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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

38. concept discovery

This year, I will continue the exploration I began two years ago of the Aeaea Project, with a special emphasis on how I facilitate the experience and the pedagogy that supports that facilitation. We will dive deep into discovery, storytelling, and building an intentional movement practice. The piece we will be working on is a continuation of an existing work. With inspiration from writers like Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde, we will explore ways to uncover and illuminate the essence of the unknown. We will embody the philosophies and techniques of Katherine Dunham, including Form and Function and Backwards Planning, to sketch a rough draft of the piece, then build in daily practices that support the work in all the necessary ways. No ballet experience is needed, as we will be engaging in techniques that decenter oppressive practices and white supremacy. Instead, we will seek out practices that welcome a wide variety of movers with varying understandings of body organization and holistic connection. Once we have discovered all we can, we will present our work in the Fall Dance Concert, which will be open to the campus community, friends, and family.

Each week, I will come back to the blog to report on how the project is going; what questions have arisen about my own actions, what new approaches are derived from those reflections, and how this all works together toward the final goal for the project. It should be a pretty interesting ride.

As we are currently in the third week of the project, a bit of the content I have is backlogged. This initial post will hopefully catch you up.

The Garden - 5/29/23

As the curtain closed on a whirlwind of a year back in May, I settled in to do some high quality summering. I spent the first few weeks setting up a garden for the very first time, spending time trying to figure out how to slow down, and celebrating birthday month for myself and my kids. As my son was still in school for the first few weeks of summer vacation, I spent a lot of time down on the farm overlooking the mountains (where our garden plot is) paying very close attention to the soil, water, seeds and seedlings that I hoped to nurture into fruitful crops and flowers. Here is an excerpt from my reflection on that day:

I gardened for the first time today. Part of me feels like I was too ceremonious about it, but that feeling lets me know I wasn't. I planted green peppers, red peppers, white onions, and supersonic tomatoes so far. Those were all seedlings. I managed to save a little space for some zinnias and perhaps another variety of tomato. The green peppers, supersonic tomatoes, and the white onions were all root bound (although the roots of the onion seemed to follow a different patter/system). The roots reminded me of stories. The bound roots reminded me of the feeling that ha persisted in the center of the left side of my back. If I could describe the feeling in the clearest, most accurate way, I would describe it as root bound.

I hadn't planned to garden today.

When I pulled the first green pepper out of her nursery crate and saw how intricately interwoven the system of her roots was (after having already seen a similar system of roots on the tomato plant), I looked up some videos about how to help. One guy said to loosen the knot with your fingers. Another guy said to slice the knot in quarters then a little off the tip. The last guy said to just chop the bottom part off.

I loosened them as gently as I could, trying not to snap them apart. Feeling like every root held its own story or memory. A direct path from the living, reproducing plant back to the soil. The transplant is much like a birth. Or a rebirth really (the birth being when the plant originally emerged from the seed. But the plants have been growing so long in the container that was only ever meant to be temporary, that the roots that are meant to ground them have been growing in knots around themselves.

That's exactly how my back feels.

The red peppers came softly through, but not easy. They liked to have slipped right out the sleeves, but some of them were so soft and malleable that they clung to their sisters in the next sleeve. Some were so soft that the soil took shape of the container each time I squeezed it to try to free the plant. She didn't want to come out, I suppose. Eventually, I began tearing the plastic to get the plants out. I tried to get them as quickly as I could into the soil, which was warm and damp, and seemed welcoming.

Tomorrow I will go back to start the seeds...

The moon looks about half full. The color of the sky at 9:07 was breathtaking.

I pray for the plants' first night in new soil. It was a difficult and perhaps traumatic transition. I hope that their roots find space and pathways to stretch out and clarify so that they can strengthen and support. I pray that in transplanting the plants from the crates to the soil I did the least possible harm and allowed an appropriate amount of space for the roots to continue to grow. Enough space to breath. To be strong for the plant.

The Back - 6/29/23

"...I left the shop in the loaner and headed to Northfield for the appointment at Crow Lady Healing. The Reiki healer met me at the door and led me to the front of the house where she sees clients. We talked for a bit before we picked the oils for my massage. She told me that she has recently been focusing a lot of her research on ancestry. She asked me my thoughts on my ancestors; the ones I think are communicating with me through my back. She offered that it's okay to find space and protection from our closest ancestors who are often unhealed. She said that someone in this ancestry is healed and is excited to communicate with me and help me and love me. She offered that it's okay (and potentially helpful for all) to listen for the healed ancestor. She sat beside me and helped me move the energy down from my shoulder. It was stuck in my hip for a while, then dripped down like thick molasses through my pelvic floor. She said that it's okay to choose clear communication over the painful patterns we've grown accustomed to. When I think about the communication patterns of the women in my family, I recognize this pain, however well intended. "We have better ways to communicate. We don't have to speak in pain. I can hear you. You have my attention. You are hurting me."

I can hear you now. You have my attention...

Solstice (Audre Lorde) - encountered on 8/10/23

Notes from Mom's Conversation with Grandma - 8/25/23

My grandma came to my mom through a spiritual medium yesterday. I've been listening to their recorded conversation. It's been trippy, to say the least...

She gardens. That's part of her magic. She's with me as a guardian and is paying attention to my writing... She affirmed that I am articulating well through my writing, even when I feel like I'm struggling. The medium said, "She wishes she could hear her. She would tell her stories"...

She says our family is close to Earth energy. She can take a root in her hands and know what the plant needs before she puts it in the ground. She talked specifically about onions. This goes way back into the lineage....

Grandma says, "If I have to put my roots in your hand, I will"...

She has so many stories that she wants to share. She was writing out stories and doing genealogy before she passed.. She always goes back to the soil. That's why she was digging into the genealogy; "so that we knew our roots. We knew where we were planted."

Something Must be Made (Toni Morrison) - I don't remember when I first watched this, but it has resonated with me through this work.

My grandmother wasn't a victim of her life. She is rich, and full. Skillful, and purposeful. Going back to the Aeaea Project, which ended as an examination of self in isolation, this is where I would like to begin this new project. What happens when you are finally isolated? When it's quiet and still? When you have space and time?

You hear.

And so, we continue to dig for the untold truths and the narratives that have yet to see the light of day. We figure out how to find those stories, how to embody that communication, and how to facilitate that process with a group of art makers. This is my Artistic Praxis + Pedagogy Project for this year.


Macie Ardelia Grantine Evaline Harris Grandberry (1941-1986)

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