Reflections from an Artist Residency

Reflections from an Artist Residency

October 10, 2023

Developing the Aerial Nervous System

I can’t wait to dive in and tell you all about the juicy discoveries we made in our recent creation residency. But before I get too far, I feel this needs a bit of background information.

The project is called Homeostasis, and it’s based on and around the human nervous system. The apparatus is an aerial sculpture that was created in collaboration with Shibari artist, Kemo Burns, back in January of 2022. The ropes are tied together using the intricate workings of this Japanese art form.

I started to tackle the challenge of maneuvering on this giant jungle gym of ropes back in April 2022, in a duo piece with Lena Alani. In this initial performance, we really got to explore what’s possible in terms of movement and imagery.

Fast forward to August of 2023, where Saffron Van Rossem joined me in Los Angeles for a self-imposed artist residency.

Here’s where I really feel I need to take a moment to explain. (especially for those who may live in more funded countries). Getting arts funding in the United States is hard. Hard is an understatement, so I’ll paint a picture. I’ve been creating original work for 18 years, and received 3 U.S. based grants within that time frame. In my experience, financial support for artistic work primarily comes either from crowdfunding or the artist’s personal investment.

But I’m an artist through and through, and it’s not an option to NOT make art. So what do I do…? Create my own artist residency. So Saffron and I carved out a full two weeks to focus and commit to the creative process. (Very hard to do…fellow small business owners, I know you get it.)

We assembled our Circus Gear rig in the backyard and set a rehearsal schedule that worked around the hot days of summer in Los Angeles. We were ready…our heads swimming with ideas, and equipped with plenty of bug spray.

Ok, now here’s the part where I get to fill you in on the inside scoop on our creative process and the interesting discoveries we made.

Homeostasis is about the nervous system…a truly fascinating subject that scientists, psychologists, and the general public are learning more and more about every day.

Our mornings started with research, both cognitive and physical. We would start by reading a section from our residency bible, Complex PTSD, then choose concepts that felt poignant and create improvisational exercises to explore. Through physicalizing the material, we would often have some kind of “ah-ha”moment; a direct result of embodying the feeling rather than intellectualizing it.

A lot of our research concerns our bodies’ natural survival responses; fight, flight, freeze and fawn. As individuals AND as a society, we can easily get stuck in these responses and our nervous system rarely gets an opportunity to rest or down-regulate. Many therapists and somatic practitioners have techniques to help people come back to a place of homeostasis, or balance. A process like this is called co-regulation.

One of our primary inquiries is around co-regulation. This feels particularly compelling to us, in dealing with our own personal habitual responses, and also in learning about how to support our loved ones when they’re struggling with their mental health.

Day after day, we dissected and explored a concept, both on the floor and in the air. Here are some of the highlights of our discoveries.

When embodying “flight” we organically moved into synchronized movement and found a deep comfort in this. Later, when talking with a somatic therapist we learned about the physiological reason for this….this taps into “mirror neurons” by mirroring the body language of the person stuck in flight mode.

We learned about somatic techniques for co-regulation when a person is stuck in a “freeze” state. By slowly titrating in gentle, rhythmic movement a person can start to become unstuck….in body, mind, and spirit.

When embodying “fight” mode we tapped into a profound anger, and recognized the deep aversion to looking inward. This inspired using a mirror in our improvisations, recognizing the need to face yourself as an essential catalyst for the healing journey.

We grieved over our own relationship to “fawning,” recognizing the deeply entrenched pressures of (in particular) women in our society, and how people pleasing shows up and casts a shadow over our authentic selves.

While western psychology is starting to become more body-centric in integrating these physically based techniques, these are healing practices that have been used for centuries within indigenous and tribal communities. This is why dance, movement, and ritual are integral to our individual and collective health.

So yeah, this stuff goes deep, and we often found ourselves needing to keep ourselves in check during the residency. Making art is challenging, and there’s a certain amount of stress that creates a healthy resiliency. But also we had to confront our own tendencies to push past those lines.

Because, how can we make a piece whose central thesis surrounds the need for down-regulation, while simultaneously putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves for our time and outcome…all in the name of productivity.

All in all, it was a rich and enlightening experience and we are most excited for how far this project can go. We are building an educational component which will complement the performance work. We found first hand how powerful it can be to gain insight on these topics through physical play and experiential learning.

Please reach out if you have any ideas, contacts, or resources that you think would be a good fit for this project. We are specifically seeking relationships with individuals and organizations who specialize in mental health through a somatic lens.

– Rain Anya, Co-artistic Director of Paper Doll Militia