed in the world and I for one feel that its time for us to wake up and be noticed.
To be continued…