Moving with infinity – an intuitive walk in Venice

As I practised my shamanic drumming before going on an intuitive walk today, I found myself pacing in a figure of 8 around the bedroom. The movement came from my body – a natural urge – rather than my mind leading the way. The intention I set for the intuitive walk is: to find ‘dead’ space to sing to (I am doing art research in Venice for the British Council – see bottom of this post for more information on my project).

Image shows an art exhibit with sculpted landscape with a sheep with elongated legs laying down with legs folded up, a tiny deer (in relation to the sheep's - a tenth of the size) and a spherical light hanging above.

On leaving my apartment, I turned into a square and paused there, then backed out and followed intuitive prods that led me to Above Zobeide, the Chinese collateral exhibition that is part of the Venice Biennale. I used WhatsApp and photos to record my experiences.

Image shows an art exhibit with a sheep standing on elongated legs (like stilts) peering around the corner of a metal structure in a dimly room.

As I entered the space and gazed at the creatures with elongated legs in a barren landscape I wrote:

“I feel my chest aching. It feels so heavy. Bleak landscape. Animals with long, spindly legs. Awkward. Desperate. Sad.”

Initially I didn’t want to read the ethos of the exhibition but I felt drawn to the black pillars that described the artist’s references to Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities. It’s a book that sits on my bookshelf and I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Image shows a photo of text taken from the Above Zobeide art exhibition that reads: “barren atmosphere, this exhibition effectively expresses deep concerns about the continued development of our human civilisation, responding to the anxieties of our time. It demonstrates remarkable imagination, forward-thinking and innovation.

In Invisible Cities, the narrator Marco Polo avoids mentioning the city of Venice. Instead, he subtly infuses the characteristics of the Italian city into every metropolis he describes. Similarly, born and raised in Macao, Wong Wong Cheong creates an ‘exotic realm’ imbued with the unique features of Macao. The artist dissects the city’s long history, precisely defining that the concept of ‘foreign’ is always ‘relative’. He also reflects upon the dichotomy between ‘civilisation’ and ‘barbarism’. The exhibition reveals the pathetic and absurd phenomenon where people negatively emphasise the difference between ‘indigenous natives’ and ‘foreigners’, or between ‘residents’ and ‘immigrants’. Furthermore, it indirectly highlights the universal values of harmonious inclusivity in terms of multi-ethnic groups that have coexisted in Macao over many past centuries.

The exhibition also breaks away from conventional narratives, revealing how the artist, as a citizen of the world with an international perspective, casts off these standardised domestic portrayals in response to both today’s global issues and his own personal changes”

I left the exhibition and continued to follow my intuition, coming to a place next to a bridge with some steps leading to a canal. I sat on the steps, studying the seaweed swaying and lifting in the turbulence of boats passing. I added another note to WhatsApp:

“Interestingly, I thought about Invisible Cities by Calvino as I walked to the apartment for the first time on Sunday. I haven’t read it. It’s on my bookshelf. The exhibition is one I passed on my way to the apartment. I thought of the book as I passed the exhibition entrance although there is no mention of it and I wasn’t aware I was passing an exhibition entrance.”

After noting this, I climbed the steps to the bridge and saw padlocks attached to the ironwork – lovers declaring their love for one another with a lock and no key. As I peered at one of the locks I noticed a figure of 8 symbol and made the connection between it and my movement whilst drumming earlier.

Image shows a close up shot of a padlock chained to a the metalwork of a bridge. The padlock has a figure of 8 symbol drawn onto it.

Later I went to the White Poplar in Marinaressa Gardens and made an offering of nuts and my gratitude to the tree. I closed my eyes feeling its invitation to come closer, which I did. I found my body swaying in a figure of 8 movement, my left hip leading. Hearing people laughing nearby, I felt self conscious and the movement became less free. I breathed into my heart and found my left hip leading again and self consciousness dissolved. I had a sense the spirit of the tree enjoyed the little dance I had not planned on giving it. I thanked it again and left.

Image shows the ironwork of a bridge railing with padlocks chained to it. Through the ironwork and beyond is canal water with buildings either side of the canal, with a tower in the distance.

