Arriving home, I open my front door to find a small, neatly packaged parcel in the hallway. It contains a beautifully assembled zine, sent from artist Elizabeth Fortnum. I hold it in my hands and begin to carefully turn the delicate pages one by one. As the shapes and images unfold, I am transported back to November 2021 and engulfed in memories and feelings of a whole weekend spent moving, breathing, making, creating, exploring and talking together with a group of nine others at the Moving Shame (2021) workshop.
This blog post is my attempt to tell the story of that weekend.
It is an important story to tell. It is a story that might be useful if you are interested in researching, challenging, or exploring the topic of shame. Beyond that, it is a story, I believe, that enacts a kind of antidote to shame in itself.
Through the Moving Shame workshop, we created something meaningful together. We created the illustrated zine I hold in my hands, and this was an achievement. I will treasure the zine. Yet something else happened as well. We created other things. Less tangible, more ineffable, more (in Deleuze’s words) ‘felt, but not containable’ things. Here I’m going to describe the process of what we did, the moving, stretching, writing, drawing, doodling, art making, crafting together. Chats over tea. The all-important moments of rest.
What I am going to fail to describe, however, is the feeling of ‘creative connection’ this process evoked.
Creative connection, according to Kae Tempest, is “the use of creativity to access and feel connection and get yourself and those with you in the moment into a more connected space” (Kae Tempest, 2020).
Kae Tempest says that,
Immersion in creativity can bring us closer to each other and help us cultivate greater self-awareness…fine-tuning the ability to feel a creative connection can help us develop our empathy and establish a deeper relationship between ourselves and the world.
– Kae Tempest, 2020
If this is true, if ‘creative connection’ develops empathy, mutuality, connection, and trust, then it’s quite possible that ‘creative connection’ might just be an antidote to shame, defined as it is by isolation, division, disconnection, and mistrust.
So, this is an important story to tell. But it is also a story I will not be able to do justice. It is a story of “the feeling of landing in the present tense. Fully immersed in whatever occupies you, paying close attention to the details of the experience” (Tempest 2020) and it is a feeling of being that we cultivated together, in the moment, that I simply cannot capture and convey in words.
However, I can tell you what we did, and how we did it, and I hope by doing so I inspire you to do something similar yourself. To find practices and ways of being with others characterised by creativity, connection. Creating spaces to be in…
Regardless of whether that ‘right here’ is agitated, calm, joyous or painful
We spent many months creating, planning, and developing the Moving Shame (2021) workshop. Over several meetings I worked with writer Meg-John Barker, yoga teacher and therapist Catherine Forrester, and artist Elizabeth Fortnum (also supported by Arts & Culture Exeter, WCCEH and the Shame and Medicine project) to together map out our focus: exploring shame through movement and creative practices, our plan: activities including yoga, art, writing and discussion. We had hopes that the artwork produced throughout the two-day workshop might ultimately be curated into a co-produced illustrated zine. But we also decided this was not the ‘point’. The emphasis was on the process, on experimentation, and on play. We agreed that bringing together a group of people together to move, make and chat with a structure that was flexible and dynamic and had space within it to adapt what arose in the moment would create the conditions for connection and creativity to flourish.
Being, feeling and thinking together was the point.
Look up. There’s life in there. Put yourself away. Let go of yourself. Tune in to other people. To the movement in the branches, the sudden coming of rain or the patterns in the waves. To how those two lie on the grass…
This is it. This is the thing. This is the beautiful thing
– Kae Tempest (2020)
Over the course of two days, then, our group of ten spent many hours collaging, painting, writing, and moving our bodies. Catherine guided us through gentle, grounding yoga and meditation, inviting us to develop our sensory awareness, and ‘interoception’ through visualisation, movement, and self-massage.
‘Place one hand on your heart, and one hand on your belly. Can these be conscious gestures of care?’
Elizabeth invited us to sketch our own hands using paint, using ink.
‘Your body is the tool; how does it feel to be the paintbrush?’
Before transitioning into a discussion and collaging session with Meg-John exploring questions including,
How do I feel when I’m most alive?
A question which, Meg-John explained, was inspired by Sascha Altman Du Brul’s work, also reminiscent of Audre Lorde’s writing on ‘the erotic’ which aims to explore what we might think of as the absence of shame or other related blocks to the flow of experience.
The weekend continued along this vein. Gently encouraged by Meg-John, Catherine, Elizabeth and I, the group moved and breathed through a variety of practices. We covered a lot of ground. We explored how it feels to be ‘connected’. We considered how art and movement practices like yoga might help to get us there.
We also explored shame as the antithesis to connection, as its most powerful ‘block’. We combined meditation, movement, drawing, writing and collage to reflect on, articulate and try to represent shame. We thought about where shame comes from.
Meg-John drew four concentric circles on the board, one nested inside the next, the innermost one was labelled ‘self’, then ‘relationships’, ‘community’, and ‘culture’. We reflected on how the messages we get at each of these levels feel in our bodies. We considered this as a form of developmental and cultural trauma (Barker & Iantaffi, 2021). There was laughter, there were tears. There was a lot of jumping, moving, and shaking about.
We asked one another:
How might we move shame?
We didn’t find a conclusive answer, perhaps there wasn’t one to find.
But something happened in the space between us. Somewhere between the yoga mats, and the paintbrushes, the cups of tea and the gently guided discussions. Something emerged. Something which is, in part, captured in the swirls and folds of the beautiful zine, and which, as a whole, is held in the muscles and memories of everybody who took part.
The something that was created continues to pulse and vibrate through my work now, almost a year later.
I am in the middle of ‘Moving Interviews’ with research participants and I am running ‘Moving Medicine’ workshops at the University of Exeter and King’s College London in collaboration with Dr Luci Richards and I will be running another Moving Shame workshop in December 2022 at Queer Circle, London with artist Tam Hart.
The creative connection developed through the original Moving Shame workshop continues to nourish and sustain this work.
Thank you so much to Meg-John Barker, Catherine Forrester and Elizabeth Fortnum for all you gave to creating this really special weekend. Thank you to Arts & Culture Exeter, the Shame and Medicine Project and WCCEH for your support. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the people who came with open minds and hearts to move, breathe, create, and connect with us.
Gemma Lucas, ESRC funded Human Geography PhD student, University of Exeter
14th November 2022