Photo by Paul Matthew. Poem by Winter School participants.

Week two of my Responsive Residency with Critical Path and IO Myers Creative Practice Lab, UNSW. July 2017.

Both heaters are on, a bright neon orange light warms the large, cavernous theatre space. I am standing at a table cutting up words with a pair of sewing scissors. Snip. Snip. Under my fingers float neurons under my finger float attention under my fingers float swallow under my fingers float process. I am sorting words into lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and pronouns. As I snip I learn more about grammar, about how language works, how perception works, how sentences come together and shape thoughts, actions. It feels so choreographic to snip!

My father up until the very end of his life, even when all his mobility had disappeared – where did it go? all those micro signals between the brain and body where did they all disappear to? – would play word games; endlessly staring at a scrambled list of letters and putting then together to form four-letter, five-letter, six-letter words, and I had to write them down because his fingers didn’t move and he couldn’t hold a pen. Now, four months after his death I am standing alone at a long white table in a large, cavernous theatre snipping words with the emerging thought to make a brain-body magnetic poetry kit. Under my fingers float continuously under my fingers float dangling under my fingers float ancestor under my fingers float time.

Last time I was in Sydney I was in a different large, cavernous theatre space – at Drill Hall by Rushcutter’s Bay with boats bobbing in the harbour. Here at UNSW I am surrounded not by shipyards and white yachts but by ancient fig trees and construction sites. What is it to be in-residence as an ‘interstate artist’ coming in for three weeks, once in June, once in July and once in September, re-inscribing that well-worn pathway between Melbourne and Sydney again and again, to research by dancing, writing, reading, thinking and encountering the connections between brain and body: the incessant signals they send each other for the simplest of actions, like snip. Under my fingers float software under my fingers float evolution under my fingers float principles under my fingers float idea.

My idea was to be in dialogue with Dr Brindha Shivalingam, a neurosurgeon who lives in Sydney. In my application for this residency I wrote:

I have known Brindha all my life. She is a family friend. We grew up together in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 1983 when the riots began we lived a very particular traumatic period at the start of the war together. Our families both migrated to Australian in 1984. Brindha and I share lives in two continents and a childhood shaped, amongst other things, by war. I am wanting to research pathways and scales by investigating relationships between micro and macro mobility. How does fine motor coordination exist in relation to the pathways enacted by economic and political migrants? This research investigates the pathways between body and brain and the pathways taken by each of us – neurosurgery and choreography – with the thought that perhaps both the micro and the macro can speak to the creation of hybrid identities, economies of practice and kinaesthetic heritage.

This is my first science-dance investigation – can I even call it that? In week one, Brindha and I spent a lot of time together. I stayed in her home and invited her to Drill Hall. We walked along the harbour and talked about our lives, about her work, about her path as a Bharatanayam Dancer, then Doctor, then Surgeon. And my pathway from theatre, to dance, to architecture and design. We talked about love and relationships about family and expectations. We talked about money and power we talked about the surgeon’s theatre and the performer’s theatre, the unlikely connections and vast gaps between the two.

In week 2 I am trying to make sense of these discussions, how they might translate or transform into ‘tests’ or ‘shifts’ in my practice. I listen to our conversations recorded on my iphone, I listen to podcasts from brain surgeons and neuroscientists talking about the human brain. I make lists and lists of words. And then I cut them all up. Under my fingers float touch under my fingers float stimuli under my fingers float down under my fingers float small.

The idea of a magnetic poetry kit on the Brain-Body emerges as a choreographic object, a way to make non/sense of these sediments floating up through my fingers. The next day a group of young Indigenous Australian high school kids come into the theatre to meet with the artist in-residence i.e. me. I tell them a story about my childhood in Sri Lanka and my family friendship with Brindha. It’s a story of war, and fire, and refugee camps, close escapes, and high achievements. Their mouths are open listening to every word. One of the girls puts her hand on her heart. It’s so satisfying to tell stories. I LOVE this feeling – like binding a spell, like weaving a web. I catch them in my sticky, silvery words, and they are all mine and I am all theirs and under our fingers float syntax under our fingers float tangle under our fingers float I under our fingers float sensing.


