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The cuteness of kittens

April 23, 2012

I am enjoying a morning off after a busy week. This is my fourth working trip to Greece, but my first visit to Crete. I have spent the week in Chania, a beautiful town. While here I have taught a four day workshop and performed ‘Echo Chamber’ once. Associate Directors of DUENDE, Aliki Dourmazer and Eva Tsourou, have also performed a show they made some time ago, called ‘Epafi’.



This work is always difficult – that’s the nature of what I do – but it is also joyous and very human. I found the performance hard, but that hardness was a reflection of my own struggle and so there’s nothing to worry about. Responses, as they always are to ‘Echo Chamber’, were very powerful. It is a powerful show. Responses to ‘Epafi’ were also wonderful and the workshop itself was really rich. In a studio by the sea we found something very deep and beautiful.



All this is lovely but I want to write about how cute kittens are.



There are many stray cats and dogs in Greece. They slink around, coexisting with the human population, living out their necessary lives.



In the house where we are staying, entirely thanks to the generosity of some people who had never met us but thought maybe we were worth helping out, there is a courtyard where I am sitting as I write. It is an old house – about 400 years old – and there is a lovely shady tree to nestle under and shelter from the almost-African sun.



A few days before we arrived, our host tells me, they heard a scratching at the gate. On opening it, they found a heavily-pregnant stray cat, pure white, who walked past them into the courtyard, into the house, under a bed, and started to make a place to bring her litter into the world. They found a box and moved her from under the bed to a safe place beneath the courtyard tree. By next morning she had produced five kittens. Three white, two black.



We arrived a few days later and the box was full of adult and kittens. Six separate creatures interwoven as one. When the mother licks her fur, cleans herself, she also licks and cleans the kittens. There is no difference to her between what is her and what is not her. She is herself and she is the kittens. The kittens crawl over her, round her, under her as they also crawl over, round and under each other. Blind, they are themselves and extensions of themselves. Themselves with others. When the mother leaves, the kittens make a chaotic pile of multiple-kitten which is both separate creatures and one creature.



Eventually there will be a separation, gradual and not without pain. Gradually the six-in-one animal of mother-and-kittens will become six separate animals. They will go out into this beautiful town, living their necessary lives alongside distinct, sometimes threatening others. Some, the females, should they live so long, will one day once again find themselves as part of a squirming mountain of multiple/individual ‘selves’.



People search out engagement with art (as participation/training rather than as audience, though it is true for audiences too) for many reasons. Sometimes it is as part of a process of continuing development. Sometimes there is a desire to try something new. But sometimes there is an urgency, a sense that something needs to be born and a safe place needs to be found for the birth to take place.



A studio should be a safe place for finding something entirely new. It should also be a safe environment to experience merging with others, the temporary losing of the boundaries of the individual (often ‘defended’) ‘self’ and extending that sense of self to include everything else – other people, other possible visions of oneself, dreams, the environment, landscape….. From this experience of merging with others comes the enhanced sense and knowledge of ones own possibilities. As the psychologist Czikszentmihalyi puts it (I am sure I am misquoting, but the sense of this is right): ‘Paradoxically the result of losing oneself in others is to emerge with an enhanced sense of ones self’.



This is one of the many, myriad, almost infinite number of reasons why any engagement with artistic process is fundamental to exploring and developing the sense of one’s own capacity, of relationships, of community, of citizenship. Perhaps that’s why so many governments fear artistic expression – for they cannot name, quantify nor control the experience an individual has when she meets herself in others.



Some people – most people – who work with me choose this experience because they want to develop as artists. What they discover in the training space enhances their ability to take their work into the world. But that does not mean they are not also addressing the development of the self. They are the same thing. Artists are human.



We come together through an undeniable need. We merge. we lose ourselves, and through that, we find deeper versions of ourselves. We separate. We become part of the fabric of the place where we live, sharing our necessary lives with those we live alongside. But listen, there is another urgency starting to demand our attention. We’ll need to find another gate to scratch at, another safe place to shelter while new visions are birthed…..



And as we do all this, are we as cute as kittens? I think so. I think we are just fine, nor better nor worse; bird, tree, kitten, human.




5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2012 10:08 am

    this is a wonderful piece of writing John, thanks for posting x

  2. alison windsor permalink
    April 23, 2012 10:26 am

    I agree – that’s beautiful.

  3. Rico permalink
    April 24, 2012 3:37 am

    Can’ wait to see all kittens of Duende in Greece.

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