She walks… has been developed with some incredible collaborators. We used a poem I had written as our starting point - Rapper JPDL and I co-wrote the lyrics which are spoken, sung (more on that here) and rapped. Experimental composer Quinta (part of Collectress) wrote the music. Award winning animator, Lou Sumray created hand drawn charcoal images - incredibly she uses 24 drawings per second.
The result is something authentic, beautiful and haunting - the music has a trip hop feel and the animation connects us to nature with its organic aesthetic. The temptation with work about abuse is to tidy it all up and make it more palatable - there’s a raw chaos to She walks... that chimes with the experiences and fragmentation that survivors share - it's untamed and all the more alive for it.
We hope that survivor audiences will connect with the story and see something of themselves in it - the lyrics talk about the experience of dissociation, feeling like our bodies are far away or numbed, as well as the drive to keep going and the belief that something better is possible. We want to share hope but more than that we want to reach out to other survivors and say “What you feel is real, is normal in the context of trauma, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re miraculous, you don’t need to hide away, your voice matters”
The work is not just for survivors though - it's for everyone - we all have difficult times and right now the pandemic is making life really tough for so many - one of the things we have in common is the ability to connect with nature and find solace and inspiration there - even if it's looking out of the window at the birds or feeling the rain on our faces while we queue for supplies!
Get involved in the #MyLineInTheSand campaign and register yourself as coming to our launch event via our Restless project page here.
I campaign for access and inclusion in the arts for artists and audiences with mental health needs -
I speak at conferences and events, as well as offer training and consultancy with individuals and organisations. Previously, I was an Agent for Change with Salisbury International Arts Festival (2017) and have led work with marginalised adults and families since 2003 as Artistic Director of Mean Feet Dance.
She works to present musical material in visually imaginative ways, using movement, dance, light, and homemade instruments and sample sets. Working across a number of fields including dance, circus, theatre and film, she performs with a variety of bands and has a richly diverse biography of collaborations, including with all-female arts collective, Collectress.
Recently she has discovered making stop motion animations using charcoal drawing. As a member of 154collective theatre her first charcoal drawn animation Follow me was made for the show “Under The Bed” in 2015. Follow Me won 1st prize at Bradford Open Art Exhibition 2017.
Introducing the Creative Team by video
She walks… is a digital artwork combining music, song, spoken word, rap and hand drawn animations. It is the first part of a wider project called Restless that uses imagery from walking in coastal landscapes to talk about the experience of living as a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse - ideas of being isolated and exposed, of navigating challenging territory and occupying marginal, liminal spaces. The central metaphor running through the project is the restless sea, slowly and insistently changing the landscape - just as activism changes culture through continuous collective action. She walks… sits at the mid point of the larger work - the character has survived and despite an inner fragmentation and experiences of dissociation, she is instinctively propelled forward.
The track ends with the idea that change is possible - it is a turning point. It's not that everything gets better from there on - I don’t really believe in recovery as such - I think we learn to live with what happens to us and reclaim some of what we’ve lost - trust, connection, hope… I will never not have been abused, I will never not be a survivor - it's not something that happened years ago and is now over - I live with the impact of it everyday - lots of us don’t survive and I am acutely aware of that.
Walking has been a massive part of my journey - I’m making up for lost time - I had a developmental delay when I was little because of the trauma - so walking is a victory. It's what I do to feel good, to find solace, to stay connected with my body, to work things out when my brain is in chaos and to write. The Restless project draws on a long tradition of artists and activists walking to create change - what do we do when we’ve had enough? We march.
She walks… is based on a poem I wrote after walking a 110 mile stretch the South West Coast Path, inspired specifically by the landscape around Portland in Dorset which is rich in contradictions - at once beautiful, wild and ancient and deeply scarred with quarrying, a Ministry of Defence site surrounded by razor wire and a high walled prison. The resonance for me is the impact of abusive, defensive or controlling patriarchal structures set against the wonder and resilience of the natural world.
Come along to our launch event on Wednesday 25th November at 8pm: https://bit.ly/she-walks-launch
Follow the event on Facebook: https://fb.me/e/b9km6BIdH
As part of Restless & She walks… we are launching the #MyLineInTheSand campaign.
Whether you’re a survivor or an ally, sometimes it’s hard to find the words we need. So we came up with #MyLineInTheSand as a way to give voice to the feelings that we can’t always say out loud.
Every voice matters so give us big words, small words, lots of words or simply a picture – we welcome them all. You can make a bold declaration on the beach or you can do so quietly at home, using whatever you have to hand. Then take a picture and share on social media using the hashtags #MyLineInTheSand and #RestlessVGC
Stand with us, be an ally. Share your rage, hope and solidarity for Survivors of #CSA and gender-based violence. Watch Viv's videos below find out more.
The intention is to give greater voice and visibility to the 11 million adult survivors of CSA in the UK and to demystify and de-stigmatise the conversations around this subject. Artistic Director, Viv Gordon has a strong track record as a theatre maker, arts & mental health campaigner, and survivor-activist grounded in her lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. She walks… is part of a wider project, Restless, an album Viv Gordon Company will be creating with collaborators over the next 18 months.
