Thursday, March 5, 2015

Illuminated: Catherine Wright

Welcome to March and a brand new offering that I will be weaving into my blog posts in the months to come! I am excited to announce that I will be featuring different artists/creative souls whose work has inspired my own through their dedication to their craft and in alignment with the spirit of bringing healing to the world. I am calling this series of interviews "Illuminated" as my intention is to highlight not only artistic achievement but also the ways in which each artist courageously commits to bringing forth the unique light of their soul calling in their daily lives.

This month the spotlight is on a woman that I just recently met at the wedding of another dear friend and artist. Catherine Wright or "Cat" is an exuberant powerhouse of a woman who lives and works in Upstate New York. Cat and I connected immediately upon our introduction. After learning that she is a performance artist and has traveled around the country with her performances, I felt comfortable sharing that I secretly harbor fantasies about exploring performance art too (a decision that I made promptly after I was introduced to the work of Marina Abramovic). I dub Cat "a CATalyzer" as she carries the gift of getting people to move as was evidenced by the way she encouraged even the shyest table bound at the wedding reception to rise to the dance floor to strut their stuff!

Here's my interview with Cat:

"I believe in the possibility of inspiring others to move their bodies, to breathe, and to be.  I also believe in the possibility of supporting folks to tap into their personal courage. The foundation of this process is love, kindness, compassion, and CELEBRATION." ~Catherine Wright

How do you define and describe your art?

I create environments in which a character interacts and performs ritualistic tasks that are psychologically driven. These performance pieces have been described as having a "gothic, grunge aesthetic" (LeFevre, Minneapolis Star Tribune) that are Shamanic, haunting, evocative, vivid, and mythical. The work I produce is a reflection of my identity, comprised of my upbringing, heritage, and life experiences. I am a proud eccentric.

In the past, I have researched the philosophies of Carl Jung, in particular Anima/Animus and the subconscious/conscious spirit inside the context of the natural world. These explorations yielded a dark aesthetic and expression in my work. In contrast, I have discovered a lighter artistic voice through the practice Yoga and the interconnectivity and compassionate teachings of all living things. I continue to explore these dichotomies and their interrelatedness by abstracting them into shape-shifting movement with gesture and intense character analysis. This is done via a ceremony using sculptural props, canvas and animal skin paintings, body painting, costume design, and film projections. My art is rarely literal, but typically dramatic. I encourage a constructivist lens so the work reflects back on the observer their own life experiences and perspectives. This exchange creates a more meaningful, personal, and memorable understanding.

Have you always been creative or is it something you have grown into?

I have always been creative.  My genetic codes come from naturalists, engineers, musicians, artists, and teachers.  From birth, my mother fostered problem-solving skills in seeking answers for our inquisitive minds/curiosity.  Nothing was considered too adult for our young brains.  We attended her art classes and exhibits and had philosophical discussions early on.  She was also an advocate of moving the body and, as such, she enrolled my siblings and I in athletic activities as soon as we could walk with practices such as soccer, gymnastics, swimming, theater, martial arts, and for me personally, freestyle dance watching Hot Gossip and grooving out in costume to disco and synth pop records.  I started studying dance intensely, specifically Afro-Modern in public school and studio competition dance after school, at the age of 14 and enjoyed learning other people’s choreography. I relished observing the creative process of my teachers, guest artists, and high school peers.  My only personal creative exploration in the formative years was through film-making and I credit David Lynch and Ridley Scott science fiction for the inspiration.  It was at the University of Utah where my movement creativity came alive under the guidance of incredible mentors in movement composition, improvisation, and film.  This is where I found my artistic voice, and I am forever grateful to that community.  I shocked my peers quite a bit with my sacrilegious compositions, but they stood by me and had my back the whole time!  I can recall post-performance discussions with my professors and classmates where I heard “your work was weird and strange, but keep going.”

Do you have any daily practices or self care rituals that you rely on to support your craft?

