Reflecting on my time here

Reflecting on my time here
The focus of this residency was to respond to Oriel Davies' new exhibition space. The Drawing Room, or the 'withdrawing room' to give it the original seventeenth century title, was a room for house guests and residents to withdraw from more public spaces for privacy. They later became somewhere the women would 'withdraw' to after a meal, leaving the men at the table. It's a beautiful space. People are clearly comfortable to come and chat for a while, to withdraw from the day and immerse themselves in words and sounds.

I've also used this space (both the physical and online) to continue trying to understanding a line from the Tao Te Ching, 'know not-knowing'. Reading this over a decade ago changed my worldview and it has remained the mantra ever since.

Arriving at the Oriel on day one, the first instinct was to stride outside and collect as much natural paraphernalia as possible to stuff into every corner - perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the semi-formality and historical symbolism of the room. Resisting this urge, I decided to re-wild the space aurally rather than physically because I've been working a lot with field recordings recently and this felt a natural progression of my current artistic practice.

Outside, the River Severn's energy sang through the town so time was spent recording her as well as the voices of people and birds along the riverbank. I wanted this residency to be an organic process of mapping-not-planning where chance encounters were created through playful situations such as the colourwalk (http://openspace.orieldavies.org/en/blog/colourwalk), and a river of words flowed through the space.

I held a vision of a flock of birds, a murmuration of starlings. Their path through the sky during such displays is part of a radical and profound unplanned-plan and I wanted this residency to mirror their freedom.

I have thought a lot over the years about how much of our own natural instinct is lopped off like tree branches from a young age to be replaced with schooling and the accumulation of knowledge (http://www.theabsurd.co.uk/archive/2009/thoughts/mar09/th_accum.html). These thoughts began with reading the words 'know not-knowing' and I have come to the conclusion that this phrase is key to creating great art. In fact I am convinced that to not know is to find ways in which to return to the natural Self and the surrounding world, to cast off the straightjacket of civility and learn how to respond and create in the moment.

The second line of poetry that feeds into this is Walt Whitman's 'and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.' What I feel is that if you have learned something through your own experience I will know it, and vice-versa, and then perhaps we can use art to share this knowledge, like the starlings when they murmurate. This way we are sharing our own unique experiences while not existing through the words or lives of others.

I wonder if murmurating starlings are not specifically telling each other anything during these flourishes, more that the coming together through these great events reminds them that they are part of something bigger than themselves which helps to trigger a kind of understanding about what each of them has learned - a great know not-knowing played out across the sky.

A realisation is dawning about how much work, how much failure, how much time it takes to begin to attain this level of understanding - mainly because we are so far removed from this way of existing. It has been difficult to grasp but I dream it as an ecosystem with the many different and contrasting elements of Self finely balancing in order to achieve harmony within. Learning Cymraeg is a big part of this for me also because it was gifted to us by this land, although I still don't fully understand why yet.

Once this balance, this poise is achieved everything else should fall easily into place. This will probably take a lifetime, but after twelve years I think I might be getting closer, not to understanding it - because that is the antithesis of this mantra - but more to becoming it.

The final performance piece contains fragments of automatic writing created throughout the residency, along with slices of conversation with people and the lines added to The River of words. Field recordings from the riverbank as well as on street corners, in cafes and from The Drawing Room are layered throughout. Stitched into this are also two poems of mine, Unknown (https://drumwithourhands.bandcamp.com/album/drkmtr), White Noise from Prophecy: conversations with my Self (download for free from the website here http://sophiemckeand.com/shop/index.php) and Elemental which will be published as part of the full-length poetry collection Rebel Sun due out with Parthian in spring 2017, because they belong in this piece. I'm hoping to post a live recording of it on the Oriel Davies soundcloud in the next few days.

Finally a huge thank you to everybody who came with openness and offered interest and support, who shared words, thoughts and ideas, tea and laughter and who walked around the town following colours or brought their beautiful dogs. It added real depth and meaning to my time at Oriel Davies and I feel I've made some true friends. Special thanks go to all the staff at Oriel Davies as well as Amber Knipe, Chris Kinsey and Martina Price.
Colourwalk
 

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Sunday, 22 September 2019

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