Why is dance important to art therapy? Dance represents flexibility and flux, a deviation from language and fixed terms of reference. The body moves desire in a visible and amplified way. The dancer’s body invites us to imagine new positions and new courses of action. The dancer and witness are immersed together in a collaborative relationship. They move each other along and disseminate the nature of what is ephemeral. Ultimately this is about the unfixed nature of meaning and representation. The body in motion is an essential part of art therapy, and it is the primary material of art making. Space can be sculpted and animated with effort qualities that choreograph intention and direct action. To observe the physicality of art therapy is to pay close attention to the way the body moves within a given environment. Somatic reckoning permeates art therapy space, it is an inherent element of creative production.


A performance at the Dublin Dance Festival called Bodies in Urban Spaces showcased a form of physical sculpture that offers a new perspective on ways to inhabit urban streetscapes. Choreographed by Austrian based dance artist Willi Dorner,  it involves a group of dancers reshaping city footpaths and architectural locations. The ‘audience’ follows the dancers through a journey of embodiment. Collectively new areas of experience are discovered, as each person (both dancer and onlooker) insert themselves into urban territories in a mutually evocative way.

These places are part of our everyday experience, so instead of having to go somewhere removed from daily life to see dance, I think it can have quite an impact for dance to transform everyday landscapes (Rionach Ni Neill, Galway Dancer in Residence, Ireland).


For art therapy Bodies in Urban Spaces re-imagines our own field of expression to include physical performance and architectural design. Such a performance takes art therapists outside themselves, it invites the witnessing of kinesthetic reasoning as it moves through the built environment. The relevance to art therapy is how an individual sculpts space physically, the environment impacts the body and expression, and it collaborates within the art therapy process. Being able to relate to context, rather than art materials laid out on a table, is a vital goal for the art therapy participant seeking to go beyond limiting frames of reference.



All Photos, Bodies in Urban Dance Spaces, Dublin Dance Festival


Mary Kate Connolly, “Dancing Beyond Words” Booklet produced by Dance Ireland.

Michael Seaver, “Smart Move: Dance Gets Intellectual in Galway,” The Irish Times, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.



Photo: of Marie Lorenz by San Suzie, C-Monster Website by Carolina A. Miranda

My belief is that uncertainty brings about a heightened awareness of place. When we feel unstable we see more (Marie Lorenz, Artist Statement, MoMA Studio Visit)

Marie Lorenz is an artist who carries people in her water taxi to explore shorelines, tides and currents. She is a waterborne artist offering people the opportunity to float along the shores of New York in a wooden row boat that maneuvers through overlapping realties. Her art is concerned with observation, collection, and navigation. It is about physically entering the environment, being in relationship to oneself, and responding simultaneously to urban and nature based habitats.





Photos: Row Boot and Roots (Artist Marie Lorenz, Tide and Current Taxi Project)

Article: “All the Fun of the Fair” by Julie Belcove, The Financial Times, Saturday, May 3, 2014

Her water taxi has become a performative art work, a way to meet people and transport them to new places. The view from the water allows the imagination to wander, it is a moving encounter with skylines and shorelines. It is foremost a time out, a launching into a different kind of space that encourages reverie and suspended action.

In 2012 Marie Lorenz led boat trips to discover derelict pieces of materials floating and gathering along shorelines. Her tours were a discovery of “wrecked things or places left to waste” ( A search for nature littered with debris, a connection between what pollutes, and what has become polluted. A situation made by currents and tides collecting and bringing together opposing realties, a layering of what has been lost, discarded and outcast.

When the water rises during a storm and pulls objects into the harbour, the tide acts like a giant centrifuge, reorganizing things according to their shape and density. I collect and record the objects as another way to collaborate with the tide. I want to preserve the mystery of each discovery, like beachcombing, or finding a hidden treasure (Marie Lorenz, Artist Statement,

Working along the margins of different realities is a vital aspect of art therapy. A searching for what has been thrown away (or what has floated adrift) within the currents that compose a life. Art therapy collects partial objects and unbinds situations where there are layers of unwanted things. It is a means of sorting and identifying the value of what has been entangled in the ebb and flow of time.


Photo: New York Today: An Island of Art, New York Times City Room Blog


Tide and Current Taxi

Marie Lorenz




In recent years most of the old asylums and mental hospitals have closed or are in the process of closure. Care for those who seek it, or are deemed to need it, will now be provided on a model of community-based care. This is to be welcomed. However, it is important to remain vigilant at all times to ensure the protections of individual dignity and personal autonomy and to resist their compromise. This is a moral responsibility for all of us as citizens and human beings. Meaningful transformation of psychiatric services must be accompanied by a transformation of social and political attitudes to mental illness and difference (Alan Counihan, Personal Effects, Exhibition Catalogue).



Photos from Personal Effects Exhibition

Personal Effects: A History of Possession is the title of an exhibition by Alan Counihan which showcases the personal belongings of patients admitted to Dublin’s Richmond Asylum (opened in 1815) which subsequently became St. Brendan’s Hospital. Every possession taken from individuals admitted to hospital was ultimately tagged and stored until the person’s release from the asylum. However, a large proportion of these personal items were never returned, nor claimed by families after the patient’s release or death.

These personal effects, found in 2010 during the closing of St. Brendan’s Hospital, were discovered alongside an extensive archive of hospital records. In total 30 tons of paperwork was removed from St. Brendan’s including patient records, death certificates, personal letters, receipts, prayer books, diaries, and photographs. These items have remained confidential, yet forgotten, abandoned within the decay of a building responsible for the isolation, despair and exclusion of thousands of people, who were admitted without the potential of release. These collections are now an archive of psychiatric practices in Ireland.

Alan Counihan has composed an installation of lost personal possessions choosing handbags, their contents, and assembled displays of rosary beads to represent abandoned identities. This is an installations about taking away life – severing connections to family, friends, home, locality, and ultimately to life experiences that bestow identity with meaning.

For the most part, the contents of the handbags and small cotton sacks were not extraordinary. These were items of personal care and hygiene, powder compacts and lipstick, combs and hairpins, identity or ration cards, diaries, letters, photographs, rosary beads and prayer books. All the bags contained sets of keys, sometimes several, to doors and cabinets their owners might never again have seen or opened (Alan Counihan, Personal Effects, Exhibition Catalogue).

These items are the remains of lives that have been dislocated, lost unto themselves and the outside world. Individuals convicted to a life time of confinement and regulation. Lives that suffered, when their dignity was discarded with the assignment of an admissions signature.

Inmates as they were then known came from all walks of life and from every county in the country. Their confinement was often for reasons or afflictions common or familiar to us all. Some of the causes of the afflictions appear in the register as disappointed affections, pecuniary distress, religious enthusiasm, supposed hereditary causes, paralysis, jealousy, domestic affliction, continued and excessive drunkenness, grief, falls, fright, and, most surprisingly of all, too much reading (Alan Counihan’s Website,, Personal Effects Description)

For art therapy personal collections offer affiliation and resonance, they are attachments to places, people and possessions. A collection designates identity in all its routines and eccentricities. It is a gathering of memories intertwined with current experiences. Our possessions bring comfort and a tactile holding on to ourselves.

Involving personal memorabilia, keepsakes, and everyday items within art therapy creates an installation of life. An assembling of personal symbols that can articulate preferences and influences. These objects are most intimately our own encapsulation.


Photo: Alan Counihan, Handbag Containing Spoons 


Photo: Alan Counihan, Cards and Letters St. Brendan’s Hospital


Alan Counihan’s Website: