gentle actions towards an art of healing and reconciliation

To continue with themes arising in recent posts and discussions on this site around the practical and ethical aesthetics of art within society, accorded to the newly appropriated ecological and phenomenological intentionality of contemporary and personal understanding…

 layers, particpatory painting action by marland school, earth pigments (pw 2010)

We cannot  ‘fix’ things because they are never ‘broken’, they have only changed in form.

We cannot ‘mend’ that which we do not fully understand without the whole wherewithal.

We may only perceive their new arrangement within our inherent predetermination

Adding flourish to the flow towards our own and all’s mutually beneficial meanderings…

After suffering the discomfort of back pain for some time I recently ventured to a Bowen Technique[i] therapist to hopefully alleviate, or make better, the problem that has been restricting my movement and hence personal life experience. This holistic healing practice acts through carefully and intuitively considered non-invasive manipulation of the soft tissue surrounding our muscular structure. As a holistic therapy it believes that all ailments or dis-ease of the body are created through a complex of interconnected conditions that might block the flow of energy within and around it – a healthy body being one that allows its intrinsic processes to function at their own rate and in their own way. It aims not necessarily to specifically cure ailments but to promote conditions within the body that may enable self-healing, or at least transformative processes to occur – simple, well-intentioned pressure in a specific part of the body promoting a chain of events throughout its whole, which in turn will hopefully provide enough movement in the body’s energies to enable change. The process does not dictate a correct outcome, a right-way to be, although it may suggest means to promote fluidity and hence movement, it works simply on an assumption of the body’s ability to ‘heal’ itself. To accompany the gentle pressure applied during Bowen Therapy, it is also recommended that subjects drink plenty of water and move regularly to further facilitate the process.

Coincidentally, the practitioner I chose had previously completed a physics degree which, combined with the treatment being received, reminded me of the ideas of F David Peat (also a physicist) described in his book Gentle Actions, Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World[ii]. His theory, reached through personal and shared observation, is that simple well-intentioned social and ecological actions performed in a specific place may promote healing, while amplifying their repercussions around the world. Systems theorist Buckminster Fuller likened such dynamics to the trim tab, a mechanical device added to the rudder of large boats to facilitate changes of direction through minimal incremental leverage[iii]. These ideas were further explored in relation to Art, Environmentalism and Climate Change at a conference in Oslo in 2010[iv], and are evident in the Trigger Point Theory developed by Aviva Ramani[v] in which locations for restorative site-specific ecologically engaged action are identified through sensitively disposed cross-disciplinary analysis. While others (namely chaos theorists) entertain the plausible infeasibility of a butterfly softly beating its wings in leafy suburban England causing a hurricane in tropical Antigua[vi]!

Whether you believe in the efficacy of such treatments and theories or not, it cannot be denied that they provide rich metaphors for our potential actions as artists (or, more simply, communal beings) within society. And while such applied technologies greatly interest me in their efforts to resolve the immanent difficulties we are presently facing it is the open-endedness and non-prescriptive determinism of such actions and the philosophical position that they imply which I feel is most pertinent at this time. Such faith in the processes of nature to redress any damage that we may perceive to have made within our environment is maybe the only truly ecocentric[vii] position to adopt, as opposed to anthropocentric tamperings engendered in our efforts to ‘save ourselves’ from our own sense of self-importance and infallibility. Such guilt-ridden ‘fix-it’ motivated actions are doomed to failure until we learn to accept responsibility for our past misdemeanours. To see them as they are, and how we are, as imperfect beings in an imperfect world (or perfect beings in a perfect world!?) whose nature is to fumble through life seeking comfort and nourishment, in our efforts to survive. It can only be hoped that we might learn from our mistakes and move on, intrinsically inquisitive, endlessly meddling in our ways. We might, for example, just take a step back.

 back and front, 4 willow leaves (pward 2009)

“We can receive only what we already have! We can become only what we already are! We can learn only what we already know! It is a matter of realizing potentialities. It is not a matter of ‘adding to’ but of ‘developing,’ of ‘evolving.’ We contain within ourselves a world of capacities, of possibilities, which the outer world summons forth, speaks to, releases. Perhaps this is why we learn most about ourselves through devotion to others; why we become joyful and active as we respond to the formative forces in the materials in our crafts: their potentialities call forth our own, and in the dialogue of which I have spoken,we discover our own inner vision by bodying them forth.” — M. C. Richards[viii]

So what are the implications to contemporary art practice of such open-endedness? And how might the elemental poetry of fluidity complement the specific but constantly evolving social, economic and ecological issues we are facing? Or more specifically what actions might we reasonably (or unreasonably) make to unblock the barrage of unfortunate misdemeanours for which we are apparently responsible?

