Don't miss Britain.
Make the most of your visit.
oil pastel, pencil
8 pages with foldout, 50x21cm, 2018
Welcome booklet number 2.
Welcome to our diamond isle in both 4k and 18k.
Welcome to houses and apartments in the corseted green.
Welcome to Cola Costa Coffee.
Welcome to the smoking tower of art and loopy loops of magnetic tape.
Welcome to the purr-fecf talk and walk.
Welcome to surgical appliances and bottled scent of Bambi.
Welcome to a big beautiful sleep.
Welcome to a breakfast of fig and fennel hormones.
Welcome to your mood music.
Welcome. Please take notes and make any necessary drawings.
Welcome booklet no. 2 (with notes and drawings)
oil pastel, pencil
20 pages, 50x21cm, 2018
Margaret Lowenfeld (1890-1973) was a pioneer of child psychology and play therapy. She was able to make creative connections of the highest originality. The child-centred philosophy she developed and its process of therapeutic play-making was the culmination of many factors: central to these being her experience of children traumatised by World War One; and also her observation of the colourful patterns in Polish folk costumes. Her work and legacy has influenced my thinking and art practice, both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire that occurred on 14th June 2017.
I have always used a model of art making that was rooted in play and non-verbal processes of communication. I was able to use this during Art for Silchester, a seven month residency that has just ended at Silchester Estate. I worked with residents and children who live across the road from the tower and each of whom are coping with the tragedy in different ways. During these sessions, we made large scale drawings and ceramics which were indirectly connected with the therapy of Margaret Lowenfeld, who first started her work in this area of North Kensington in the late 1920s.
I also recently met up with Margaret Lowenfeld's great nephew, Oliver Wright, who is one of the therapists working with the NHS in providing support to local residents traumatised by the fire. But this blog is an interview with Thérèse Mei-Yau Woodcock that was recorded from July-Sept 2018. She is retired from practice, but was trained at The Institute of Child Psychology in the early 1970s and was the leading proponent of Lowenfeld Mosaics as applied to child psychotherapy. In talking about her life and work as a Lowenfeld therapist, I was also able to open up and have a reflective space to think about my own feelings, my inability to voice them over the past year and how I am now moving forward as a person and artist.
A war child in Hong Kong and China
I was born in Hong Kong, a British colony in 1935. My parents were both teachers. When they graduated from university they started their own school based on my mother’s ideas. She was an intuitive teacher and had this notion that when you teach a child it isn’t just the teaching that counts. It is also about the child. In Hong Kong during the 1920s and 30s that was a rather unusual idea.
When the Japanese took over Hong Kong they changed all aspects of our lives including our consciousness. When my brother was born, my parents decided they didn’t want to live under the Japanese and they went to Canton, China. We had nothing and squatted in an empty house. My parents had to have two jobs in order to have enough money to feed us.
I was left on my own and wandered around quite a bit. I once stumbled across this march. Being small and very inquisitive I wiggled to the front. There were two Chinese men being executed by the Japanese. The whole crowd watching was Chinese. As soon as one of the prisoners stepped forward the crowd cheered. Then a band of soldiers tried to shoot him but he kept on spinning and it took a long time for him to fall. The crowd just kept on cheering. I was an innocent child and didn’t know anything about politics, but I thought: fate was going to show the people this was a good man. Children see things that they don’t understand and they have to make some sense of it. I didn’t see him fall and I thought he was a good man. That thought came to me as a child and I only found a word for it, patriot, when I came to England. So the words come much later in my understanding.
After some time my father returned to Hong Kong to see when it would be safe for the family to return; leaving my mother, my baby brother and myself in Canton.
It was during that period that I met a Japanese boy. The meeting was very curious because the Japanese boy was trained to think that Chinese natives were bad. I was walking with my brother in my arms and he threw a stone at me. It hit my elbow and I got really angry. I rushed home, dumped my brother on the bed and went back. I said you hit me and I’m going to hit you back. It was very foolish of me because I was eight and very tiny. He was about ten or eleven. He was so shocked because I could speak Japanese. He then said: if you can speak Japanese, you must be educated and civilised. So he wouldn’t fight me. We became friends and I learnt even more Japanese from him because I didn’t have anyone else to play with. My mother knew nothing about this Japanese boy because she was so busy earning our rice. Just meeting him prevented me from thinking that all Japanese were bad. This later fed into my understanding that all group prejudices were a generalisation of personal experiences.
