Walking with… Artist and Researcher Catherine Lamont-Robinson

Dr Catherine Lamont-Robinson is an Artist/Educator and a researcher in the Medical Humanities (see here for a taste of her work in the Catch Your Breath and Stories of Dementia projects). Catherine is also a good friend of mine who I have worked with a lot over the years on various participatory arts projects. Based in Salisbury, Catherine met me this morning for a rainy walk along the Avon. I had originally thought we could walk along the stretch that makes its way out of Salisbury to the South, but with heavy rain forecast we decided on a town centre location within reach of shelter and take away coffee!

As we walked along the river we talked about Catherine’s work in Arts and Health, working creatively to collaborate with medical students, patient groups and people affected by stroke, cancer and other conditions. Our conversation flowed as we walked, from the river beside us, to embodied experience, to how the Queer River research seeks to enable the coexistence of different perspectives on a single subject, blurring the boundary between disciplines.

This time `I had brought along some resources (cards, luggage tags, collectings bags etc) for us to share as we walked. But with the rain, we mainly focused on walking and talking, with some quick drawing and notetaking. Catherine shared her favourite places along the river and we each pointed out the details that we noticed.

My attention was called to structures that diverted and channelled the water as it passed through the city centre, the pure white Little Egrets fishing amongst the plantlife of the river margins, and yellowing leaves scattered across pavements. At times I stopped to collected leaves and other objects that caught my eye, and added them to a small bamboo boat that I had brought along with me.

Catherine shared some writing with me from Spiritual Compass by Satish Kumar and we discussed the research of Peter Reason, who is currently exploring pansychism and rivers and with whom I’m hoping to walk with in the New Year.

‘All the big problems of the world today are routed in the philosophy of separateness and dualism’

Satish Kumar

Thoughts on edges, boundaries and the abiity to live and work across them kept emerging, as we noticed branches reaching down to pierce the surface of the water, and discussed films that focus on the edgelands of estuaries and marshes, or spiritual traditions that draw from interspecies relationships (e.g. Jainism).

Catherine also raised the subject of pilgrimage in connection with Satish and Peter’s writing, which for some reason I hadn’t connected with Queer River, but am now keen to explore as an element of the project. We talked about the two-spirit tradition of some First Nation peoples in the US, and of water ceremonies carried out by figures such as Sharon Day, a Water Walker and friend of my collaborator the US based artist Kathy Mead Skerrit.

‘Two-Spirit, an umbrella term for non-binary definitions of gender and sexuality from Native American traditions, takes inspiration from terminology in the Ojibwe language for men who filled women’s roles in society, or women who took on men’s roles. Many of North America’s indigenous traditions include more than just male and female understandings of gender, but hundreds of years of forced assimilation stamped out many tribes’ customs and oral traditions.’

Two-Spirit: Meet the Native Americans Embracing Their LGBT+ tribe Members

The Nibi (Water) Walks are Indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water. Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life giving force. We walk for the water, and as we heal the water we heal all of life. We are not a protest. We are a prayer for the water.

Nibi Walk – Every Step is a Prayer

As with my walk with Jonathan, my time with Catherine, although we already know each other well, was a chance to dig deeper into each others’ practices. I realised through talking with her and asking her about her approach to working within a health context, that what she is doing within her work goes well beyond what I would have usually thought of as ‘Arts and Health’.

Catherine’s work often takes place within a medical context, working with people that we might describe as either patients or doctors. But her practice is about enabling people to use creative ways to access and share their full selves, beyond those labels/divisions. As she said today ‘I’m expected to think broadly (with medical students) about entering others’ worlds’.

These creative collaborations are about supporting connections to be made between doctor and patient, or parent and child. By listening to people’s stories, and providing them with artful ways to share them, she helps them, in her words, to ‘remove blocks to (ways of) seeing and being with others.’

This is my take on what Catherine does, I’m sure she would put it differently, but from my perspective it’s not all that different to what I do, and that’s probably why we get on so well. My work is about the interrelationship of human and non-human life, between people and places, and the ‘removal of blocks’ to interspecies understanding, resulting in the the realisation (as Kathy Skerrit would put it) of our indivisibility. With that comes benefits for health and wellbeing, and a realisation that human health depends on the health of the whole ecosystem.

I’m looking forward to more walking and talking with Catherine along the Salisbury Avon. One thing we both want to explore in more depth is Blue Health – the study of the health benefits of spending time by or in water. But for now I’ve lots of links to follow up.

To be alive is to be in perpetual metamorphosis. The borders of ourseves are porous – shaped and recomposed by elements of our environment. River water was once sea spray; next year it could flow in your neighbour’s blood. The water in your brain once fell as rain in ancient landscapes, and surged in long-gone oceans. From this perspective, the body is itself a flowing stream…

Gavin Francis, Shapeshifters

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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