Overcoming Barriers with Collaborative Collage-Making (Session for Centennial College’s Teaching and Learning Symposium)

 

It was a pleasure to share a paper-strewn table with seven participants who made collages on the theme of Equity and Inclusion. As we gathered, talked, cut, and glued, the discussion centered on how to apply collage-making to a variety of learning tasks, such as presentations, vision boards, and reflective practice.

In a post-workshop conversation, one participant kindly offered to share some thoughts about her collage:

Donata Ling’s Collage
It’s your differences that make you you.
 
For each day that I walk into the classroom, it’s important for me that each student experiences a sense of wander like the expression of ‘Wow’ in the picture. Each student is on that journey to find wander and curiosity, which is made possible by asking questions and opening oneself to others and the world. This is what I have done through my own experiences of ‘wandering off the beaten path’ and seeing the world in its splendor and beauty. After cutting out the landscape image, I discovered a shape – the human face. It’s there that you can discover the difference in each student – in their expressions and more importantly their story (Donata Ling).
 

Many thanks to all who attended the session! Your insights, engagement, and creativity enriched my day!

Nails in the Tree: A Reflection on Trauma

Sylvan Park, Scarborough

I want to heal from the damage caused by two nails that have pierced me. Over the years, they have twisted themselves into cracked pockets of partial burial, digging in, holding fast to their reluctant host.

“Brace yourself,” well-wishers advise. “Just rip out those rusty old bastards and you’ll be free.” It is easy for my friends to say this, for they perceive the nails as separate and distinct from my flesh. They judge me for cleaving to familiar cruelties, the very devices that undermine my stability.

I miss the clarity of rage that met the shock of the first hammer blow and the next and the next. But I was young and did not understand how quickly righteous anger cools to self-doubt. Matching pain to resigned silence is a mistake that re-makes itself.

The man who held the hammer is long dead, but the nails he selected still insinuate with aches. The memories sink more and more severely into my limbs each season, and their sharp points have become as familiar as shame. Although he never explained why he chose me to be punished, he was careful to convince me I deserved it. That way, I could continue to self-crucify as he intended, a sadistic immortality.

The two nails drive his name deeper with every splash of rain on metal, every ice-storm that conducts more cold into my veins. Yet without this Frankenstein map of ancient injuries, who am I? If I am not splintered, how can I seize the audacity to be whole?

Catharsis (Excerpt from Guided Visualizations for Heartbreak)

Heron and Basket, Catherine Raine 2018

When you are overwhelmed by obsessive thoughts of abandonment, a giant heron flies through your window with a woven basket. With his beak, he removes the wire stitching that seals your mouth, causing a wad of cotton wool to fall out. The stitches and the cotton have been sealing off dark screams of rage. And under the screams lurk an impacted column of curses that you have internalized and turned against yourself. A frightening wave of nausea passes through your mouth, throat, and stomach when you taste the unjust bile you have swallowed, condemning yourself for being a bad person who deserves to be left.

Setting the waterproof basket on the floor as you fall to your knees, the heron stands near as you violently expel a torrent of shame, fossilized chunks of rejection, and traumatic memories, all coated in green bile. When you rock back on your heels, Heron pours a bowl of spring water over your face and offers you a glass of peppermint tea to rinse your mouth. He pats you gently with a wing.

Heron’s Basket, Catherine Raine 2018

Placing a lid on the basket full of vomit, Heron waits several minutes for your strength to gather and then gestures for you to follow him to a bamboo grove that has suddenly appeared in the back yard. In the center of the glossy bamboo patch, you are surprised to see a massive fountain.

Heron’s Fountain, Catherine Raine 2018

The fountain rises from the middle of a shallow circular pool lined with turquoise and green tiles in a mosaic pattern. You hesitate at first when the bird indicates that you should pour the contents of the basket into the beautiful pool. You worry that the vile effluvia of your worst fears and beliefs about yourself will contaminate the water. However, the heron insists, and so you dump the foul-smelling liquid into the pool.

photo by Catherine Raine 2017

For a few terrifying moments, the vomit stays congealed in a lumpen mass, but soon the constant flow of the fountain begins to break up and disperse the mess into smaller and smaller clumps. The water dilutes and spreads the clumps, transforming them through movement into tiny bits, then specks, and finally dissolving the last nasty particle into the clear liquid of the pool.

Catherine Raine, 2017

You can’t believe how lovely the tiles look through the fresh and clear water. Even more astonishing is the way your body feels. You are so light that the heron easily picks you up by the collar and flies you to a meadow in the Ozarks. He gently sets you down in a tree at the edge of the grass, having found the perfect sturdy branch that curves out from the trunk of an oak.

photo by Catherine Raine, 2018

Heron sits beside you companionably and nods as you begin to speak of the liberation that makes your very cells vibrate with joy. You tell the heron that you want to roll through the entire meadow and jump into rivers and fall in love with life again. You want to shout to the universe, “It really was not my fault that I was abandoned!”

Catherine Raine, 2016

Gingerly pressing your heart to check for soreness, you also investigate your voice box to see if you have the urge to repeat the tale of betrayal, humiliation, and brokenness that has been tormenting you. To your infinite delight, you have NO desire whatsoever to tell it in the same way; instead, you fold the story into a new narrative of resilience and wholeness. As the sun sets beyond the Ozark Hills, you and Heron grin at each other, enchanted by the revolutionary catharsis that has renewed your soul.

Aga Khan Museum, 2018

 

Student Collages on the Theme of Personality Traits

The artist’s words about her collage: “It is about the difference between public mask and private reality. After the performance is over and the make-up is removed, what do you see in the mirror?  Who are you after the glory? Maybe you are lonely.”

Collaborative collage, Catherine Raine and a student who left a partially-finished piece behind.
Detail from “Be Open and Not Withdrawn”

… by Catherine Raine