Life is not simple. It’s not reasonable. It is not governed by things like - if this happened here, then that happens there. There is a war, but for the individual child all kinds of experiences are possible. These were war-time relationships and had no consequence afterwards. But even now, I sometimes wonder what happened to that Japanese boy.
A scrambled education and life in post-war England
We came back to Hong Kong in about 1946 with a wheeled cart and the little luggage we had. My father had found a flat. I continued to look after my brother but not for long. My mother wanted me to go to school, but I had missed three years and so my Chinese wasn’t up to standard. So she decided to put me into a school where the teaching was in English. I didn't know any English. I was 11 and had to spend the first few months writing nothing but lines: I MUST HAND IN MY HOMEWORK. I was always semi-bottom of the class.
￼In my school leaving year, I failed in everything because I couldn’t be bothered to study. It just seemed too difficult. My mother asked me if I would be happy to be a street sweeper or a secretary. It was then that I realised the value of an education that enabled the individual to have a wider choice in adult life. So that year I started to study. When the exam results came out they would be published in newspapers and the top 50 students would get scholarships. I got one. That was such a shock.
I later discovered that my mother had been saving money for my education. But my father would always say - don’t overeducate your daughter because she won’t get a husband. You can see there were two very different philosophies in the household. But in the end he was very proud of me.
At university I knew I had to study hard. I studied political philosophy. I did psychology, I did logic. All the kinds of things you don’t get at school. Wonderful. I was just enjoying my life.
I wanted to become a librarian because I love books. The only post-graduate course on librarianship in the whole of the UK was at University College, London. They had lots of foreign students but they only accepted people with First or Upper Second Class honours degrees. I was very lucky to get in. They said do you have a classical language? I was very cheeky and said I have Chinese. I didn’t tell them that I only studied basic Chinese. They said, they didn’t have a Chinese student and we’ll take you even if you haven’t got any Latin or Greek, nor German or French. This must have been in 1958 and it was a one year intensive course.
￼During the second term I had pneumonia. I was staying in a university hostel and the registrar who was looking after me thankfully had a nursing background. When I went to take the exam, there was no way I could pass it. I passed one paper. I failed the other. They said we really want you to pass, so come back. But I had no money and the course was teaching you how to catalogue Latin manuscripts for working in a university library. It was not for public libraries. I thought this is all too alien and that I couldn’t continue.
Domestic life and the discovery of a vocation
I then thought I might enjoy teaching but got married and had children. I had to learn how to be a housewife and mother in England. All without any help. What I discovered was that I could talk to another PHD person but I didn’t have any ordinary language.
My husband was working in the Midlands as a salesman and he travelled all over the place. We were living in a new estate which had just been built and I didn’t know anybody there. The biggest town was Bromsgrove and that was at least three miles away. We had no telephone. My husband just thought: this is your domestic scene and he decided to have a mistress. I said, this isn’t right, is it? We can’t carry on together when there’s no connection.
￼So I was in a terrible bind and came back down to London. Then he followed with the children. I had to get a job. As I was the one who left, I had to help with the family finances and earn enough so that my husband could have some of my earnings as well.
Then I met Jasper. We discovered that maybe we should get together. Jasper and I were married for 46 years and the children lived with us. The children have always thought of him as their dad.
During this period I also had personal therapy. The therapist said to me: I can see that you don’t want to be a librarian anymore or a teacher. Do you have any ideas? I said: yes, I want to sit in that chair (pointing at her). I’m going to be a therapist who sees children.
First Mosaic made by Therese upon arrival at the ICP, 1969
The Institute of Child Psychology (ICP)
I went to Hampstead to visit the Tavistock Clinic. They said you can’t see anybody because they are seeing children and they are in private practice. I said: how do I find out about your training? Well, you’ve got to come to attend our courses. How long will this take? The lady said: it depends on the individual but it could be 4 or 5 years and the student would need to have personal psychoanalysis as part of the training. I just didn’t have the time or money for this.
