Artists Sarah Cole and Annis Joslin share the latest from the Self-Identity Artist Commission. They are working with Joining Hands, Joining Hearts – a support group for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse who aim to help disempowered and isolated women through emotional and practical support.
We are both avidly watching series two of The Handmaid’s Tale. Some days it taints what we hear, and one quote lingers in the air every Friday:
Men are afraid that women will laugh at them,
women are afraid that men will kill them.
Before we all met, the Joining Hands, Joining Hears (JHJH) group listed their hopes and aims for this project and one person wrote down to go camping. We couldn’t find a date when this was possible before the summer break, but one of the group has a very large garden and it was agreed that we would gather one evening and explore gesture and ritual using the camp fire. Many of the individuals in the group have been expressing the need to let go of their past. We talk a lot about messiness, about not being defined by abuse, but instead becoming stronger, more resilient, because of it. This is an aspiration rather than reality for most – there is a lot of vulnerability, some shame, uncertainty, and we are mindful that some weeks the activities and conversations may trigger feelings that are uncomfortable or distressing. But when this happens there is always someone who notices and offers support, swiftly managing the emotional landscape to enable things to continue – it’s a remarkable space to work in.
As the evening grew dark, we burnt stuff and the flames were deeply satisfying. We shared food and wrote down the worst things people have said to us. We played some word games then one by one each person walked up to the fire holding something symbolic, then spoke of the thing and what it meant to them as it burned. We all watched, mesmerized. And then we sang, as Annis played the ukulele (which she is learning as part of this project). We then watched an outdoor projection of animations and videos the group had made, and looked at the work of video artists like Pippilotti Rist.
A memorable, poignant evening and a reminder of how important symbolic gestures are, how sharing them seals people together and how different it is to work at night rather than in the usual morning or afternoon workshop slot.