Rhiannon Armstrong: Invisible and unspoken

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Rhiannon Armstrong is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist making works with empathy, interaction, and dialogue at their core, often for unfiltered audiences. Here she shares her recent work exploring care and destruction, including work exploring the history of lullabies, Poems Made from Words Found in the Bin, The Slow GIF Movement (commissioned by Unlimited), and her recent commission for a permanent chill out space at Battersea Arts Centre.

photograph of a performance

Recording the sound of bubbles popping:. Image by Graeme Braidwood

I am recipient of the Adrian Howells Award for Intimate Performance this year. My focus has been to engage directly for the first time with autobiography as a creative force: I mean autobiography as a kind of live reckoning, rather than an historical account of what has happened to me.

I am interested in what intimacy is and isn’t, and what part vulnerability has to play in that.

I’m experimenting with what it is to consciously create an interactive performance environment where vulnerability and pain can co-exist with the embodied experiences of safety, rhythm and intimacy that are needed in trauma recovery.

I am trying to be honest, and when I try to be honest, I have a tendency to be obscure.

This year,
I have been working with lullabies.
I have been working with witnessed intimacy,
I have been working with touch as a form of listening.

Performance photograph

Bedtime Songs of Separation, Pilot Night, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton (2019): Image by Graeme Braidwood

I have been singing a lullaby in time to another person’s heartbeat, while the audience breathe in unison to a shifting kaleidoscope landscape of Brighton Beach.

I am also collecting and reworking lullabies, especially those that express a wish to harm the object of care. They are more common than you might expect, for example, Rock a Bye Baby:

Rock a bye Baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bow breaks
The cradle will fall
Down will come baby
Cradle and all

emoji

Rock a bye emoji. Image by Rhiannon Armstron

What the lyrics don’t tell you is that it is actually the singer who put the baby in the tree in the first place.

It is this constant coexistence of care and destruction that I am trying to get hold of, conjure perhaps, and spend time with.

[AUDIO: can ye sew cushions loop with baby Yuna: https://soundcloud.com/rhiannon-armstrong/eeoh ]

Parents that I speak to are most connected to the taboo of those murderous feelings toward a child or baby, but to be honest my own interest is perhaps more connected in acknowledging those murderous and ambivalent feelings as they apply to our own inner infants, especially for those who have always had to sing to, hold and comfort ourselves.

a series of seven photographs of designs for a resting space

Permanent resting space at Battersea Arts Centre, launched March 2019 and commissioned by BAC and Touretteshero: images by Jemima Yong

The room pictured above is intended to hold people and be of comfort to them. It can be found at Battersea Arts Centre in London. It is a permanent resting space for visitors to the building.

The people I was thinking of who really need this room are those who, as part of their everyday lives, have to constantly hold and comfort ourselves against hostile environments. Experts at the durational performance of thriving in a world geared against our survival.

Knowing what I do about the internalised hostility and judgement that repeatedly undermines our efforts to meet our basic needs, it felt important that the room would offer quality, care, even luxury. There is no place for ambivalence here.

The colours were based on the forget-me-not flower. All the soft furnishings in the room were designed and handmade by me, right down to the screenprinted fabric and reflective piping on the cushions and mats. The materials are luxury materials: there is silk in there, linen, canvas, corduroy. I hope that this room can be a place where that job of keeping going is made just a little bit less hard.

Another project I’ve been working on is The Slow GIF Movement. This wide-ranging project explores our agency and responsibility over public space, both in real life and online. It brings my own and others’ lived experience of neurodiversity to an understanding of how GIF culture is currently increasing the hostility of online space, and seeks to rectify that with the creation of calming, gently looping GIFs.

The Slow GIF Movement is offered as a public health intervention in the online world: the act of making and sharing them becomes an intervention in the environment, an act of solidarity, and a way to disseminate a collection of art works. The Slow GIF Movement will officially launch on 15 August (World Relaxation Day), and is supported by Unlimited and The Space Arts.


The Slow GIF Movement will launch on and in the lead up to 15 August (world relaxation day).

Upcoming dates are:
29 July-10 August: The Big Screen, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth
23-25 August: Victorious Festival, Portsmouth
12-25 October: Brighton Digital Festival (exact dates tbc)

Related words by Rhiannon:

Where to see Rhiannon’s work

  • ‘The Soothing Presence of Strangers’ upcoming, part of Waltham Forest Borough of Culture (Sept-Dec 2019)
  • ‘Exchange’ at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth (The International Archive of Things Left Unsaid quilt and web work, 5 July-22 Sept 2019)
  • ‘Poems Made from Words Found in the Bin’ online, on public screens, and in public libraries in Portsmouth (27 July – 10 Aug 2019).
  • The Slow GIF Movement (ongoing, online collection at http://giphy.com/channel/slowgifs)