So then I went to visit the Institute of Child Psychology in Notting Hill and they said: Dr Lowenfeld will see you, but she’s with someone else at the moment. They gave me a Mosaic to play with while I was waiting. It was a very clever idea. I knew nothing about what I was doing. It was fun. I made this tree and plane in my Mosaic. In hindsight, I realised this encapsulated my journey and life here in England. The tree was me growing up and the potential to develop in this country through the course. What I didn’t know was that they kept records of all Mosaics and when the Institute closed, I looked through the records and rescued my Mosaic.
Margaret Lowenfeld was one of the first child psychiatrists who was interested in finding ways for children to express themselves without only using words. She thought about what happens to a child between age zero and seven. How do children of that age think? She realised that what children perceive is multi-dimensional and cannot be put into words that are in linear time. The child has many ways of seeing the world and they formulate ideas through their sensorial experience. Lowenfeld had this notion that they do it through pictures. So she had this idea of picture thinking in the late 1920s and 30’s and pioneered the use of Mosaics and the World Technique; the latter known more generally as the sand tray used with miniature toys in dry or wet sand. These are play and language tools for the children to express themselves without relying solely on words.
Lowenfeld opened the Children's Clinic for the Treatment and Study of Nervous and Difficult Children in North Kensington in 1928. This offered a unique form of therapy for children that did not exist anywhere else in the country.
Before the Second World War, the clinic was very well known and mainly supported by private funds. Lowenfeld wasn't charging the local people very much because this was a poor area and she wanted these children to have the use of these facilities.
Photographs of Margaret Lowenfeld and children using the World and Mosaic.
There was a change of name and The Institute of Child Psychology relocated to 6 Pembridge Villas in Notting Hill Gate. The Institute had facilities that were exclusively given over to the self-generated play activities of children. There was a big basement to the house where the playrooms were located. The children could play ball and use climbing frames. There was a trunk on wheels which the children could hide in. Another trunk had clothes and hats and objects. This was used for dressing up and often lead to dramatic play in innovative ways. There was also a painting room where the children could paint on the walls. You could hose off the paint with water to obliterate the child’s painting should the child not wish for the painting to be kept. There was also a water room where you could have water and toys on the floor and we all had to wear waterproof clothing and wellingtons. The older teenagers might think that playing was too childish and so they could talk in what we called the Quiet Room. Occasionally we would take a Mosaic in for them to use. The Institute always had a file for each child’s therapy work that included a recorded copy of all their Worlds, Mosaics, drawings and paintings.
At any given time you might have 6 therapists with their children in the playrooms. We worked together as a team, often helping out by observing other children when the therapist might have missed out on some aspect of their child’s action. It was also a very demanding training. I could write about 12 pages of notes that documented what my child did in any given session. We would never impose a point of view or interpretation of their play. The aim of all this was to allow the child to express their point of view and feelings through play.
I started my post graduate course in 1969 and this lasted three years. We only had two new students per year. We had daily supervision, but on Tuesdays and Fridays we had two hours of group supervision to discuss what we called Corporate Cases; these were the children who were not solely the patient of a particular therapist. In the student’s last year, they would be supervised by Lowenfeld.
I liked doing the Mosaic and the World with the children. It could take two sessions to do this because sometimes children take forty minutes to do a Mosaic. I prefer to use the Mosaic because they have a progression or a regression and they tend to be linear. I don’t interpret the mosaics. I talk to the children through it and then sometimes they will tell me what it means. The Lowenfeld therapist always had to be lower than the child. I would sit in a chair that is the same size as the child. I’m lucky because I am fairly small anyway.
Lowenfeld was not psychoanalytical. She said her ideas were only just one philosophy and so we were taught about Freud, Klein and Jung. She said you will need to understand what other professionals might tell you about the child under consideration. The Institute had a child psychiatrist, an educational psychologist, a social worker and a West Indian social worker, as the area the ICP was in had a lot of West Indians.
I think I had an excellent training and it never troubled me that the psychoanalysts thought I was not trained. Lowenfeld had set up a proper postgraduate institution and awarded postgraduate diplomas. They had an academic board who oversaw standards. That’s why I got a student grant because it was properly recognised by the national Education Department.
