September 28 - October 1, 2007

playing house performing home

Artist-in-Residence at The Power of Words 2007 Conference
Goddard College (Vermont)

Much of the work within the domain of art concerning the metaphor of home has focused on home's unfeasibility - or at least its instability - as it has referred to domicide and reinforced the assertion of home's current precarious position worldwide. While taking this into account, my own approach intentionally shifts the emphasis away from victimhood and the wounded or absent home in favor of invoking a non-nostalgic and generative sense of resilient agency and response-able ecoexistence. Invoking childlike imagination, Playing House Performing Home set the stage to for participants in The Power of Words 2007 Conference to explore the internalized and external conditions of holistic dwelling.

Taking a page from the psychoanalyst Danielle Knafo's exploration of Cindy Sherman's work in "Dressing Up and Other Games of Make-Believe: The Function of Play in the Art of Cindy Sherman", I invited participants to consider how the gestures, objects and installations that emerged through the co-creative process which I set up as Artist-in-Residence during The Power of Words 2007 Conference functioned much in the same way as Winnicott's "potential space" – a creative possibility located between external and internal realities in which conditions are shaped to inspired growth of authentic personal agency and the development of compassionate intelligence as a cultural goal as Edith Cobb proposes in her 1977 publication The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood.

According to Winnicott, writing about early childhood development in the early 1970's, "There is a direct development from the transitional phenomena to playing, and from playing to cultural experience." He suggests that "it is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self." And where Sherman was deliberately playing with "self image, identity, gender and object relations with games like pee-a-boo," I brought my concerns about the experience of wellness and the capacity to feel at home in the aftermath of cultural oppressions and related traumatic residues to this playful and performative exploration with the participants.

More than a dozen individuals were supported to author their own live art events linking the childlike process of play with their pressing questions about how to live more fully with an internal sense of wellness. One participant, a holocaust survivor who spent the bulk of her adult life working with women to develop their own personal agency, took this opportunity to tell the story of her own survival for the very first time.

This woman wrote out the story of her liberation from the camps along with what she had lived through prior to her liberation and what she knew of how the rest of her family had perished. She segmented the narrative into ten sections (corresponding to the number of people required to constitute a community within the Jewish tradition), which she handed out to other conference participants. She then asked each to read one section in turn as they formed a circle around her outside under the night sky darkened by the new moon. Once everyone had read their assigned parts she instructed everyone to burn the papers. Hearing her story as told in the voices of the ten people gathered around her and setting the papers upon which this story was written alight, opened the possibility for the weight of this memory to finally be deposited as it was shared within a communal setting.

When we spoke after the performance ritual, this woman told me that it was the artistic context and particularly the invitation to so in such a playful way that allowed her to take the risk to reveal what she had long kept as an internal reality. The live art event-ritual she had authored and orchestrated acted as a "magical synthesis of past and present” – an “abolition of objective time,” according to Csikszentemihalyi, which allows “a healing through the reactivation of former pain which can now be tolerated by the mature person” (Mark A. Runco “Tension, Adaptability, and Creativity” in Affect, Creative Experience and Psychological Adjustment edited by Sandra W. Russ: p. 172).