This starkly beautiful and haunting digital work does not flinch away from uncomfortable truths but looks to the restless sea for inspiration to keep going and slowly change the landscape. The track can be experienced as a song in its own right, and/or accompanied by the animation. Audiences can ally with survivors by joining in the conversation on social media with the hashtag #MyLineInTheSand.
She walks… is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Release date: Wednesday 25th November
Register your attendance at our launch event by clicking here.
Follow the event on Facebook here.
Find out how to take part in the #MyLineInTheSand campaign here.
Somehow I’ve ended up in a recording studio singing on a track for the Restless project - a song I have co-written with composer Quinta and rapper JPDL based on a poem I wrote after walking 110 miles of the South West Coast Path. I'm not sure how this has happened. I have definitely agreed to it - everything is necessarily very consensual in my work, focussing as it does on telling stories about my lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. My work is about voice and visibility for survivors so, much as I would like someone else to sing the song, I know that it needs to be my voice with all its authenticity and vulnerability.
The thing is I can’t sing. Or at least I believe I can’t sing - to the point where I sometimes mouth the words of Happy Birthday.... My voice gets stuck in my throat - it closes up and I start to panic. It's hard to sing if you’re not relaxed, your body needs to be open and my body is rarely relaxed or open. Such is the impact of abuse.
I didn’t sing at all - not in the shower or anywhere - from around the age of 8 - two people laughed while I was singing (not necessarily at me - they could have been sharing a joke about anything) and that was enough to stop me for the next 20 years. Having my son changed things - baby him found my voice soothing and it became less about me or being good at it and all about being a mum. The other thing that shifted things was living on hippy camps and road protest sites where singing was a connection with spirit and community and cause. It became less important what sounds I was making and more important to just join my voice with others. The first time I went to an actual singing workshop I just sat and cried throughout. I discovered I didn’t really breathe properly and have had to learn to release my diaphragm and let breath into my body.
I’ve been having singing lessons with my friend and singing coach Maya Love. She’s been brilliant - patiently helping me to approach it technically and overcome the emotional blocks. We explore what’s happening in my body when I sing and how to manage that. How the tightness in my throat mirrors the tightness in my pelvis - how both need to open together - the reason we focus on breathing when we give birth. As the lessons progress I start to be able to experiment, fuck up and work with the material in a way that was unthinkable when we started.
In the space of a few weeks I’ve gone from being unable to sing on my own in front of Maya to a recording studio where I not only have to sing but I have to sing well enough for it not to feel like a vanity project. We’ve booked 2 days in the studio mindful that its my first time - I’ve broken it down as half a day getting to know the sound engineer and the equipment, half a day for crying, half a day to drink tea and smoke anxious fags, half a day to get my voice out in the room, and half a day trying to record something - that’s too many half days I know…
Anyway - I’m here - everyone is being super kind, bringing their own incredible skills to the table and holding the belief that I can do it. Meanwhile my husband is sending me Beyonce gifs and I have cocktails in the fridge “just in case”. I’m utterly mortified but giving it my best shot trusting my team, trusting the equipment and letting my voice and all its perfect imperfections out into the world.
It's been 2 weeks now since I got home from the Restless walk along the West Somerset coast from Steart to County Gate - a stretch that soon takes you past Hinkley Point Power Station - a blot in the beautiful wildness that works for me as a metaphor for abuse experiences. On the first day I wrote in my blog:
“It seems fitting to start - as my life did - with a big, ugly, toxic scar in the landscape. The rest of our journey will be leaving that behind, walking away from it albeit somewhat in its shadow.”
Walking past Hinkley is no picnic - it's a vast intimidating site that vibrates with a constant audible hum. The path here is diverted away from the sea but - rightly or wrongly - me and my companion decided to ignore that and walk along the beach. This made our experience a bit furtive tapping into familiar hyper-vigilant mind states. We skirted the high wall looming over the beach, picked our way gingerly over stepping stones to avoid the waste water spewing out and genuinely wondered if we might be cut off by the tide unable, as we were, to see our way back to the path. These feelings resonate strongly for me - we often talk about trauma so casually that we forget how consuming fear is, that overwhelming feeling that we might not make it out alive. We’re called survivors for a reason - we don’t all make it.
The rest of the walk made distance between us and Hinkley but it remained present both physically and as an idea. To start with every time we looked back there it was. Then the path started to undulate, the landscape became soft and beautiful and Hinkley was hidden from view. My body was lulled by the gentle up and down, the steady left right left of my feet on the path, the sounds of the sea and the gulls and the scent of blackberries on the breeze. All the ugliness was forgotten until I turned at the top of a cliff and there it was again, a shock of metal reaching arrogantly into the sea and sky. This experience was repeated throughout the walk - sometimes visible, sometimes hidden but somehow constant, permeating everything.