Photo by Paul Matthews











C is for

C is for Cecil Street

C is for chorus

C is for constellations and chairs

C is for crazily

C is for can’t believe I live here

C is for cooking in a small room

C is for cockroach

C is for curtains – three layers that don’t block out the light of the streetlamps

C is for city-living

C is for cabin-fever

C is for container-ship

C is for the caged bird that sings

C is for the calendar by which we schedule our comings and goings

C is for it’s a lot like camping

C is for it’s alot like camouflage

C is for it’s as unfathomable as the grand canyon

C is for cavity, weak gums

C is for caterpillar

C is for capsize

C is for cognize

C is for cauliflower which I rarely ever eat

C is for cowboy-movies that I watch late at night

C is for cave art, a bit like how I draw on the windows

C is for the flying carpet that somehow brought me here, to this

C is for the antique cupboard that took Man with a Van about an hour to haul up the stairs

C is for capture

C is for centimeter

C is for centigrade

C is for how cold this room is about to get when winter comes

C is for the crescent moon I saw the night my father died

C is for circle

C is for kissing your cheek each night each morning

C is for jaws that catch

C is for can’t

C is for comma

C is for chop, clap, crawl and cry

C is for czardom, that is the power of the czar

C is for cosy

C is for coop

C is for cope








I would like to begin again

Dear Reader,

I would like to begin again, with you. I would like to invite you in. I would like to invite you into my home. I would like to make a disclaimer. I am regretful to tell you that to enter my home you will need to take your shoes off. I would like to say sorry for this. I would like to say sorry for this because I really like your shoes, and I like shoes in general and I would like to say sorry because I don’t always take off my own shoes even though I should. I would like to unlock this gate. I would like to unlock this white gate but I don’t remember the code on the padlock. I would like to think it’s 007 but I can’t be sure. I would like to assure you that it doesn’t really matter because I have my own set of keys on a red tag with a silver whistle. I would like to walk behind you as you enter. I would like to put our shoes neatly on the shoe rack. I would like to point out the numerous outdated flyers on the noticeboard and to tell you that I am thinking of creating a public artwork called NOTICE/BOARD. I would like to clear all the flyers from this corridor and these boards and leave only this note for you all folded up and neatly pinned. I would like to you to have discovered it when you least expect it, a small and yet big surprise. I would like to regretfully acknowledge that no one leaves notes for each other anymore. I would like to ask you if you ever passed a note secretly at school, or later in life in a meeting? I would like you to ask what you wrote. I would love to have told you what I wrote but I can’t remember. No, really I cannot. I would like to invite you to put your bag down on any one of these wooden chairs by the door. I would like to walk with you around the studio floor. I would like to point out the two bathrooms, and the kitchen behind the black curtain. I would like to give you a glass of water. I would like to stand on the chair while you hand me the long black lighter and wait with me while I light the old gas heaters. I would like to lie beneath one of these heaters with you and listen to the falling rain for a long long time. I would like to roll with you, turn with you, rise with you, stand with you, walk with you, run with you, fall with you, bend with you, receive with you, hold with you, dance with you. I would like to walk up the white staircase with you and take a moment to look at our reflections in the cast iron mirror hanging on the hook outside the door. I would like to open the door of the room where I live and invite you in. I would like you to sit on one of the hand carved chairs my mother shipped from our childhood home in Colombo to our new home in Melbourne in 1984. I would like to put the kitchen light on but I know that if I put that light on and the kettle on at the same time it will blow a fuse. I would like to play you some of my favourite piano music. I would like to sit on the lounge chair with you and talk about how the plants in this room are thriving against all odds. I would like to smell with you the lemon-geranium I took from the neighbours garden to make last night’s bedtime tea. I would like to show you the hole under the pillar where I twice saw a mouse run in and out, in and out. I would like to know if it was the same mouse. I would like to smile here with you. I would like to listen here with you. I would like to drink whiskey, make some plans, spin some cotton into gold in this room with you. I would like to tell you how I came to live here, in a dance studio. I would like you to know that last year someone was murdered not far from here. I would like to show you the syringe I nearly stepped on when I stopped on my walk to tie up my shoe laces. I would like to tell you that walking home late last night I nearly bumped into a man rummaging through the garbage bags left outside the Salvation Army store. I would like to admit how little I know this neighbourhood, how I circle outside on Friday nights waiting for the five rhythms class to finish. I would like to say that living above a dance studio is a continual process of becoming. I would like to think that this very living is an act of dancing. I would like to know if you are dancing now. I would like to think that I am dancing now. I would like you to write something on my body, a kind of impermanent tattoo. I would like you to write each now becomes another now. Yes, and I would like you to write I write because I don’t trust myself to remember. Yes, and I would like you to write  after, across, between, until. Yes, and I would like you to write, she is wearing red lipstick, her hair is up.


one year on: some thoughts on ‘home’

It will soon be my one year anniversary of leaving England and returning ‘home’ to Melbourne, Australia. I came with a return ticket – couldn’t face buying a one-way – what if it all didn’t work out? What if? What if? It’s funny how in this year, one of the many adventures I have had was returning to UK and heading up to Findhorn to dance in a choreographic lab with Deborah Hay (and 20 others). What if? What if? If you’re familiar with Deborah Hay there’s no more to say. If not, then I could leave you with one of her fantastically generative, dancing questions:

What if it is not what we do as dancers but how we engage the billions of passing moments in the space where we are dancing, either in solo or group work, we will learn to practice the how of performing?