Case studies and sexual abuse
I remember this nine or ten year old girl who came to the Institute and just stood rigidly. She believed that her back was made up of one bone and that she couldn’t bend her body. She only spoke in whispers, not wanting to expend her energy reserves. She was worried that she would die and had stopped eating. I said to her: do you know what our back is made up of? She said there’s a bone there. I said your quite right but there’s not just one bone but many bones. I’ll show you. We had these models. I got her the skeleton and I went slowly down the spine guiding her hand so she could feel the knobs. The first treatment objective was to get her to learn about moving freely. We often did body work because, for instance, many girls didn’t understand about menstruation.
There was also a fifteen year old Indian girl who was very unhappy and wasn’t eating. She told me she was going to have an arranged marriage but wanted to go to university. The parents felt that any further education would be unnecessary since their aim was for their daughter to get married immediately after leaving school. To enable her to get into university, I said: you have to go to the library rather than home to do your school work. Sometimes therapy is being pragmatic for people to get out of these difficult situations. You’ve got to offer them a solution that will relieve them from that. Only then can it be analysed and if the child wants it to be.
What happens if the daughter is expected to sleep with the parents? I said okay. Which side of the bed are you sleeping? I’m sleeping on the right hand side. Who else is in the bed? Mummy is on the other side. So I asked who is in the middle. That’s daddy. I asked her how she liked the arrangement. This is a thirteen year old girl and was a case of sexual abuse. There are girls who I can discover their issues through their World Play or like that girl who did a Mosaic. She kept on shoving Mosaic pieces in between other pieces. I said sometimes that happens to older people as well. She nodded. I said: it also happens to girls. What you need to do, to stop this, is to tell an adult. There’s a law that allows me to talk to you about this.
I was getting somewhere with one child who was telling me the parents were abusing her. The parents then stopped her coming to see me, saying Mrs Woodcock’s English is so poor that my child can’t understand her. You can’t argue with that. What I said to the girl was: I’m sorry this is your last session because your parents are not happy about you coming. I said: you know what the problem is. You are fifteen and by the time you are sixteen, you can leave home. That was all I could say. Perhaps there are limits to the therapeutic process.
Lowenfeld never talked about sexual abuse at all. You would think she never knew about it. But you see nobody was talking about it at the time. The biggest change I saw over these years was actually having abuse recognised and also the legal aspect of myself and social workers having to report it. I thought that helped me to talk to the children. By law, I had to report this and some other professionals were then able to help the child.
I am extremely grateful to have attended the course at the Institute of Child Psychology. It enabled me to help children by using the World Technique and the Lowenfeld Mosaics.
When I graduated in 1972, I worked for the NHS and child guidance clinics in Newham, Haringey and Barnet. Both Haringey and Newham were multicultural and deprived areas. I didn’t actually want to work anywhere else. That was a personal choice. I wanted to work with a variety of children including the poorest.
I saw my last case in January 1995 having worked as a Lowenfeld therapist for over 20 years.
A selection of my work will be housed at the Wellcome Library as part of the Margaret Lowenfeld archive.
Expressing the shape and colour of personality:
Using Lowenfeld Mosaics in Psychotherapy and Cross-Cultural Research
By Therese Mei-Yau Woodcock, Sussex Academic Press, 2006.
Photographs and text kindly reproduced: © Thérèse Mei-Yau Woodcock, Dr Margaret Lowenfeld Trust and Wellcome Library.
Let us end with Margaret Lowenfeld's account of the first day the Clinic opened on Telford Street in 1928. This was in rooms hired from the North Kensington Women's Welfare Centre (aka birth control clinic) where Margaret's sister, Helena Wright, worked as the Chief Medical Officer:
The two rooms that allowed for the Clinic's work consisted of one opening direct on to the street, which we used as treatment room for the children, and a second room opening out of it. Here records could be made and kept, parents interviewed, biomedical investigations carried out and discussions conveniently held between myself and my colleague.
Money was short so the playroom furniture began as one table and three chairs, one of them a fireside chair placed between the diminutive gas fire grate. The play material was kept in the second room and carefully selected for each child who came - it was too precious to be indiscriminately displayed. Later a second table was added for the children to paint on, the first round table remaining in the centre of the room. A scene in which this table figured later won us our crucial friend.