And so it is that abuse permeates my life - I’m not thinking about it all the time but it's always there - it has shaped so much of how I am in the world - it pops its ugly head up at unexpected times and casts its shadow. I think my work is a way for me to not be cowed by it, to look it in the eye, to vote with my feet and decide how I position myself in relation to it. It's a reclamation of my body and its autonomy and of my voice and its truth. As a child I was catatonic with trauma, unable to walk or talk until I was 3. Now every step is a victory - and the poetry and songs that emerge from my body in this landscape is my rallying cry for change.
It's been a beautiful day here on the Restless walk from Minehead to Porlock, a different kind of landscape altogether - woodland, high cliffs, moor, craggy headlands and a wide pebbly beach with the biggest waves we’ve seen this week, drizzle and bright sunshine, misty clouds blanketing everything then clear views for miles. We started with a steep ascent that accelerated my heart and breathing rates, made me sweat and my calves burn. There’s nothing like an energetic climb to get me in my body - somewhere that has not always been a very comfortable place to be. It's where the abuse happened, where all the trauma, pain, shock and memories are stored. Over the years I’ve hated my body, picked at it, starved it, neglected it and numbed it with drugs and alcohol. I still do those things sometimes...
Like many survivors my response to abuse was to dissociate, to effectively “leave my body” - people describe this in many different ways such as feeling as if they are floating above or outside of themselves, spacing out on objects until they are all that exist or feeling unreal or robotic. It is a natural response to trauma, a protective mechanism that helps us survive - I used to be cross about it - now I’m grateful. When I’m triggered I still dissociate often - for me recently it's felt like dissolving, my body feels fizzy and I don’t know where the edges of me are.
Being physical really works for me. Connecting with nature also really works for me. Today’s walk REALLY worked for me. It brought me out of my busy head and into my body, into the present moment and able to connect with all the beauty and sensations. For a few miles, I walked barefoot across soft earth, through cold streams, down stony paths and on spongy grass. I ate foraged bilberries high up on the moor and tasted salt tinged blackberries down by the sea. Smelling the gorse flowers. Listening to the birds and the rumbling sea. No traffic noise, not a house in sight. Just me, my body and the glorious landscape (and Fiona and some other lovely friendly hikers)
This is what my body is for. My body. Mine.
Today has been a sad and weighty day - not horrible - just in a soft, reflective, non specific kind of a way. I woke up feeling sad which is just part of life sometimes eh…. I’m trying to accept it, or more than that - embrace it. Surviving abuse comes with a massive side order of grief for all the relationships that weren’t as they should have been, for all the years lost to dissociation, addiction, depression, silence and secrets, for the me that could have been if I hadn’t been interrupted. So yeah - why wouldn’t I feel sad about that???
The start of our walk seemed to mirror my emotional state - a gentle rain, a close mist, a soft palette of greys and browns and pinks, a whispery sea - everything felt muffled and muted. The beach outside Watchet is incredible - an ever changing landscape - the cliffs tumbling onto the beach. Everything broken…. Everything beautiful….
It's a cliche to say that there is treasure in our brokenness, but there was treasure on that beach if you took the time to look. Ambling along we found ammonite after ammonite, deep shiny orange opaque rocks and translucent glass like shards. I found a stone the size of my head - a near perfect triangle with an ammonite at it’s centre - and decided to take it home. The weight seemed worth it, at least for the first 5 miles then became wearing and I wondered why I’d turned an easy day walking into a harder slog than necessary.
The primary purpose of walking for me is to be embodied - to feel my body - and the weight of the beautiful rock certainly helped with that! At times I took it out of my backpack and cradled it like a baby to give my shoulders a rest. There was something resonant for me in that - like I was carrying a very young part of myself that has been formed under intense pressure, buried deep in an unreachable place for a long time. Now re-emerged into the world - I felt I was carrying myself home.
Today we walked from Kilve to Watchet - a beautiful stretch of the West Somerset coast. Truly incredible geology that I don’t claim to understand - a chaos of colours, shapes and textures- you can see the earth crumbling into the sea - the layers in the cliffs and the complex jigsaw of long shelving rocks jutting out into the water. Both give way to boulders then rocks then pebbles then sand - all stages of the transformation are clearly visible even to the most untrained eye (mine). The sea here in Bridgwater Bay is muddy and brown, the waves small and gentle and deceptively powerful.
It’s made me think about how lacklustre I sometimes feel in my activism - sure I’d love to be a wild intense white horse of a wave crashing forth to demand change (and sometimes I feel that way) but today I’m honouring how small quiet acts of resistance also change the landscape.
Like this morning I chatted to the landlord of the Hood Arms where we stayed last night about the walk and the Restless project. This conversation - answering his question about what we’re doing honestly - would have been unthinkable to me only a few years ago. Such is the conditioning around childhood sexual abuse - you cannot, must not tell - you will upset or embarrass people - or something terrible will happen.
Well the sky didn’t fall in - it was fine - it nearly always is - it’s something I practice doing often (but not always - not if I don’t want to for whatever reason). The first step in making change is to unearth the issue name it make it visible - as a culture we need to get better at talking about abuse - I reckon.
welcome to my blog
I'll be posting my personal reflections on creating work as an artist and survivor of childood sexual abuse, my work with the wider sector and interesting developments in arts and mental health.