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Artist's Statement

Formally: My work is characterized by an interest in people, nature, and the relationships between them. In this project, I am responding to modern sacred calendrical rites, especially Anglican and neo-pagan ceremonies. I am challenging the notion that sacred ritual must appeal to a higher authority, and must take place within the context of a particular belief and symbolic system. I am exploring the possibility that, under the right circumstances, sacred ritual can be seen as a form of art.

Informally: My creative work has always been multi-artform. My first creative experiments, at school, involved a mix of self-expressive methods from early 20th century psychology, and self-awareness techniques from mystical traditions. I found that these practices could be applied equally well to writing (flow-of-consciousness), music (improvisation) and painting (automatic painting).

It soon became clear that these techniques are also useful and effective tools for collaboration, especially when mixing disparate art forms. Over the years I have collaborated with writers, poets, (both in the written form, and in performance), musicians, movement artists, and visual artists.

It’s nearly 20 years now since I started experimenting with ritual. Initially, I investigated ritual as a tool for self-discovery, but rapidly began to realize its potential as a context for multi-artform events.

I became frustrated with the constraints of approaching ritual from the standpoint of a fixed tradition or belief system, and began exploring ‘creative ritual’ – ceremonies responding to particular events (a seasonal change, a military atrocity, a birth, etc.), but drawing on a mix of symbol systems, traditions and beliefs, creating something entirely novel, yet still meaningful.

Over the last 10 years my creative practice has focused on ritual and ceremony; I have produced many paintings, poems, music and theatrical scripts, and have also collaborated with other musicians, writers and visual artists, all within a ritual or ceremonial context. These works are still, ultimately, based on the improvisation methods I started out with, though significantly developed over the years.

I’ve also started exploring the potential of ritual, not just as a context within which art can be created and presented, but also as a form of art in its own right. Many commentators over the last 150 years have tried to define ritual, and art. Some (e.g. Catherine Bell and Ayn Rand) have provided definitions so all-encompassing that they would include all contemporary art, religious observance and social etiquette as both art and ritual. Others, such as Anna Halprin, have sought to establish a firm boundary between ritual acts and artistic acts, giving well-defined criteria by which to distinguish the two.

In my essay “Ritual: Live Art or Group Therapy?”
I explore Anna Halprin’s criteria, and re-evaluate them for creative ritual, concluding that her objections to including Ritual and Ceremony as art, fail when applied to creative ritual.

Over the last 2 years, I have been researching anthropological, sociological and psychological models of ritual, drawing particularly from Victor Turner, Mary Douglas, Catherine Bell, Carl Jung, Fritz Perls and Roberto Assagioli. From these sources I have derived a new synthetic model of ritual. This model, the “Technical Approach”, not only has important implications for the use of ritual techniques in art, (or creative techniques in ritual), but also for the uses of ritual in psychotherapy, and in the workplace. It also makes verifiable predictions about the kinds of psychological techniques used in rituals in different kinds of societies. Papers on all these aspects of ritual are currently awaiting publication.

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