I bumped into another British Council Fellow and we went for coffee. We discussed meandering versus having a plan and the ease of the former. I shared my mental image from my aeroplane ride over Venice of seeing the man-made straight channels of water versus the snaky meandering channels made by the Earth. My colleague shared her partner works with wetlands to undo the damage made by man and re-snake rivers and streams, creating more diversity and more space for habitat. More water in the same space. More life in the same space.

My Research Project in Venice

When I applied for the opportunity to do art research in Venice, this was my project proposal:

My research idea is to walk around Venice following my intuition to find a place that feels ‘dead’. I will then visit the place daily to sing (without words) to the Earth. I will listen for Earth’s response and will follow intuitive urges to create in that place. It might be that I make videos, drawings, poems, and connect with humans and other-than-humans there. I would like to see whether it’s possible to form a connection with Earth in this place and invite other humans to join in, bypassing our othernesses, and see what the effects of this might be and how it might change my idea. I will hold workshops for other Fellows in the place and see what we create together in response to singing and listening to Earth. When I return to the UK I will collaborate with Outside In to share the experience and artefacts of this research via online events.

I am part of a group of 66 British Council Fellows who are invigilating the British artist, John Akomfrah’s work at the British Pavilion for the Venice Biennale 2024. I applied for this opportunity through Outside In, a charity that has been supporting me to access the art world as an outsider artist since 2016.

A Place Where I Love and Accept Myself Totally

Do you go on intuitive walks? Where you set an intention and then follow your intuitive urges and see what happens? This is one of mine…

photo shows cherry trees blossoming at the top, with ivy covering the trunks

My intention: to find a place where I love and accept myself totally. The walk took 44 minutes but I didn’t set a time limit. So much happened. Outside my block of flats I found a Cherry blossom sprig on the grass and felt an urge to pick it up. I followed my inner compass to a road where a line of Cherry trees grow (I wondered if it had come from there). They are covered in Ivy – kind of being throttled by it, yet still blossoming, but not as much as usual. I was reminded of my internalised mother, who is throttling me at the moment as I feel stressed moving into a new version of myself. I am receiving a lot of love from people in my life and that is resetting my nervous system, which sparks off old coping mechanisms of embodied self-criticism in the form of headaches. I am appreciating the protective, albeit misguided, nature of this coping mechanism.

Continuing my walk, I came across an uprooted shrub and I felt shock and sadness. It reflects my sense of trying to settle back into my home after 3 years of living in my van up North to complete my Master’s, where I slept at the sides of canals and regularly immersed in other-than-human nature with limited time in the greyness of towns / cities. I think it may also reflect how a lot of people on this planet might be feeling right now, with the craziness of war and unprocessed trauma being exacted on innocent people. Of course, it also reflects how we’re living our daily lives and how that is choking the planet, although if we make ourselves extinct, she will recover and thrive.

I moved on and, wandering slowly, noticed how life grows in so many places it’s not ‘supposed’ to – every nook and crack is home for a seed to grow.

Nearing home and I see a piece of Ivy laying on the pavement. It seems symbolic, although of what I’m unsure. I lay the Cherry blossom I’ve been holding next to it and leave it there. Two, separate, no longer entangled, yet held in the same place and I feel an internal shift.

I follow an urge to go to the Level (a park near my home in Brighton) and walk near the trees. As I reach the North East corner, my heart swells and I suddenly feel a sense of everything being okay, even in the messy, grittiness. As I leave the Level a song comes to me and despite, my chesty cough, I hum it, sending my gratitude through it to the Earth.

I arrive at my block of flats and the Caretaker is there, chatting with a man I don’t know. When he asks how I am, I tell them I’m poorly (I have a cold). They ask about my symptoms and we briefly chat before he makes a joke about man ‘flu being 10 times worse than childbirth. I shake my head and say I’m sure the population would be less if men gave birth. He talks about disease and war adjusting population size and then asks, “But why do we have war? Is it just in us to be this way?” I say, “No, it’s because of unprocessed trauma passed down through the generations.” He says, surprisingly, “Thank you. I’ll think about that today.”

I omitted to say that we don’t have rituals for people to act out war or initiation ceremonies and such; but it didn’t occur to me at the time, and that’s okay.