The first child who came was the "bad boy" of the neighbourhood, abominated by the shopkeepers. He came by himself and I do not remember seeing his mother. He was defiant and silent but remembering the Polish children, I left a French painting book - these were lovely (good ones being practically unobtainable in England) on the table with water and painting brushes. He seated himself with his back to the centre of the room and studied them. Half an hour later I stood silently in the communicating door watching him. His concentration was intense, he breathed excitedly and - schools being different in those days - I found later this was the first time he had the magic of colour in his hands. Every day the Clinic was open he came, and slowly began to talk. By that time I knew his attendance at school was erratic and all efforts to improve this had been defeated by his silence under questioning. We made a pact together: more regular attendance at school on the days and times the Clinic was not open, and fresh paints and painting books when he came. It was from the school we heard later that a different boy had slowly emerged - complaints against him ceased. One day he brought a young friend with him and we knew we were winning our way in the neighbourhood.
Constantine Gras making a mosaic, with from left to right: red beacon, tower from black to green to no colour; myself draped in those colours; and a key, a set of arrows pointing to me, the tower and Thérèsa as witness to the mosaic.
"I felt I needed something in addition to the tower and me. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a signpost trying to direct me or others, but everything is shifting apart again over time. Then I step back and look beyond the tower and me. I want to get a sense of the overall space and how these objects function within that space. Can I possibly create something that is aesthetically or emotionally satisfying? I am trying to make a work of art. I'm not sure if that is right."
"Yes. You are an artist. You cannot escape that."
"I was hoping that I might, but I don't think so."
"You won't be able to escape yourself, will you!"
At Play In The Ruins: A Lost Generation
oil pastels, 33x24"
19 Dec 2016
Artist's comments on the reverse of the drawing:
Starting off with abstraction, but thoughts turned to Lowenfeld sand play (Sand Face in the picture) and childhood. The news on the following day. The battle and now the desperate evacuation of Aleppo in Syria. One of the defining media images of the year, Osman Daqneesh pulled from the bombed building. His haunting stillness in the midst of horror.
An original screenplay that has been made into a commercially successful film, will generate merchandise, possibly a book. Hard Earth has the distinction of being a collaborative script made by actors and visual artist. It is based on the premise of a poetic mum (Jill) who is undergoing an end of life experience. Her son (Toby) and his partner (Mandy), whose relationship is in turmoil, are on the receiving end of her enigmatic reflections.
You cool your feet in the calming stream.
No human eye sees how your roots
Reach through the hard earth
To tend and nurture your fellow trees.
Cold, still stream.
Hard, hard......hard earth.
This is the artist's book that was made during the scripting process:
Page 1: Mandy and Toby trapped in a car.
Page 2-3: Where is Jill?
Page 4-5: Jill looks at the trees and Toby his office.
Page 6: Fragments of a poem drift down stream from the hill.
One family. Three divided people. "What am I to be?"
A short drama starring Tiberius Chis, Jackie Kearns and Michelle Strutt.
Script by Jackie Kearns, Tiberius Chis, Michelle Strutt and Constantine Gras.
Poetry by Jackie Kearns and sung by Sam Chaplin.
A Gras Art production.
Premiere screening at the Portobello Film Festival
Nominated for Best Drama Film.
I thought this was going to be a rather nebulous book.
I wasn't able to think or feel much when making it.
It ends a period of non-art making.
I had to force myself to turn the pages.
Each one contains the DNA of our sacred cow, the NHS.
When to allow an old and murmuring heart to stop beating?
When that heart continues to beat and the mind is frail,
When and why to prescribe antidepressants?
Come on, let's cheat on death and still make this a rather nebulous book.
Do not resus, but do prescribe antidepressants
Oil pastels, 16 pages, 6x8.5 inches
As the poignant anniversary of the Grenfell fire approaches, we reflect back with raw emotions and also brace ourselves as the public inquiry unfolds as a prelude to the legislative reform and criminal prosecutions that must follow. With all of this being shared on our local and national stage, I want to mark the occasion with some musical reflections that make me think about the residents from this community; those who sadly died and the survivors who have formed the inspiring Grenfell United.
