In Bengal, I encountered an idea of the artist that offered me a powerful metaphor for the relationship art can bear to life:
"A saddhu sat with his students under a tree. One student asked, "What is an artist?" The saddhu answered:
"Two birds sat in a tree. In Bengal people believe that feeding birds brings luck and soon someone came and scattered seed. One bird flew down to peck, calling to his friend, "There's plenty, come and eat!" But the other bird only looked on. Soon the first bird called again, "Come on! Come and eat!" But the second bird simply watched.
"In this world", said the sadhu, there are two kinds of people. Most are the bird eating. Some are the bird watching. The artist is both."
Peripatetic art practice emphasises the noticing and mapping of subtle changes in cultures, ecologies, and environments. It draws on ancient paradigms of the travelling storyteller and social frameworks that relate to the world in its diversity. Peripatetic practice connects the artist with new stories through which we may reimagine ourselves and our world. For me peripatetic practice invokes the work of storytelling, which I perceive as a calling to places myself out in the world, proximate to issues on the ground and where making art is as part of and in response to life,. For me listening and being with others is as much a part of making paintings as wielding materials. It is for me a challenging form of practice, not only because it involves often working in transitional, improvised, and makeshift conditions, but because in doing so identity shapes not through placement and belonging, but through an acceptance of being at a threshold or liminal space. Here, working out and through' the innate uncertainty and mutability of journeys and “the anxiety of rootlessness” becomes the skillset and way of the storyteller.
Exploring localities I use walking in oscillatory ways, carrying materials of paper, pencil, sound recorder, watercolour, sometimes a camera. I involve a cross-disciplinary approach integrating anthropological and artistic methods in social, immersive, participatory, and embedded ways of working. Here methods of observation, in-situ and life drawing, gleaning, and filming combine with listening, ‘leaning’, and being with people. I favour processes that emphasise time as I get to know and understand the lifeworlds of people and their stories.
Drawing on the metaphor of the 'two birds' I create archives comprising scrolls that diarise and chronicle life in field drawings, notes, and paintings. Alongside painting I record the sounds of where I am, making audio works that contextualise, mirror and expand the stories in my paintings. As archives the scrolls and audios testify to the unfolding nature of my journeys whilst offering a panoramic view of life across cultures and places.
The way that I practice tends to yield abiding connections and relationships. As themes of belonging and home propel my work, so I have developed long-standing relationships with individuals and communities engaged in struggles for home and belonging. As understandings have arrived through the immersive aspect of my practice so has opportunities for advocacy, agency, collaboration, and reciprocity been important developments evolving, expanding, and distinguishing my work as a peripatetic artist.
Michal's practice-led PhD, completed in 2017, explored nomadic art practice through the lens of painting (School of Art and Design, Australian National University). She has a Masters in Fine Art (Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda) and a Diploma of Teaching. Alongside research with storytelling and painting across cultures, she continues making scroll archives and collaborating with subject communities. She is presently developing her thesis into a book to be published by Springer Nature.