• Dr Margi Brown Ash

The slow art of creative practice

Reflective practice is a crucial and fundamental way forward when it comes to creating art. It is only in reflecting, either through engaging in conversation or writing, taking photos, making music, drawing images, painting, collaging, meditating and walking that we can see beyond the obvious. The images and thoughts flirt with you, they sit just outside your reach and it is through creative reflection and untamed thinking that they land sometimes. I often reflect when I am walking, inviting the thoughts to come together in rhythm with my steps or inviting them to merge with the landscape I am moving through.

The landscape in this part of the world is mysterious, it is foreign yet strangely familiar. I am in a landscape of bare branches and clear undergrowth, of blue skies that suddenly turn black and I race for cover only to turn around a few minutes later and it is blue again.

In a strange way the landscape reminds me of the Celtic countries of my ancestors. I have been reading “the Ancient Wisdom of the Celts”:

Down the centuries the Celts have kept their reputation as a secret people, guardians of an unknown lore…the Celtic view of nature takes on a new sophistication when we consider the role of the Four Elements in Celtic cosmology. To the Celts, the universe was made up of four forces: earth, air, fire and water.

…and as i walk the landscape here at Sostrup I am very aware of the brown earth, the crisp air, the mote around the castle full of still water, sometimes so still that is is hard to know which is the castle and which is its reflection. Always, when we eat or chat or just sit through the day there is a candle burning and not just one candle but many. The landscape is potently alive and exists with a different energy to the landscape at home. I do not need to be as alert here rather I can engage in soft focus which seems to match the bare trees and the contained sky.

After a big breakfast we move over to the castle, up to the first floor and begin a conversation in the library. We have a playreading at 4pm and we are not sure what we are doing. As artists in residence it was important for us to do something within the community as a way of saying thank you or rather “Hi, we are the AIR, and we are so happy to be here creating our new play…here is a little bit to share with you”. Today we are so lucky to have two beautiful Danish visual artists visit and listen to what we are doing along with Bill my partner who is journeying with us. Bente Lyhne is a visual artist who is exhibiting at the moment at the castle: is where you will find some more information and many more images of her powerful work:

Bente’s friend accompanies her: Xenia Lassen is an international light artist, and creates unique structures. …really astonishing works: if you go to her website you will see some images of her creations. What a treat to have these artistic minds in the salon, helping us unpack this new theatrical landscape.

We begin slowly, creating a new way forward…to begin slowly is not an unusual way of starting the day: A book I refer to every now and then, “The Art of Slow Writing” by Louise DeSalvo, talks about how writers can be very slow.She writes:

Slow writing…could be one way to slow down time, to “articulate time”. A way too, to “slow down life”. Like Slow Food, “slow writing” doesn’t “just take time, but makes time”. Slow writing is a meditative act: slowing down to understand our relationship to our writing, slowing down to determine our authentic subject, slowing down to write complex works, slowing down to study our literary antecedents” (The Art of Slow Writing)

Late night Skype meetings and rich dinners certainly slow our rhythm for the day. We notice this and go with it, allowing our stories to unfold as they needed, rather than as we needed them to. To understand our rhythms and embrace them, to refuse the invitation to manipulate them to fit a prescribed timetable is the way we want to work.

Dunne, in her book “Carl Jung-Wounded Healer of the Soul” talks about how understanding ourselves is a tool for understanding the world. Same I think in the world of theatre making: we move towards an understanding of character, we move towards an understanding of the world of the play and we move towards an acceptance of the unfolding and unique “how”: how do we create this new story? Every process is different, regardless of the philosophical framework that underpins it, in our case our base line includes a high regard for the creative process, a “yes and” approach, a need to hear our stories out loud, a patient stance, a respectful ear, an acceptance of everything at this stage of development. All of these qualities are within RIC, the frame that I have created for creative practice: Relational Impulse Cultural Training. I use RIC as a way of staying on track, of understanding the unfolding landscape of creative play. You can read more about RIC on other pages on this website.

Today we unpack a little more the importance of exploring a character such as Eve. A character that never ceases to move me even though I have journeyed with her since 1991 when Doug Leonard, an astonishing director, presented two texts as scores for our devised piece “Songs of the Hut”: Doug wanted to work with Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines and Eve Langley’s The White Topee, two books I had not read back then, but once started could not put down. Primarily it was the description of the landscape that captivated me…Eve writes things like

I turn my head, incline it to the right and stare out into the awful loneliness of the painted looking Australian bush, the course blue gums, the coarse yellow dry earth. All these, looking like a vast savage picture to be thrust forward to influence Australian and world art

As I read this I am thrust into the Australian outback, its dry beauty, its old beauty. And I am moved. I look out Sostrup’s window and I am back in Denmark, a landscape so vastly different it jolts me.

It is the landscape that holds me, regardless of where I find myself. The space, the colours, the shape, the size of the sky,the temperature, the smell, the sound, the feeling that emerges. And it is the landscape that then moves me forward.

Our reading goes well…we have created a new form. Whether this new form stays in the final production is another question. Whether this play changes its name and moves away from Eve and into other territory is likely. But the essence of Eve will remain. The reason why I want to do this topic again and again is because I believe it is extremely relevant right now. Women are putting up their hand to be recognised in our Australian theatre industry. In Brisbane we are led primarily by men, men are the artistic directors and the people with power. We are lagging behind the world in gender parity. Eve is a terrific example of a very talented and original voice being “invisibilized”. As Australians we do not tolerate difference too well…Eve Langley was an artist of unique vision who did not fit the mould. Australia needed to find a way of accepting rather than silencing her voice. Eve’s words influenced my world greatly and I use her words when she/I write:

It is alarmingly easy to commit your wife. One simply requires the collusion of a relative or two and a couple of medical professionals. Perhaps i am just someone who loves planets and the Gods. Someone wh wears clothes that don’t quite fit: someone who dreams so loud that they find the world an awkward fit. My husband says “She’s acting odd. She’s alway stalking about Saturn and she thinks she’s Oscar Wilde”. Then the doctor interviews me and I’m committed”