Thursday, 29 September 2011

Conference Thoughts - Part Two

My recollections of the first evening are slightly hazy, due to not having slept for two days, but I think I grabbed a pizza on the Piazza Amfiteatro - very tasty. This piazza is on the site of a Roman Amphitheatre, but very little of the original walls survive, just the shape. I then went to the Opening Ceremony  and first of all we went through all the countries (31 in all) represented here and each nation's representatives stood up to tumultuous applause. Then various local dignitaries gave speeches, with translations on a large screen. The amount of support this conference got from local organisations, in the arts and healthcare in particular, was really heartening to see. We then had a keynote speech from Malcolm Ross, who lives close to me, and has been involved in Art Therapy for a long time. I seem to remember he was being a bit provocative, but I was too tired to take the bait. The evening ended beautifully, with patients from a local psychiatric hospital performing dramatic tableaux to the music of Puccini, a son of Lucca (disowned for a while, but conveniently welcomed back for the 150th anniversary of his birth!). Words cannot describe how moving this was, with scenes from Madam Butterfly and other operas. I don't know Puccini that well, so can't tell you which operas they were, but there was a scene with someone being led to execution, a poor couple leaving their work and embracing, nuns in a convent, all presented in mime with exquisite simplicity and a great sense of timing and space.
So, after this emotional beginning, I head off to my bunk bed in the youth hostel, sharing with four other men, one of whom will be chairing the session I am presenting in on Saturday morning.
The following morning, after a disappointing breakfast at the hostel (coffee made in advance, brought through in a big plastic jug, then reheated in smaller metal jugs to look authentic) we had two keynote speeches, from two very different people - Graziella Magherini and Shaun McNiff.
Graziella is best known for her writing about Stendhal syndrome, a feeling of disorientation caused by an excess of art. Stendhal describes a panic attack brought on by a surfeit of history in the artworks he was seeing: "I had reached that pitch of emotion where the celestial sensations aroused by fine arts meet ones passionate sentiments....I walked with the fear of falling" She also spoke of the connections between the arts and psychoanalysis. For example, Freud said that "poets... are invaluable allies....they can draw upon well springs that have not yet been opened to science" and Wilfred Bion believed that the arts could reach the deepest strata of the mind. Jung was the most involved in the arts, using art to express his deepest self, through the use of mandalas and archetypal images. The most amusing aspect of this talk was her, as an elderly lady, showing several pictures of Michelangelo's David from all sorts of angles!
She spoke from the floor, to the side of the stage, almost as invisible as the Wizard of Oz, but then Shaun bounced onto the stage. I was struck by his movement, his energy and his warmth. Not surprising then that his main assertion was that all arts begin in movement. The feeling of a passionate belief in the healing power of the arts remains with me from that presentation, and Shaun and I had a very surprising encounter later in the conference, to be recounted in a later instalment. There is so much more to come.....................

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