For millennia religious practices, especially in the East, have adopted such policy towards harmonious relationship with the animate earth and ourselves, based in the understanding that nothing is constant but change (and that even change takes different forms throughout time), that only through careful and sensible consideration of all conditions present within a situation can suitable decisions and interventions be made. This does not however imply that such actions should be peaceful or gentle, merely that they are relative and appropriate to each individual circumstance. For example, Zen Buddhist traditions might encourage short-sharp shocks. A quick slap or poke with a stick (obviously within a intentional healing context!). Others, more elaborately inspired and motivated rituals to prompt movement within a situation toward a new more ethically affordable position. Unfortunately in this apparent civilization we have lost confidence in our intuitive abilities to make such decisions, both personally and communally, amid the turbulence of material insecurity and progress. It is therefore only through renewed experience that we might appreciate the full implications of our actions. Until then it might be hoped that quiet gentle actions may provoke enough reaction without further disturbance to the delicate intricacies of the natural world of which we are (presently) an integral part.

 3 not hammers (pward 2010)

If nothing more art can maybe create opportunities for such experience, while also providing a flux in the ‘machine’, a means to lubricate our fixed perceptions, of moving-on our redundant behaviours through questioning its good sense, here and now. Furthermore, art may be seen as an amplifying force, a mechanical means to multiple the implications of our actions, to ‘communicate’ them within the arena of their intentional field, to repercuss our creative, well-meaningness within the dynamic disturbance to which we intrinsically contribute. Whatever the outcome we can be assured that we have acted out of an implied personal integrity, neither good nor bad but insistent. By not predetermining an ‘outcome’ to our work and actions, whether that is the making of art objects and performances or educational or experiential processes, we are simply encouraging the use of an audience’s (and our own) innate creative intelligences and adaptability to interact with any circumstance provided, through which we may identify and experience the confidence to use those faculties beyond the realm of the art experience.

While such practice either shows complete faith in the processes of nature, or a complete disregard and lack of responsibility towards our immanent ecology and ourselves, it has to be preferable to the plethora of scientifically imposed ‘solutions’ from who-knows-where that are constantly bandied about by the powers-that-be or any other hapless loon caught up in their own deluded self-importance. To see art as just that – a flux, a means towards a movement, or a movement in itself; or as water, an elemental agent of change, gently eroding the stultifying conservatism that epitomizes our age – allows us the freedom to not see it as the solution, but an ongoing investigation towards a resolution, an act of reconciliation with our nature and with nature itself.

 FLUXUS manifestos, by George Maciunas, 1963, and Joseph Beuys, 1970[ix].

PW  2012


[ii] F DAVID PEAT; GENTLE ACTIONS bringing creative change to a turbulent world (Italy; PARI PUBLISHING; 2008)

[iii] What is a “trimtab”? Buckminster Fuller referred to the function of a trimtab in nautical design as a metaphor for how individuals could make a difference in the world and potentially change the course of humanity. A large ship moving through the ocean has great momentum. Turning the rudder changes the direction of the ship but with great effort. Using a trimtab — a small flap on the trailing edge of the main rudder — creates a low-pressure area next to the rudder allowing the main rudder to turn the ship with substantially less effort. In airplanes trimtabs are used in a similar fashion. They are often affixed to the wing and tail flaps to greatly reduce the control force required by the pilot to maintain position and stability. With respect to Buckminster Fuller Challenge, the trimtab metaphor is used tocharacterize a comprehensive strategy, that is conceived in such a manner and strategically placed into the prevailing system at such a time, in such a place, where its effects can be maximized, thereby creating the most advantageous change with the least amount of resources and energy on a relative basis.

Buckminster Fuller on the Trimtab Principle “When I thought about steering the course of the ‘Spaceship Earth’ and all of humanity, I saw most people trying to turn the boat by pushing the bow around.” “I saw that by being all the way at the tail of the ship, by just kicking my foot to one side or the other, I could create the ‘low pressure’ which would turn the whole ship. If ever someone wanted to write my epitaph, I would want it to say ‘Call me Trimtab’.” – From What’s a Trimtab?

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab.”

[iv] Climate Change responses: The Gentle Actions of the Trim Tab, by Karen O’Brien “… I will present some ideas for potential trim tabs, including the important role of artists in catalyzing creative change.”


[vi] In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. (Wikipedia)

[vii] Ecocentric(ism) is a term used in ecological political philosophy to denote a nature-centered, as opposed to human-centred, system of values. (Wikipedia)

[viii] from

[ix] from Fluxus art was often presented in “events”, which Fluxus member George Brecht defined as “the smallest unit of a situation”. The events consisted of a minimal instruction, opening the events to accidents and other unintended effects. (Wikipedia)

2 Comments on “ART AS FLUX”

  1. […] [ii] The principles of acupuncture and holistic healing within the context of art and ecology are presently being explored by American ecoartist Aviva Rahmani in her Trigger Point Theory, whereby interdisciplinary actions are defined and implemented through a range of analytical tools within specific ecologies to catalyze an effect. To find out more visit I have also previously written about such ideas on this site… […]

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