Yoga and daily breath practices are imperative to keeping my center.  I also start the day with a simple and quick meditation on gratitude for those who are supportive of my life process.  I am truly blessed with some incredible friends and a loving family support system.  I do need to take Epsom salt baths and appreciate oral and topical Arnica Montana for body care.  I enjoy a daily ukulele practice to keep “vishudda” (voice) active and alive, and I am inspired by academic conversations with colleagues from the community mentioned above.  I try to get 8 hours of sleep, and I am currently working to manifest a balance of 5 hours of paid work (teaching), 5 hours of artistic work and rehearsal, and 5 hours of “play time” (dance improvisation, nature hikes, hanging with friends, etc.).  I am admittedly a workaholic, and my recent read “Making Your Life as an Artist” by Andrew Simonet is pushing me to take more time off in the day to give my brain and body a much needed rest so that my rehearsal time is more productive. This has been a delightful challenge.

How, if at all, has your art making cultivated the conditions for healing in your life? Can you give an example?

Art has always been a part of my healing process, even if it’s subconscious.  It’s a way of taking something that is gnawing away at your insides and expelling it out of the body where it can be worked with and used as a catalyst for inspiring others to do the same.  The “problem” is no longer embodied and we can reclaim our center.  It could be a personal quest such as healing from addiction or a global healing cause such as genocide.   A specific example I can talk about now was when I was commissioned via the Walker Art Center and Jerome Foundation for the 2007 Momentum Dance Series at a particularly challenging time in my life.  I was living in a woman’s shelter and going through a divorce from a 7-year marriage of wonder, delight, adventure, and also infidelity, alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse. By channeling my healing process into the multi-media production titled “Return” for this Momentum series, it was a way of detaching the story from my personal sphere and abstracting it into a fairy tale.  Consequently, the pain no longer defined me or had power over me and I “returned” to Catherine.  I had such amazing support from the dancers, composers, and videographers on that production and I’m still friends and in weekly conversations with some of the artists that participated.  It was a life changing experience.

What effect do you most want your art to have on your audience?

I believe in the possibility of inspiring others to move their bodies, to breathe, and to be.  I also believe in the possibility of supporting folks to tap into their personal courage.  The foundation of this process is love, kindness, compassion, and CELEBRATION.

Who or what currently inspires you?

EXPERIENCE is what currently inspires me!!!  I’ve been working on what I call “an experiential doctorate degree.” LOL!!! Whether it be travelling to a new place or participating in activities in the home-nest, every day is an opportunity for research and understanding, and hopefully just BEing.  My current exploration is COMMUNITY and healing. A yoga mentor once said, “We are all in the process of waking up.”  It takes a village to raise a child right?  And I believe we are all children.  There are numerous specific individuals in my current communities that inspire me, sometimes with love and kindness, and honestly, sometimes with anger and hatred.  To list them all would take an entire page and they come from various social, cultural, and generational backgrounds.  Some don’t even understand their importance in the process, and others I have had the opportunity to express my gratitude to. I am also inspired by the important work of Brene Brown.

What questions are alive for you now? Toward what experience or idea do you feel called to explore next in your creative journey?

How can I honor the path to heal with the arts and also create a foundation to own a house, find a loving partner, and perhaps even raise a family? How do I find balance in taking the steps to answer that question and also surrender to just BEing? I’m exploring these answers with a current performance project on the Freudian psychology of the ID, Ego, and SuperEgo. I’m not sure how it will all pan out and I still haven’t found the connection.  We shall see……..

Finally, what wisdom or particular suggestion would you offer to someone who is seeking to be more creative in their own lives?

Creativity comes in all forms: picking out your clothes to wear for the day, cooking your meals, planting your garden, choosing which playlist to listen to. I am a fan of journaling and sketching.  Getting thoughts and experiences out of the body and mind and onto paper.  Also go see art in the public sphere (away from the computer), try a new class, and then embrace your courage to SHARE.

Thanks so much Cat! 

Catherine Wright "Art Yoga Cat" is an interdisciplinary performance artist, certified dance and yoga instructor, and an award-winning director and choreographer.  She has over 20 years in the performance industry.  She began her training at the age of 14 at the Minneapolis Children's Theater Company and became a professional West African dancer for Chuck Davis and the Walker Art Center at the age of 16. She has directed and been commissioned to choreograph 4 full-evening productions through the Jerome Foundation, the Walker Art Center, and the Bush Fellowship Foundation.  She won the 2009 MN Fringe Festival Encore Award for her production "Thrower of Light."  Catherine is currently touring a new one-woman Hawai'i Bat Cave Cabaret titled "Tough Love."   

To learn more about Catherine and to see her work check out these links:

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