During 2015-16, when working as artist in residence at Lancaster West estate and Grenfell Tower, I was also remastering the soundtrack for a student film called This-That made with Jacob Barua in 1989 at the University of Warwick. The film ends on a freeze frame with the protagonist (me) leaping into a future sky of uncertainty. Set across this image is a wonderful duet of angelic voices from Monteverdi's Vespers. I decided to re-record this song for the new version of the film and invited Cathie Hammond and Théo Hénusse from Queen's Park Singers to St Francis of Assisi church in Notting Hill.
At the same time, I was re-dubbing one of the dialogue scenes for the film. This took place in a residents flat in Grenfell tower. Strange how our 1989 film was having the acoustic space of North kensington, church and tower block, encoded into its DNA.
In the past 6 months, a scratch choir has been set up in the shadow of Grenfell Tower and under our excellent choirmaster, Sam Chaplin, we have been belting out tunes from Bob Marley to Emeli Sandé. This is a recording of You Are the Sunshine of My Life composed by Stevie Wonder. At our peak we have about 25 singers, but on this occasion we were down to half-size and rather thin on the bass end. However, I will always remember this recording. I was singing next to Tania. We have walked side by side on the monthly silent march in memory of those lost in the fire. She was a resident of Grenfell Tower and walks and sings with quiet, positive dignity.
Duo Seraphim, You Are the Sunshine of My life.
A pack of 8 art cards are shuffled and dealt out to the players.
Maybe they are more like Tarot cards, predicting a narrative of past-present-future.
What do you see? Please feel free to re-arrange the order and tell me a story or mood.
My game was conceived while researching and viewing Charlie Chaplin movies.
Also editing a short dramatic film about an aged tree and hard earth.
I'm running both silent and sound moving pictures in my mind.
I wonder if these drawings represent a parallel universe I travelled through last week.
One where I filmed a dance under the Vaults on Leake Street.
Searched for a tabby called Doorkins Magnificat at Southwark Cathedral.
Laughed in Bay 56 under the Westway in a space re-claimed by the community.
Cried during the Grenfell public inquiry held at Millennium Gloucester Hotel.
Dance, search, laugh, cry.
I may be the author of this game, but recall that chant - La mort de l'auteur.
Shuffle the pack, deal the card, play the game.
It's a real pleasure to feature an interview with the wonderfully talented Juliana Werner who fuses contemporary dance with traditional Brazilian forró. Her partner dance classes explore “body consciousness” and challenge cultural and gender barriers in dance. But above all else, they encourage the dancer to connect first with themselves and how they want to dance: how to feel music and translate this into performance and movement. Then comes the process of connecting with your dance partner. Juliana is transplanting some of the Brazilian vibe and social aspects of dance into a more reserved British and European environment.
A few weeks ago, I received a beautiful video about my workshop at the Tabernacle on April 1st. And attached to it there was some questions that I should answer giving some information about my life and connecting it with the things I’ve been doing as an artist. And I thought, “that it’s gonna be easy after all those years of academic writing”. But I was wrong. It took much longer than I assumed it would. Because it’s not so easy for me to talk or write about myself. And I guess that’s the reason why I dance. Because when I’m dancing it’s easier to express myself, to say the things I have to say. Having said that, I’ll try to answer these questions in the most honest way I can, considering that English is not my first language.
I’m the third of four children in a middle-class family from Porto Alegre, South of Brazil. Having two older brothers, I’ve learned about things that a girl should or shouldn’t do. I still remember on my 5th birthday, when my godmother gave me a robot as a gift. And my parents where talking for ages about the reason why she did it. “She must have bought this for someone else and gave it to you because she forgot to buy something for your birthday”. I remember my mother saying it was impossible that someone wanted to give me a robot rather than a doll. Of course, I had my very girlish moments when, together with my cousins, we use to rehearse dance routines and sing cute songs for the family after the traditional Sunday barbecue. Or when I was dancing lambada with my older brother wearing a very short skirt and top. But all of that was just for fun. Of course, I never imagined, at that age that I would become an artist. Neither of my parents were really supportive of my ideas and wanted me study and graduate for a career that could give me money.
