Creating A Holistic Homefront
Carrie MacLeod leads an SFU audience through 'human choreography'
Written by Brit Bachmann + Photography by Alisha Weng
“I ask us to listen with our whole bodies.”
This is how Carrie MacLeod opened her lecture performance at SFU Woodwards. While the audience was bathing in a warm amber glow in the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, anxiously awaiting to hear her views, MacLeod had already plotted a way of engaging us directly. In her opening sentence, she shifted the perspective of the discussion away from herself as a speaker to us, the audience, encouraging introspective observations of how we individually process the notion of ‘home’.
MacLeod asked the audience to turn to their neighbours and produce words to describe the feeling of being at home. These words included growth, found, embrace and heart connection. MacLeod wove these terms to paint a new picture of how we view belonging, as something expressed through ‘human choreography’ or the language our bodies produce. Home, as defined by MacLeod is divided into four variables: the body, space, time and energy.
And springing from this topic, MacLeod surprised the audience by starting a metronome on her speaker stand. As she read from a statistic discussing refugee displacement, the steady, unnerving pulse of the metronome collectively sucked the audience into a different state. Contrasting the warmth of her introduction, MacLeod’s speech suddenly became strong and aggressive, and bounced to the tempo of the metronome. She stopped the metronome mid-tick with her hand, and continued reading excerpts-
“Associated Press, June 2014. ‘For the first time since the second world war, the number of people forced from their homes has exceeded 50 million.'”
“The Guardian, July 2014. ‘Women are the sole providers for one in four Syrian refugee families struggling to provide food and shelter for their children, and often facing harassment, humiliation and isolation.'”
“The Canadian Press, Sept 25, 2014. ‘A confidential Red Cross investigation found numerous shortcomings of Canadian facilities for immigrant detainees including triple-bunked cells, lack of support for detained children and inadequate mental health care.'”
Reaching for a ball of purple clay, she continued her talk in a softer but equally intense tone, reshaping the clay between her fingers and palms as she spoke. MacLeod articulated the realities of forced dislocation through violence and political unrest. She reminded the audience that people start forming their home fronts en-route, in detainment centres and camps. These words were complimented — or perhaps overshadowed — by the representation of struggle she kneaded into her clay ball.
Through the combination of these two performative actions, MacLeod cultivated an aura of tension and resistance. She perfectly illustrated the influence of environment on the physical body, and the unpredictability of emotional response. The body, space, time and energy became utterly indistinguishable.
In a cathartic interlude, MacLeod projected an image of a masked man dancing inside a circle. The photo was from her time spent in Sierra Leone, working with refugees and displaced people. MacLeod explained that regardless of the situation, dance circles were always formed in these conditions. Dance was the most immersive way of demonstrating their cultural heritage in an unfamiliar landscape. Through dance, these refugees were keeping ‘home’ alive.
Dancing masked added an additional layer of meaning to these impromptu recitals. It allowed the dancer to disconnect from their individual experiences, to express collective experiences of war and trauma. Dancing acknowledged the trauma without patronizing the experiences. It continues to be an accessible medium, similar to oral tradition, that is easily passed down from generation to generation. Consistent cultural revival through movement.
This choreography of movement also allowed MacLeod to connect with families in a detainment facility. At the drop-in centre she squeegeed a sliding door every day. Children began to mimic her on the other side of the glass. This simple squeegee dance became a routine that chiselled away at the cultural barriers between her and the families around her. Repetition became another means of connecting to people.
MacLeod demonstrated her squeegee technique as she told this story, hypnotizing her audience yet again. And after setting the squeegee down, she picked up a sheet of coarse sandpaper and began grazing her fingernails up and down it.
She led the audience through another story of how the children began to open up to her by drawing their utopian cities in the sand. They worked the earth as a canvas, on which they drew imagined places where they could feel a sense of belonging.
Lacing the entire evening together, MacLeod asked for volunteers to join her up front. These volunteers, shy at first, were tasked at creating a sense of home through gesture. She assigned a Keeper of Rhythm and Time, two Space Holders, a Mover/Navigator, and a Lover of Words. Together they improvised an interpretive dance and spoken word performance to conclude the evening.
There was a final exhale during the question period after MacLeod’s lecture performance. Several audience members brought up topics of cultural ethics and reconciliation, and the artist’s right to engage. These questions were efforts to contextualize MacLeod’s experiences abroad within Canada’s social dynamic. In Canada, the history of internal displacement coupled with the broad scale of immigration has given the country an uneasy sense of dislocation. Relevant examples of this includes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and Vancouver’s social housing problems exemplified by the Oppenheimer Park camp. None of these topics were addressed directly, however, perhaps because they are still so unresolved in our collective conscience.
MacLeod gracefully curated the evening, leading the audience through a sensory exploration of ‘home’ in all its manifestations. Her choice to combine theatrics while narrating her stories animated the lecture, making it more engaging and memorable. This style of lecture performance is a conscious melding of art and academia, with roots to 1960’s conceptual performance art.
In many ways, the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre was the perfect venue for such a lecture. Tucked down a hallway on the second level of SFU Woodwards, it hosts more intimate discussions and performances. Although the rippled brick wall behind MacLeod was constructed for architectural acoustic purposes, during this lecture it acted as a subtle reminder of the literal definition of home: four walls and a roof.
From the press release-
Carrie MacLeod has used an arts-based approach in education, advocacy and social action programs for two decades. Her work has focused on peace and reconciliation initiatives in post-war contexts abroad and within refugee resettlement programs in Canada. In Vancouver she is currently the Community Coordinator for the Enacting Resilience project at the University of British Columbia and teaches in the Vancouver Expressive Arts Program. At the European Graduate School she is on the Faculty of the MA Program in Expressive Arts in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding and is the Director of the International Centre for Arts in Peacebuilding. Her latest co-edited book The Choreography of Resolution – Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience has just been released.
This lecture was presented by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement in the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, September 30th.
Brit is Editor-In-Chief at Discorder Magazine, Community Engagement Coordinator at VIVO Media Arts Centre, and frequent contributor to Vandocument. When she isn't writing or sneaking into studios, Brit draws.