Loving arms holding ground.
How do you experience comfort and wellbeing?
What is the position that grounds you when fear sets in?
HOLDING GROUND was an invitation to surrender to the sense of being held that holds us in love.
Extending the personal into the cultural realm has been part of my performance strategy for many years. In a moment of recognition of my own need for holding I had a very odd daydream while lying on the table in my acupuncturist’s office. I imagined asking people what position they liked to hold them selves – and be held – in when fear was experienced.
I have known fear. I know too how long fear lingers and I know how easily it can be triggered in situations that don’t seemingly present any immediate or even obvious threat. While the antidote to fear it seems to me can only be love, it is not so obvious how to perform love intentionally engaging with individual and social healing as part of a critical contemporary art practice.
While she placed the needles, my acupuncturist and I talked about the conditions for working through unresolved trauma and how powerful a role art, especially connective aesthetics, can play. As I have often stated, the symbolic process has long provided me a means to make sense of my life experience and connect with others concerned with the individual and social impact of violence. Over the years, and with the use of different media, I’ve been investigating how art can address and help shift perceptions about personal and social dis/integration through the power of imagination.
Yet it seemed unimaginable. Under what circumstances could I invite holding with strangers as art? I returned home still wondering about how to create a context for this work only to find a voice message from Céline Marcotte of Folie Culture inviting me to participate in the performance event Prescription. The idea behind this project was to invite artists to propose performative gestures as a means of addressing the mental health im/balance endemic to our North American culture. I couldn’t help but laugh, and explained to Céline in a return phone call, how synchronistic the invitation from Folie Culture was.
Several months later, on the evening of the performance event, I physically set up as intimate as a space as I could in the warehouse-like interior of Méduse (the Quebec-city cultural center that was the site for Prescription) keeping in mind the interference that would be present from the prescriptive gestures of other performance artists such as the crashing of china plates from Sylvie Cotton’s corner and the ubiquitous odor of onion soup cooked up by Karen Spencer. Then bringing awareness to my breath, I sat in stillness opening myself to whatever experience would arise.
I held many people that evening. One woman asked to be held on my lap and rocked. A gentleman lay prone on the floor and asked to be guided verbally into a state of relaxation. There was the guy who said than because he had been held he no longer needed to go and break plates. Then there was the woman who arrived quite late as many of the other artists were already gathering to leave. She told me how she thought of approaching this holding ground I had invited all evening but had not found the courage to do so. I asked her what position she wanted to be held in.
Together we arranged the pillows and blankets to support her; then I took her head in my hands as she requested. We stayed like that in silence until she began to weep. With tears streaming down her face she told me how her young son was dying and how in her sadness and fear for his life and the overwhelming sense of impeding loss she had closed her heart. She had not been able to cry nor was she able to connect with him emotionally however much she longed to. She said that the parameters of holding ground – the symbolic framework provided by this performance gesture within the context of the Prescription event – offered her a chance to connect with her emotions in a way that nothing else had.
She continued to cry silently. I continued to hold her. Then after a long while as the technicians were beginning to undo the plastic sheeting that had served as walls around us we thanked each other and she left after suggesting to herself as much as to me that things might be different now for her in relation to what was happening with her son.
I do not know her name and I have never seen her since. I cried for three days straight after the event and know that in the liminal space between my need and hers we created a powerful bond of love that matters intimately and politically and that resonates within me still.
The following project description was written by Denis Simard and the Folie/Culture team:
Le terme prescription, inévitablement associé au domaine de la santé, devient, par le fait même, prétexte à explorer l’univers déstabilisant de la prescription sociale. Dans notre societé, toujours plus performante quant au contrôle de nos comportements, nous sommes continuellement incités à répondre positivement, et de manière inconsciente, à différentes formes de prescriptions. Chaque jour, nous répétons certaines actions qui deviennent avec le temps des automatismes engourdissant en nous tout questionnement devant l’évidence d’une prescription conçue à notre mesure. Le concept général de PRESCRIPTION veut simuler cette mécanique insidieuse, en mettant à contribution la notion de repetition afin qu’elle devienne le moteur de cette soirée.
En fonction de ce concept, chacun des artistes invités proposera une intervention en boucle, se répéntant sur 2 heures consécutives, exposant ainsi se questionnements singuliers sur la thématique. Les 10 actions solo usant de la performance, de l’esthétique relationnelle, de la création sonore ou encore de la vidéo predront une forme inusitée par le seul fait qu’elles seront mises en interrelation simultanément. De même, les spectateurs seront invités à contribuer à l’oeuvre en construction, en refaisant plusieurs fois le même parcours, récreant ainsi un mouvement de sens en déplacement constant. Dans ce jeu de boucles où artistes en action et public sont mis en relation d’instantanéité, le hasard et l’oubli pourraient faire apparaître des effets secondaires possibles et, pour tout dire, espérés.
The other artists involved in this project were: Christine St-Maur, Sylvie Cotton, Hélène Matte, Pierre Beaudoin, Patrice Duchesne, Benoit Woo, Karen Spencer, David Michaud, Steeve LeBrasseur.