I finished high school at the age of 16 and I then studied Physical Education at my local uni as my parents wouldn’t let me go to another city. During those four years I learnt everything I could that was related to body activities, but the experimental research was something that captured my interest. I worked in a physiology and biochemistry labs for three years and once I finished my graduation I decided to keep my academic studies in the same field of research. I did a Masters in Pharmacology and studied the antinociceptive action of a Brazilian plant for the treatment of pain. The hardest part came at the end of these experiments when I had to kill the animals. This aspect of my research made me interested ln bioethical issues.
For various reasons the PhD didn’t work as expected and I decided to audition for a dance project in my town. Grupo Experimental de Dança was where I found my voice and how to be free, not afraid. A place where I could just be myself and that would be enough. Not having a PhD going on, gave me the chance to fill my time with dance classes. It was the first time I had a chance to live dance like that. We had several different dance classes. And once a week we had a movie session, to watch and discuss dance videos. More than just to learn how to dance, it was with this group, with those people, that I learnt how to see the world in a different way. To be more empathetic, to respect and accept people, especially when they don’t agree with me. That was my way into dance without a return ticket. To dance is my way of being in this world.
In 2010 I joined the Axis Syllabus Research Community and their approach of the human body and movement got my full attention. Axis Syllabus is “a constantly evolving reference system, or lexicon for the organization and cross-correlation of empirical and scientific findings from the study of human movement. This includes anatomical details, physics, practical applications, research, analysis and transmission” (Frey Faust). But more than that, for me the Axis Syllabus was like a lens with which I could understand people through their movement. This holistic approach of the body and the dance has been with me ever since.
Because of my involvement with the Axis Syllabus Research Community I was invited to be part of the production team in the department of culture of Porto Alegre. I learnt how to produce, build scenery and costumes, how to operate the lights and the sound system. This was in addition to teaching and performing. In my case, I think it was the passion and adrenaline for life backstage which drove me on. Because of the skills I attained, I ended up connecting with other creative minds in a collective of independent artists (NECITRA). This collaborative and transversal artistic group gave me the opportunity to work with a new artistic language related to circus, that included juggling and acrobatics. It also gave me a better sense of autonomy and co-creation for my future projects.
The feeling of collaboration became even stronger after I had my first contact with forró, a Brazilian social partner dance from northeast of Brazil. Forró comes from the word forrobodó which means party. The same word is used to refer to the musical genre and dance style. Nowadays forró embraces vocabulary steps from other partner dances but in its original form was no more than a walk while hugging each other. The famous two steps to one side and two steps to the other side.
As in every partner dance, we need two people collaborating to create something together. One leader and one follower. But from my perspective that doesn’t mean that anyone is less active or submissive to the other when on the dance floor. As in any partnership, both are equally important. That's why I like to use the idea of a dialogue, where both have something important to say. But of course we’ll always need someone to start the conversation. Approaching partner dance from this perspective, I’ve been able to discuss social aspects of forró through dance.
From this traditional “2x2” to every know forró style in Brazil or abroad, there is one thing which is “unchangeable”; forró is a dance of embrace. The basic step in forró is no more than a little walk (usually starting with the leader stepping forward with the left leg) followed by a change of direction, stepping backwards. Forró is a very democratic dance with simple steps. And I believe that’s one of the reasons why so many people feel attracted to it. But at the same time, it can be considered a very “intimate” dance because of the level of physical contact. This can be the first barrier in learning how to dance forró. I noticed this cultural difference when I first started to teach forró in Europe, So I’ve created my own way to teach forró taking into consideration those barriers. I’ve started a project called The Art of Embrace.
The Art of Embrace is a concept that I have been working on since August of 2015. It’s a dialogue between my embodied practices with contemporary dance and forró. It is mainly focused on connection in the partner dance and on the development of more empathetic partnerships. The art of embrace is also an invitation to talk about social aspects of forró, especially regarding the historical gender determination in dance.
This is why I’ve decided to stay in Europe. I realised that I could use forró to make people become more human. To bring a real sense of belonging and togetherness. Forró is traditionally from northeast of Brazil, but the forró community is all over the world. And especially when you are an outsider, a foreigner, the sense of belonging can be hard to achieve.