Home is where the heart is?

picture shows a tiny home shape made from cardboard
Cardboard Home, 2023, Cardboard, glue, oil pastels, string

Home, according to Mole in Wind in the Willows, is a place filled with “familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him and now smilingly received him back.” I read the passage this statement comes from aloud at the start of the Home workshop I facilitated for Outside In at Hove Museum on 9 December. We all shared gestures, sounds and a word to get a sense of what our homes felt like before creating artworks that depicted this feeling(s). Conversation flowed between strangers as their hands busied, and I felt delighted to sit with each person and get to know them a little bit as they made their home. You can see an image of our homes formed into a group below – a village perhaps.

picture shows several tiny homes from soft material or clay or cardboard or card and stuck to a corkboard with string and pins
A ‘village’ of homes at the Outside In Home workshop at Hove Museum on 9 December 2023

I feel the wisdom of Kenneth Grahame’s words about things in one’s home being friendly and welcoming. That is my experience and, as a neurodivergent person, I form a strong bond to things, like my drum, my Grandma’s jewellery box, my Macaw cushion cover, and the newest addition, my unicorn cat candle holder (see photo below). They have their places and I would not like anyone to touch or move them. I have a strong aversion to people touching my things, and if someone moves my things in the communal part of my home, well, I have to employ mindfulness of my thoughts and feelings with grit and determination. Thank goodness I know how to do this!

picture shows a painting with a cushion cover with an image of 2 parrots on it draped over the painting, with a shamanic drum resting against the painting, a black jewellery box, a drum beater and a candle holder in the shape of a cat face with a unicorn horn
My drum, my Grandma’s jewellery box, my Macaw cushion cover and my unicorn cat candle holder

Not all things in a home are friendly, however. I suppose it depends on the kind of home they’re in, or were in. I’m referring now to a recent trip to Hastings to visit a friend. There are many second hand shops selling ‘vintage’ items there. As we browsed, I was transported back in time to the 1970s, which was a deeply unpleasant decade for me, not least because of the horrible aesthetics that permeated everything – haircuts, buildings, decor, and home things. Things appear less than friendly in a home where a child is hyper vigilant for signs of attack from the parents. Being around so many things that reminded me of that time made me aware of how lucky Mole, and indeed, Kenneth Grahame, was to have the experience of a safe and friendly home. I am glad I now have that experience too.

The photos show the little homes I made in preparation for the Home workshop. I enjoyed making them immensely. They’re an excellent way of meditating on what home is like / means. What does ‘home’ mean for you?

Othering Me, Othering You

Image shows strands of finger knitted wool of differing lengths arranged in a circle with the ends at the centre in a spiral. The wool is multi-coloured.
Othering Me, Othering You, 2023, Wool

I created this piece using wool. The wool came from a cardigan I made where I found the seams to be too irritating so I unpicked it. I am very sensitive to seams and labels in clothing. I was left with lots of small balls of wool in varying sizes and I followed an intuitive prod to finger knit each ball into a long strand. This took a few months and during this time I was working on my dissertation for my creative psychotherapy master’s, which was a heuristic inquiry into the experience of othering people different from me.

This piece is a creative synthesis of what I found out about myself in the research. It became clear to me that othering people, for me, is a somatic response to being triggered by people that somehow remind me of the people that abused me in childhood. The somatic response of a tightening in my solar plexus then kicks off anxious thoughts that circle in my head. I came to this awareness through creative workshops that I held for myself in which I followed intuitive urges to move, be still, make things, or write. I sometimes found myself walking in a spiral and coming to stillness in the centre, where I would feel and notice.

The space created to feel and notice is depicted in the spiral of wool at the centre of the image. Othering happens regardless of whether I want it to, but I have space to observe, rather than act on it.

Golden Triangles (2023)

Golden Triangles (2023), acrylic on canvas, 22.5 x 31 cm

I made this as a way of coping during winter living in my van in the North West. I wanted something to do whilst sitting in the library or the faith room at Edge Hill university in the evenings, where it was warmer than sitting in my van. I attached pieces of cotton thread to create the shapes and then meditatively placed dots either side of the thread. I enjoyed this and I could see how agitated or calm I was by the size of the dots.

Feeling Small in Awe and Vulnerability

Sunset Teardrop, Acrylic on unprimed canvas, 60 x 80 cm
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