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Blog / Dancing the dance

Dancing the dance

A reflective blog by Combine to Create Collective member Jen Cantwell on her time working with Moray Women’s Aid as part of her long-term residency.

Moray Women’s Aid provide residential and outreach support to victims and families affected by domestic abuse. They cut across gender, race and abilities to offer help that’s available to anyone who needs it. 

In early 2022 as part of Combine to Create, the Culture Collective program overseen by Findhorn Bay Arts, I joined Moray Women’s Aid on a long term artists residency that focused on building connections and relationships through making.  

I was embraced wholeheartedly into their working community and trusted to join their groups and run my own sessions. I was in new territory with the learning more vertical than curved and more than a few reasons to have a wobbler; but I was supported by the team there and back in my artists’ collective, there was a huge wall of knowledge and experience to lean on, and that gave me the confidence to dive in.

We starting slowly, gaining momentum in small increments, we cut and pasted, painted and printed, braided, folded, sewed and baked. We sawed and hammered, glued and dissected, built things up and shrank them down. We learned how to mend, repurpose, upcycle; not to make do but make new. We shared our knowledge, our best and our worst, and we tackled the new things together.

As their confidence grew, I stepped sideways and they stepped up, I stepped back and they stepped forward taking the lead on workshops that came from within, that gave beauty tips and DIY skills equal billing in a gorgeous unearthing of their skills. That’s the dance we danced, we made it up as we went, we had no expectations, we hoped for the best and we weren’t disappointed. 

As the year moved on we held parties and workshops, attended events and sang songs, we danced, ate food and kept talking. Somedays all we made was a mess, we melted, we spilled and we puddled, we started things but left them unfinished. Stuff knotted or frayed, frazzled or burnt, plans were delayed or got cancelled but we weren’t phased, we just picked it back up, tried it again and made more, did it better (or not), loved and kept it, abandoned or chucked it.

We found that we loved more things than we didn’t and succeeded more times than we failed, so we bigged-up our wins and put our arms around our failures, had a laugh, sucked it up and moved on.

We’re about process not product but the by-product of process IS product and if the products a good un’ its a bit of a buzz. If the products a dud no-ones bothered, who cares – we’re about process not product and we’ve had fun.

As groups we were tiny tots and elders, families, single people, kids and teens, moving and changing and held together as a shapeshifting community by the women who form the backbone of MWA. In an environment that could so easily have veered to gloom or the toxically positive we stayed pragmatic and kept the chats real, sometimes hilarious sometimes harrowing but always grounded in the here and now.

Never scared off by difficult conversations or by sitting in silence, we adapted and grew, giving what we could, taking what we needed and recognising each other as part of a whole. 

I absolutely loved my time as part of this community, it was a challenging, stretching, painful, joyful, deeply human experience. 

Thank you for having me.

Jen Cantwell’s work spans art, design and craft, using drawing, lettering, collage and embroidery alongside technology to communicate in a playful tactile way.

Find out more about Jen’s residency on the Combine to Create project page.

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As 2023 comes to a close, we would like to pause and reflect on some of our highlights from the last year.