This video that I’ve received made me happy not only because it was filmed in one of the most amazing
places I’ve ever been, but because it was made by someone that I’ve met here and who I hope to collaborate with. North Kensington has been trying to gather strength to deal with one of the most difficult situations that one can face after the Grenfell tower fire. There is a real sense of injustice here. I've always felt that this community had a unique desire to be heard. Little by little our stories are beginning to intertwine. And maybe one day we will be remembered as the ones who found strength through art … turning sadness into poetry ... to dance, to live.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day in Brazil. When I called my mum, I told her about one of my strongest memories from my childhood. My mum never had a cleaner because she had her own way of doing things and anyway it was not affordable for my family. But she used to tell me that, when I was born, I was too little and had to stay at the hospital because I had pneumonia. For 10 days, she went home afraid that something bad would happen and they would not be able to save her baby. And once I left the hospital she hired a cleaner, so she could spend the whole day with me in her arms. 33 years later I have a workshop called The Art of Embrace. Of course, we are a result of many things in our lives, but I’ll always be grateful to my first teacher. The one who taught me how good is that feeling of being inside someone’s embrace.
Please check out Juliana Werner's next The Art of Embrace workshop at The Tabernacle:
The theme for this workshop will be "looking after each other". In order to connect with others, we have to be able to connect with ourselves. The same applies regarding looking after our partners’ bodies during the dance. How to use the space in a respectful way and how to move around the dance floor respecting the “individual\collective body,” are the main themes at this dance workshop.
When? May 27th 2018 at 4pm
From 6:30pm we’ll have some free social dance!!!
Where? The Tabernacle
35 Powis Square
How much? £15 (in advance)
As I prepare to film a short drama film called Hard Earth, I return back to a previous rare outing in this genre. I can now register the achievement of that 2011 film and see a future teeming with collaborative potential. It's nice to work outside the experimental art genre that informs the bulk of my film output; although my last film, which was also my first feature, a documentary about Lancaster West estate, has been withdraw from circulation after the tragic fire at Grenfell.
It was 2010 and I met the actress Gwendolyn White on an arts project called Water Works. We became good friends and decided to make a film based on a story she told me about her mother.
I also set myself a challenge to tell a story in 1 minute. Almost haiku in tone, we have no dialogue or exposition in this documentary drama. The hand powering of a Singer sowing machine unlocks a matriarchal memory of love and a sense of cultural identity born out of an old slave song that became a gospel classic.
Screened at the In Short Festival, Lexi Cinema, Portobello Film Festival and Walthamstow Short Film Festival, 2011.
Greek column at Willesden High School
2003, oil pastels, A3
Love vase for Jacqueline Augustine - Rice and peas and ackee!
2005, Acrylics, A3
War vase for Achillea Achillea - I'll kill ya, Achillea!
2005, Acrylics, A3
Visionary vase for Mr Cobb - Artist, Musician, History Teacher
2005, Acrylics and Oil Pastel, A3
British Museum, Friends Opening 26/11/07
Ian Jenkins discusses the vanity, erotica and power of the Elgin Marbles
Perhaps the actors, Michelle Strutt and Tiberius Chis, thought the same thing when invited to attend the second workshop for a film project that is being created from scratch. But I had the left of centre idea of getting them to interact with the cultural happenings that took place on 24 March 2018 during the West London Gallery Bus Tour and improvise characters, moods and potential plot developments. I also wanted to test the actors in a live situation and observe their on-screen chemistry; they both responded fabulously in the chaotic circumstances.
I had worked with both actors before in The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle which was a play, film and exhibition project. Michelle had played one of the four narrators in the play and Tiberius had several roles including a memorable portrayal of Charles Chaplin.
A similar exercise had already been undertaken at Canada Water with the other actress in the project, Jackie Kearns. Her creative writing had inspired one of the themes of the film:
“Aged tree, you cool your feet in the calming stream.
No human eye sees how your roots reach through the hard earth
To tend and nurture your fellow trees.
Aged tree, cool, calming stream.
These episodic and fragmentary elements of a dramatic triangular relationship should be viewed as marginalia for a forthcoming film. I Thought You Were Going To Talk is an unorthodox trailer for what might turn out to be a completely different but related film.
Many thanks to Rob Birch, Piers Thompson, Fifi la Mer, Olly Wilby and Gosia Lapsa-Malawska for their support during the Gallery Bus Tour. The tour was organised by The Galleries Association established by Damian Rayne of the Muse Gallery.