• MBA

...a new place, a new way of thinking about home and belonging

A winter road in Finland

For the last six years (though probably all my life) I have formally been studying and exploring what home means, both the place and space of belonging. Today I am sitting in a white studio in the middle of foggy Finland looking out over a meadow of light brown. Winter trees line the road in front of my window, a road that hosts only a car or two each hour and the occasional dog. The silence is confusing for my ears, always used to birdsong where I come from. But it is too cold for birds to sing here.

I have come half way around the world to spend one month in relative isolation. Well, the emphasis is on 'relative' because there are others who have also come to be challenged. Arteles is an old school building and is now an artists retreat and this month it is hosting a "Back To Basics Residency" where ten or so artists from around the world have gathered to begin their new work.

But is there such a thing as 'new' work? I'm not sure at the moment, because when I think of new work I am thrown back to my 'old' work, work that I am still not done with. My exploration of HOME is not complete, though when I applied for the residency I thought it would be...

I am much clearer than I was about what home means to me, but will it be relevant to others? Or is that even important when it comes to art making? Perhaps the relevance only has to happen when people are experiencing the performative aspect of the work- the three plays in The Belonging Trilogy, two of which will again be performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland, in July 2017. It is in the witnessing of these works that hopefully change occurs and the book that I am writing is merely a summation of the unspeakable... or a way of understanding what has emerged in this mammoth expedition towards belonging.

Anu Pentik's Three Rooms, Helsinki

When I witnessed Anu Pentik's The Three Rooms last week in Helsinki, I was once again forced to reconsider what it meant to belong. In one of the rooms of the gallery a representation of heaven(complete with angel's wings, though you cannot see them in this picture) sat inches away from a young ceramic figure of a boy who appeared to be more interested in the iPhone than what was above him...the beauty of heaven apparently escaped him...what was real here and what was illusion...

And this alerted me to the possibility that sometimes we may not even recognise that we actually do belong, that we are at home, because our culture is always wanting us to yearn for more (in particular through technology) to look beyond what we already have. To not be satisfied. Never enough.

However, when you re-locate, change your place, your space of habit, you are forced to see with new eyes. So even though I am a firm believer of the expression of Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes",I also know that new landscapes and locations can help one see - more clearly - the home within. Our sense of belonging is perhaps wherever we find ourselves, if only we notice.

One of my favourite pastimes, especially on a cold winters afternoon, is reading BrainPickings ( a marvellous newsletter written by Maria Popova who is an avid researcher and artist and reports on a wide variety of things, often my favourite authors. For instance, Popova reminded me about Annie Dillard, who wrote The Writing Life which sits on my bookshelf thousands of miles away. Dillard suggested that "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" and this statement stirred in me the importance of action. John Lennon wrote "life is what happens when we're busy making other plans". And this reminded me to notice. Noticing what I notice, an expression that emerged from my training with contemporary choreographer Deborah Hay and the late performance artist Margaret Cameron, who used wonderful provocations as we moved on the studio floor. A catch cry of mine now, 'notice what you notice' invited the spirit to pause, go slow, breathe, and to notice what you notice...

When I walked the muddy road just a few hours ago I could not avoid noticing the fog, something I rarely see at home. I noticed how it softened the landscape as it enveloped me, giving me room to breathe. The sharpness of the Australian landscape is forgotten for a while as I absorb the beauty of muted colours and the dark twisted lines of the bare trees. Anu Pentik's room of heaven did a similar thing. It softened me as I allowed it to reveal the heaven within, the home within, the complex interconnections of experiences and longings. If you look carefully, you can see the angel wings on the wall in the picture. Wings of hope, wings that connect heaven with earth, this day with that, here and now.