A recent conversation with the Scottish-based artist Freya Payne, has helped me explore the similarities between the artist and Shiatsu therapist. I’ve often heard Shiatsu described as a healing art and art is commonly called therapy – but what exactly does this mean? Freya’s latest project strengthens the connections between the two disciplines. Monuments to Love is a series of commissioned projects marking major life events such as the passing of a loved one. In times of loss, discomfort and change it is common for people to turn to therapy to help them adapt and reconfigure. Freya’s latest work steps squarely into the territory of the therapist – with an artistic process that is as much about grounding, healing and repair as art production. Conscientious to this goal, she began a three year counselling training to prepare for the project.
“I wanted to create work that is the result of a shared conversation; art work that is potentially healing, grounding, affirming. I see a growing need for beautiful ritual objects that can mark the big events in our lives, can talk to us about love and loss, can accompany us and accumulate meaning,” she said.
The artistic process, like the therapeutic process, begins by listening to the stories, thoughts, needs of the families, communities and individual she works with. During this process precious relics are gathered – scraps of a favourite poem, an old earring, a beloved heirloom, a birth date – which are later integrated into the body of the art work. The tenderly crafted objects that emerge have the quality of an intricate puzzle – that are repositories of memory.
Shiatsu also begins in conversation. This is the space where we sift through myriad apparently unconnected details, words, memories, a favourite food and colour, the hour of sleep and waking, points of pleasure and pain. From these fragments we build our sense of the person, the body and its discomfort. At first the fragments or symptoms may appear disjointed and confusing – so we touch and hold them, soften the sharp edges, smooth the surrounding tissue to reintegrate them into the body. In this way Shiatsu is as hands-on as Freya’s artistic practice – with equal respect for craft, intricate detail and the frailty and shadows of the human condition.
The oriental physician works like an artist, writes Ted J Kaptchuk in The Web That Has No Weaver which explains the practices of Chinese Medicine. Shiatsu, which shares this tradition, looks at the whole psychological and physiological make-up of a person. The purpose is not to find a specific disease but to “render an almost poetic yet workable description of that person,” says Kaptchuk.
“The logic of Chinese medicine is organismic or synthetic, attempting to organise signs and symptoms into understandable configurations. The total configurations provide the framework for the treatment. All the relevant information including the symptom is gathered and woven together until if forms a pattern of disharmony. The therapy then attempts to bring the configuration into balance to restore harmony to the individual.”
Shiatsu is essentially based on intuition and creative feelings, according to Matt Woods, Shiatsu college tutor and practitioner for more than 20-years. “The role of therapist as artist is often overlooked, particularly in our culture where clinical outcomes, evidence based treatment and rationalist thought holds sway. It is easy to forget that Shiatsu is rooted in a healing art tradition and although it must involve technique to some degree and a theoretical structure these should never outweigh the intuitive and creative feeling based approach,” he said.
It is this process of listening, observing, gathering and weaving together of fragments and subtle details to reconfigure, to restore harmony, to find beauty and, above all, to feel pleasure – these are shared practices and goals in art and Shiatsu.
Freya Payne is represented by Flowers Galleries in London and New York