By Jacqueline Grace
The Black Box theatre at Burrinja has become a treasured home for my creative arts practice. It is an expansive space, lined with floor to ceiling windows and opulent red velvet drapes. On this blustery winter’s day they open me onto a sea of misty gum trees and wilting she-oaks. I watch them as they dance with the small children rambling across the playground. It is to this backdrop that I find myself in an intimate group of women to whom I am connected through their visitation to my workspace a few weekends ago at Open Studios.
We gathered the evening prior, finding ourselves, for a few moments, fellow sojourners on the path of creative inquiry, participants in our ‘Books to Hold our Intricacies’ workshop. They have come to learn eco-printing, mostly to companion their interests in felting, painting and the natural world. I have come to share a path of creative inquiry, where we can slow down the pace of life and tend to the plethora of feelings and experiencing, all through the gentle companioning of eco-printing.
After exploring issues of trust and safety and outlining the container I wish to hold for them, I invite a somatic and movement based exploration of the space to music. I am mindful that what I am offering is at the edge of people’s comfort zones. It is has certainly been at the edge of mine too. Yet I know it is a remarkable way to notice what is present for me, the voices of my inner dialogue and a rich pathway into my embodied knowings.
I feel the trepidation, and I notice myself too traversing the edge of the floor boards, balancing along the ridge dividing the carpet from timber. I keep the music playing however, acknowledging the feelings of discomfort, giving voice to judgements that may be present and keeping open the invitation to explore and move. I do not watch anybody else, it feels intrusive, but I do notice movement around the table of foliage. I can hear the rustling of onion skins and the tapping of metals together. I can hear the jostling of leaves and the sliding of feet.
After a little while, I call us back to reflect on what is present for each of us in our journals. I notice a flurry of writing, the gathering of already meaning-full leaves, the quiet seeping of tears and the smear of pastels upon paper. This is a quiet and sacred time for these multiple selves. We know precious little of each other’s experiencing in these moments; we simply give space to one another to be with what emerges.
Within time, I invite the first recording onto a miniature book that will be bundled away in the dye pot, and we make our way with words and images. From here we flow into a session of curious play with leaves, metal, strings and flowers, silks, wools and art paper; bundling, folding, pressing and wrapping, all the while noticing our choices and our feelings. By the close of the evening we have a myriad of bundles nestled in beds of onions skins, carrots and gum leaves, curing in dye pots over night.
With much alive, yet unspoken in the room, we leave to rest and mull over the evenings happenings.
Gathering the next morning, we have created a new wanting to share the rich musings of our evenings, sleep states and mornings. Some awoke to journal before dawn; others to go for a walk and notice the smells upon the air and the movement of the leaves. Others still speak unspoken stories of grief, loss and change; unexpected gifts which are still in the process of acceptance and peace-making.
It is with tears in my eyes that I sit with these women, who now are willing to share with me that they felt more than ambivalent about the reflective practices, the movement and the journaling. Curiously, one now confides that she came to learn the eco-printing, but now what she is most looking forward to is the reflective work. Another tells of the little time she has spent attending to her feeling world, but now realising how important it is for her to do that. Another shares her surprise at the value she is finding in playing with words. It is with gratitude that I receive this open dialogue, for I know that making space for the inner work can be tricky and requires something quite different to mastering an artistic medium.
Each time I offer my workshops for self-reflection through eco-printing, I wonder if participants are coming with a desire for the work of inquiry, or if they are hoping to side step it in the hope of learning what really matters – how to make that red print on the black background. Yet I am becoming more grounded in my resolve that the great gift of eco-printing extends beyond the beauty of the prints we create. Indeed these women co-created some beautiful work, that made our hearts sing and nourished our senses.
Its gift extends to, if we are willing to receive it, the expression of the unspoken, the enactment of desires, the awakening of the senses and an attunement to our needs, values and preferred ways of being in this beautiful, complex and mysterious world.
If you would like to also experience the Beautiful Wasteland path of creative inquiry, visit our upcoming workshops page.