Tanya Davis completed a two week residency at Tatamagouche Centre in July 2019. Here are her reflections on her time and work at Tatamagouche Centre.
Changing the View
Tanya Davis, July 2019
The first thing I noticed was the spaciousness, both of the house and the surrounding grounds. It was dark, and so the second thing I noticed was a slightly spooked feeling. Luckily, I am a spin doctor of my own perception and thus quickly told myself a tale of happy ghosts that would be glad to have me in their midst. It was Sunday night in Tatamagouche and I had arrived to begin a two week residency at the Centre. I had paper and pens, a laptop and a burning desire to get some work done. Of course, getting some work done is rarely as simple as it seems.
An artist residency is an opportunity for artists and creative professionals to temporarily stay and work somewhere other than their home, providing context and parameters for creative process as well as an atmosphere that is generally conducive to productivity. No two residencies are the same, nor is any participant’s experience. With dedicated time and space in which to work, we can focus solely on our practice. Freed from even the joyous pressures of walking our dogs, tending our gardens, or meeting our friends for coffee, we can sink more fully into the work, whatever that work may be.
My goal at the Tatamagouche Centre was to revisit a project I began some years ago, shaking off the settled dust to see what shape it was in and where I wanted to take it next. That project is called Mass and it is essentially a re-imagining of traditional Christian liturgy, presented as multidisciplinary performance with a poetic and critical bent. I started it as an attempt to explore alternative options of worship, rewriting, in sequence, the rituals and rites of Holy Communion, deviating drastically in content but little in form. It began as an investigation into the nature of community and exclusion, uncertainty and faith. And what I learned on day one of my residency was that it was all going to change.
As a lapsed Catholic, I have long yearned for a community of faith, for answers to my endless existential questions. I have envied those gathered en masse, believing in something. I thought I should believe in something, too. But god does not call my name and neither, for that matter, does church. For the most part, anyway. I do miss the theatrics and the ritual, the incense and the candles, those solemn songs and droning organ chords. And so I’ve been working on this project to create my own version of worship, replete with the mystique of ceremony but void of problematic liturgy and dogma. I’ve been seeking my own way to commune. I’ve been seeking so hard that I’ve been obstructing the view.
Sometimes it helps to take trips, change the external circumstance so to alter the interior one. That is what happened, rather unexpectedly, at the Tatamagouche Centre. Amidst the spaciousness and the ghosts, with sounds of river and highway and birds, I realized I didn’t need to look so deeply for something to believe in and a community to stand alongside. I believe there is meaning, even as I can’t quite articulate it, and I belong, inherently, just by being here. If not always in community, we are of it, from it, like waves from the ocean or strawberries up from early summer ground. Some people go to church, some people sit alone on porches that are not their own and watch solo gophers do their work. And all the work I was to get done is summed up in that one moment, watching belonging in action, this one animal that is no less a member of the kingdom than all of the packs of them.
I will continue to develop the Mass, though it will surely change its shape; I’m no longer seeking proof of belonging but, rather, a way to communicate my belief that we just do, no membership required. And there is the gift of a residency – what happens in the time and space provided is not necessarily what was expected, though it always uncovers something.
This artist residency was made possible by the support of the EDGE innovation grants. EDGE is a network for innovative ministry development and is supported by the United Church Foundation.