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Forest Rubbings with Wind, Charcoal Trees After a Forest Fire, Torres del Paine, Chile 

“All language proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move” (Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia)

Patagonia finds its place within endings and beginnings, it encompasses borders and edges of land that draw lines not only on maps, but within the imagination. A place where travelling to an end point evokes a new sense of beginning. In his classic book In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin pioneered digression within travel writing, as a way to entangle fact, fiction and biography. Chatwin’s travelogue meanders through different time frames, acts of conversation, and journeys through Patagonia’s geographies. Chatwin succeeded in immersing his own psychology within travelled landscapes. A kind of psychogeography where significance is gained through unknowingness, happenstance and surprise. Patagonia is both distinct and vague, ‘a theatre for restlessness’, a landscape where people are not neutral, where bleakness seizes the imagination with a “nothingness that forces the mind in on itself” (Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia).

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Forest Rubbings with Wind, Charcoal Trees After a Forest Fire, Torres del Paine, Chile

Whereas the term psychogeography originated as an urban construction (or situation), Chatwin implements the discursive meaning of the term within his travels to remoteness. Patagonia was a journey into Chatwin’s own form of fiction, an exile into lost identity and undetermined meaning. Chatwin’s journals document spontaneous encounters with displacement, the language of changing scenery and perspectives about oneself. His book is mostly about ‘interiors that are elsewheres’ a symbolic voyage where language becomes a means of navigation (Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia).

Travel journals are useful resources for art therapy, recording the circumstances of being in between known locations. These suspended times away from fixed references are impromptu negotiations with unfamiliarity. They are spontaneous chartings of endings and beginnings found within travelled landscapes. Travel diaries record passages, situations and chance encounters. Written on the move they draw on the geography of change as a psychological stimulus. The travelling journeys of restlessness, the elsewheres that beckon and manifest as marks on a page, become navigational routes between borders of experience.


Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia

Merlin Coverly, Psychogeography

The Art of Arrangement

June 16, 2014


Composing an arrangement of personal keepsakes and found objects can be an aesthetic practice within art therapy. It creates a situation that brings together objectified forms of what is meaningful and pertinent into a therapeutic context. Singular objects generate a collective enunciation of associations. Found objects, as ready-mades, evoke relationships to experiences and events. The act of placement is also the art of juxtaposition, finding a place for everything, but also changing the order of things as needed. Every component can be re-positioned, nothing is fixed or secure, but rather exists as a temporary stage from which to find one’s bearings.


Personal mementos may be relics of the past and/or contemporary objects that provide comfort during times of transition. They are familiar and tactile forms that can be collected and used as focal points for discussing current and changing circumstances. Each relationship between items is an emerging possibility. The idea that nothing is stable, or still, breathes new life into the potential of moving things around in order to gain a different perspective.

Art therapy can illuminate the significance of personal collections that restore memories and also represent personal interests and captivations. The significance of arranging what is already at hand reflects an individual’s visual culture. It shares what has been lived and what is currently being manifested in the course of daily life. Bringing into art therapy these lived expressions, changes the nature of the therapeutic encounter. The art therapist does not start the conversation or structure the session, instead they are a witness to an act that is an encounter with lived possessions. The art is in the act of arrangement, the display of what has been selected, and the assembly of associations. Art therapy is not always about making, but re-making what is close by and relevant.






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: Tino Sehgal, Outside the Tate Modern, London

The artwork started to emerge. I started to see how the performers inhabited the space, telling a narrative of sorts. They seemed to be conducting a commentary on a progress of being human. Not progress in technological terms, just a simple progress of bodies moving in time and space, a progress apparently disrupted and changed by encounters, disrupted by moments that change the way thoughts and consequently bodies move (Miranda Pope, “Wish You Were Here: Tino Sehgal at the Tate”).

German artist Tino Sehgal choreographs experiences, he constructs situations in public locations that catch people off guard, beginning conversations and contact between strangers. The orientation of his performative art form is influenced by his background as a dancer. The materials of the dance between strangers is physical presence, happenstance and discussions related to human experience and philosophy. People come together in unplanned encounters that stimulate contact through a sense of being together within a particular place and time. Participants are stopped in their paths, in order to meet within an enhanced level of human connection. Names are not important, but sharing opinions, beliefs and experiences entangle the conversation with different approaches to meaning.

Sehgal’s work is not theatrical; it is a choreography with choices. It is about movement, pathways, interactions and encounters. He implicates habitual movements within public thoroughfares with surprise meetings. Somehow awakening the body, while awakening the mind, while inviting new ways of approaching everyday worlds.


Photo: Tino Sehgal, These Associations, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, 2012

In 2012 Sehgal produced These Associations at the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. He trained interested members of the public to walk, sing, jog and talk to strangers. The movement of Sehgal’s volunteers was described by the Tate’s Gallery Director Chris Deacon as an “anarchic experience, a flow of energy that gave a feeling of recognition and belonging” (Tino Sehgal Takes Over Tate Modern Turbine Hall by Genevieve Hassan).


Drawing: Doris Schlaepfer, Drawings After These Associations

Unknowingly, I became part of Sehgal’s production in the Turbine Hall.  I was swept up into a wave of people pacing the large cavernous space, at first in lines, then running, then scattering suddenly. I was approached by one of Sehgal’s mediators, who talked about family, regret, confusion and loss. The conversation happened not at the beginning, but in the middle. There were no introductions, no mapping out of identities, just two life currents meeting at mid-stream.


Photo: Tino Sehgal, These Associations, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, 2012

In their recent book Art as Therapy Alain de Botton and John Armstrong reference Sehgal as a political artist changing the nature of human interaction through addressing the collective personality. The art that Sehgal choreographs is both intangible, a passing experience, and also the making of a mind and body imprint.

To call the experience Sehgal has set in motion life-affirming would be no more than platitude. This is a profound work and at the same time riveting; a new form of art somewhere between theatre, performance art, dance and memoir and yet based on an immense gathering of humanity that includes all of us as live participants. Life art, I suppose…Attention is what it is all about, this precious thing we scarcely give one another and which is both the substance and the object of Sehgal’s work. We often speak of art as life-changing; this event truly has that potential in all its fullness and humanity. One learns about other people, and one learns about oneself. I shall never forget it (Tine Sehgal These Associations – A Review of Laura Cumming).

The significance of Sehgal’s work for art therapy is choreographing experiences – generating public art forms that ignite interactions within the extended practice of art therapy. The essence of Sehgal’s art is meeting people where they are in the moment. Exposing the materials of daily life, as the materials of art therapy in a combination of togetherness and sharing. Art therapy needs to embody spontaneous gestures on a larger scale, and to embrace public happenings as important therapeutic interventions.


Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Tino Sehgal These Associations – A Review by Laura Cumming

Tino Sehgal Takes Over Tate Modern Turbine Hall by Genevieve Hassan

Wish You Were Here: Tino Sehgal at the Tate by Miranda Pope

Doris Schlaepfer,