This week I’ve focussed on practice – making an outcome in order to start building up material from which to draw a potential future performance/performative space.
This has been really fruitful and has reminded me just how reliant I am on practice as research – truly as a means to work through ideas and find routes forward that cannot be replicated by theorising alone. You simply cannot know, until you begin to make, what it is that you are trying to do.
Beginning from my conversation with Emma about how the atmosphere and movement of water and perhaps bird flight could be captured in video and used to help create an installation space in which to perform dance, I set out to film the birds in my local park. I soon found that it made more sense to focus on their flying silhouettes against the open sky in order to give a sense of consistency and of the images being entirely untethered and un-busy when edited together, hopefully reflecting a minimal piano score that I would then record for the project. These shots are hard to film – in the way that we expect from a nature documentary – without specialist equipment, however, I persevered and enjoy the imperfect, always trying/never succeeding, delicate and fluttering effect of these relentless attempts and capturing the birds’ grace. The edit, which I resisted tampering too much with, I feel gives the juxtaposing sense of a flight’s both frantic and flowing nature, at moments bewildered, at others concentrated.
The last two weeks, however, has also been inseparable from family and the need to share the emergency care of my partner’s brother, in place of failing mental health services. Having survived similar past experiences myself due to family support, I felt grateful to be able to help. The experience has been intense, straining but bonding and has asked of me to prioritise the stories that I really want to tell, in the ways that I really want to tell them but have been too fearful of until now.
The filming of the birds was a chance for some short time away from what became base-camp – mine and my partner’s home – during last week, and my futile attempts to follow gracefully their flights with my camera a chance at escaping into focus. I regularly use unbroken focus upon the individual flight of these local birds (that nest around the pond at Moss Side’s Alexandra Park) as my own form of meditation, and was glad for the excuse of Emma’s dance project to experiment at communicating this act of watching the birds’ acts. But when I came to film them I was very aware of how necessary my filming was for my own stable state of mind at that moment as much as for the project’s material.
In the last few days, having had time again to myself to work, it has seemed entirely wrong not to mix these bird shots with the few snippet of footage and one improvised recording/piano performance that were captured on that same day, as I prepared my film equipment for the trip to the local park; one brief shot of a tele-screen playing a football documentary that was permanently on in the background for comfort, and a rare few minutes of calm as my brother-in-law improvised at my piano whilst his dog listened, my Zoom mic switched on upon the shelf above the piano and time for a shot of his hands from either side before the playing stopped. The music that was made felt meaningful then but also feels meaningful now as a record of a heightened moment and example of an artistic human amongst the delusional/unconventional behaviour that is so often dehumanised by its lack of visibility and therefore acceptance within society.
The subtitles in the particular section of the football that I filmed I later found to be poignant to that moment of that day, as were my attempts to capture the birds, and a moment of innate musicality, watched over with concern as ever from the player’s dog.
So this week I have made an unplanned sketch of a film from the few snippets of footage and one improvised recording that were captured on a single day this week spent alone in the local Moss Side park and at home with my partner’s family while we waited together for a tide to turn, watching out for the football, seagulls and one another.
Whether or not the personal significance of these captured moments and stories can affect others for whom they have no personal tie is the constant question of personal work. But this is a challenge rather than a reason not to move forward, and my experience as a writer of personal stories in song has taught me that the personal can be (yes, political, but also) affecting for strangers to my personal life. It simply takes practice, feedback and more practice.
It’s important, on ethical grounds, not to exploit a situation such as my family have experienced over the past two weeks but also not to pretend it never happened and to therefore perpetuate the ignorance, lack of acceptance and lack of societal support. Moving forward, my aim therefore would be to work in symbiosis (as Manoli Moriaty would have it) with my family and professionals in order to collect a variety of voices, rather than to exploit only my own voice or the raw experience of one other.
An idea is to bring together three members of my family who have separately had to care for those within a mental health crises, one being a nurse, one being a nurse/carer and another being a non-professional carer, and to ask if they would be prepared to share their experiences together and on audio recording. This I feel could provide a distancing and counter-balancing insight to my own lived experience and from those – often women – whose unvalued emotional labour often stands in for national services. Audio recordings for me are the starting point of gathering material either to be used in an outcome of as research, and to collaborate with mental health professionals/care-givers I feel is valid as an interdisciplinary collaboration, the outcome of which could be an installation – a spirited space – that aims to communicate those stories in an impressionistic and affecting way, using densities of sound, video and physical material.
To this end I aim to bridge my research into affective sensation with that of affective conditions and their official and unofficial treatments, reading into work by psychiatrist and memoirist, Kay Redfield Jamison, BBC Radio 4’s History of Delusion series and works recommended as useful to them by the above family members during their own experiences of care giving.
My next immediate steps are to show the film to Emma and to gauge whether the type of music and bird footage at the Turn’s centre could benefit her dance installation performance. However, I also see it as both an outcome in its own right (which I will be screening at our next Video Strolls event in Birmingham in order to gain feedback) and the beginning of a collection of material that can be worked towards a future performance or installation, as inspired by my research into Thick Time (which used a number of short films as its starting point) and my own and others’ experiences of psychosis, family, place and recovery. This is a story I have wanted to tell for a long time but have felt too close to. I now feel that I have the ability, distance and strength to research through practice the possibilities of work on this subject, either alongside or feeding into my dance/installation work with Emma.