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Another kind of asylum

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Colin Hambrook discusses the psychological implications of creating in isolation for the Deluge project

Rachel has asked me to respond to a few disparate elements of the work-in-progress, which will become Deluge. Five artists from the UK, Hong Kong and Australia have been collaborating over the internet, sharing thoughts, ideas and responding to each other’s works. I am writing here as another artist responding to the collaboration, which is essentially an expression of the overwhelming times that we are living in. Deluge represents a combined effort to find the resilience that it takes to adapt and find ways of connecting in meaningful and fulfilling ways, despite the isolation that the current crisis has imposed upon us.

As disabled artists, we are used to living isolated lives … it’s nothing new to us. The limitations of our health conditions coupled with physical access barriers that society places in our path means that many amongst our communities live a secluded existence. We know how to adapt and are resilient because staying alive and thriving necessitates those qualities.

Deluge is an example of how disability arts can be innovative in bringing cross-disciplinary artists together across the globe to create collaboratively, reflecting a story of now.

Looking up the dictionary definition of deluge it is described as an overflowing of the land by water, to overwhelm or to swamp. Being subjected to a deluge is all-encompassing. You can choose to fight or to surrender in response. You can resist and look for escape or give in to the flow of emotional responses.

Rachel’s visceral skeletal figures have a dynamic presence. They are lit from within, as if forged by the hand of an electric god painting the human form with electrons.  And within that molecular corporeality there is a sense of persistence and perseverance. Is the figure responding to threat or is there a more playful element to the frenetic dance that the figures are engaged in? The form of Siu-Fong is recognisable in the drawings created from a short piece of performance video made in a corner of a bare room. The power in Siu-Fong’s movement is echoed by the oppressive sounds of Meyers and Earl’s composition.

The score has an underground, cave-like element to it… perhaps suggesting a working-out of what and who the characters are within this story of ‘deluge’. The figures are ciphers for something much bigger than the individual and the movement reflects the inner journey that the figures within this piece are going on.

artworki consisting of a white skeletal form against a black background

Rachel Gadsden: study for Deluge

Siu-Fong says: “The concept of my performance art within Deluge came from the need to be quarantined at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The initial intention of quarantine was to protect everyone from infection and the spread of coronavirus. It is based on our own will and discipline to stay in one safe place. Precisely because of it, this performance presents how our body transforms, the uneasiness and the depressive state of mind under such condition in a narrow space. Ironically, is a safe place really safe?”

Deluge reflects that search for safety in connection: being recognised for strength, in spite of the limitations that enforced isolation places on our lives. Gadsden’s figures are stripped of flesh, a skeleton in motion; their rawness sits in a stark contrast to Jeremy Hawkes’ more graphic, painterly responses to Siu-Fong’s performance. Rather than painting with light his images seem to represent layers of vertebrae piled and squashed into proximity until what we see has something of the character of an armadillo or an amoeba, perhaps. Hawkes forms are lush and beautifully patterned. The idea of the skeleton is abstracted further in these images to the point where we no longer see the human figure.

Art has always engaged in representations of the human soul. It is part of our journey as human beings to question the soul, to attempt to locate it; to ask questions about god. The soul is something we can only seem to glimpse out of the corner of our eye: like the concept of ‘god’ it exists in small movements and gestures. Both Gadsden and Hawkes’ figures fragment, dissolve, and reform in movement. And in those small kinetic conversations the soul is trying to speak, to assert itself as something that finds strength in not being separate isolated atoms, but in being one overarching yet undefined form..

The figures lack ego or individuality but are expressions of the human search for connection, in that they exist in a liminal space, anxiously floating in the in-between on the threshold of the social world. They are subject to a deluge and are finding a way through that sense of limbo that digital spaces give us: we are present but only as pixels on a screen.

In Jungian terms, entering a liminal space is critical to the process of individuation, where self-realisation occurs through rites of passage. Collectively we become more than the sum of our parts.

Jung referred to liminal spaces as boundaries between states of being, where the liminal space offers the possibility of a re-creation of self; and where symbolic actions create meaning for the participants – the artists who choose to step in together to explore those boundary-less boundaries.

So, as the work of Deluge comes together, my understanding is that it represents the ritual of entering a liminal space, of finding strength through connection. Critically the artists, working together to find ways of representing that feeling of ‘overwhelm’ are finding creative responses that give us courage and tenacity.

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