Amaara Raheem, Hestia, Asia House, London, 2014

Here I am channeling Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the home, the hearth. Here I am channeling Hestia in an old, colonial London mansion-house that has been turned into an arts and cultural venues called Asia House. Here I am in 2014 dancing through the process of deciding ‘yes! this is an end of an era’. Note how the fireplace in this ornate room, the site of Hestia, has been taken out. Is that a coincidence? Am I someone who has forgotten the rituals of putting out the home fires? Probably. Often when I left a ‘home’ it was without awareness or true intent. The first instance (Colombo – Melbourne), I was only 10 years old and it was in the midst of a civil war, so forgivable. In the second instance I was 27 years old and thought I was just going backpacking for two years (Melbourne – London). By the time 15 years passed I really didn’t know if I would find the way back ‘home’. Surely, the birds had long eaten my trail of crumbs? Maybe, but it didn’t matter, Hestia helped me remember. So, here I am calling upon the Greek deity of colonisation, stability, home-making, to guide me back, or is it forwards? Here I am having lived more than one lifetime, having loved in more than one place, having the kind of accent, face, demeanour, presence of a person from nowhere in particular and, everywhere in general. Not displacement exactly rather, ‘multiple belongings’.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that my PhD in the School of Architecture and Design is addressing ‘home’. In yet another iteration of writing that attempts to understand and name what I am doing I say:

The discipline of dance is a ‘home’ and I have mostly known ‘home’ through the act of leaving it and situating myself elsewhere in relation to it. Artists in exile making work about ‘home’ has a long history and it is with this in mind that I position myself as outsider or ‘border artist’ (Gomez-Pena) in the School of Architecture and Design. To work philosophically and kinaesthetically with the following concepts – ‘becoming’, ‘equivalence’ and ‘difference’ – sits at the heart of my doctoral projects. Here, the relationships between movement, language and ‘home’ are offered as a continuous sites of becoming; spaces in which to subtract or multiply ‘self’; where the personal is political, the political is personal and the borders between fact and fiction merge, meander; where the body is offered as surface for place-making. 

This blog is not the place to write everything, if such a thing were even possible. But carefully and methodologically – if for no one’s purposes but my own – I’d like to reflect upon this year: February 2015 – February 2016: a year of becoming, a year of BIG surprises, a year of adventuring, a year of departure and arrivals, a year of being under the Southern Sky.

Some different kind of writing that can be offered as Ariadne’s thread – a secret passageway through the maze of lived history – to tell the stories that only I can tell:

subterranean metals shimmer like firecrackers; performing subjectivity they snack on insects, bittersweet; this is a message-in-a-bottle bobbing on a sea of silence; I am in a wilder space now, I am re-wilding – not language as Robert MacFarlane does – but this surface called my body; it is a passage of time tucked inside itself – a russian doll of selfs, so to speak; flyweight to heavyweight she is feeling the weight and the wait of the PhD; it takes the time it takes (smile); the gravity of new beginnings means uphill climbs are difficult but necessary; remember how crossing Mt Graham was surprisingly tender? she has returned back to the drafting table to build it all over again, this time straight and true. 


Amaara Raheem, Hestia, Asia House, London, 2014







The Sky is Falling. The Money’s All Gone.


‘All The Things We Can Do’ by Hamish McPherson

I wished you to be persuaded, that success in your art depends almost entirely on your own industry; but the industry which I principally recommend, is not the industry of the hands, but of the mind… ” (Sir Joshua Reynols, 1969)

Despite being accused by the Pre-Raphaelites of ignoring the truth in favour of ideal beauty Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of Royal Academy gave a series of lectures entitled ‘Discourses VII’ in 1769 to art students. This ‘manifesto’ now considered to be the founding text of British painting theory, elevated art as an activity of the mind, not the hand, and called on painters to imbue their work with much more than simply what they saw in front of them.

Thus, in 2014 the game-changing act of thinking-as-seeing and doing-as-making continues to be a way for artists to gather and think collectively to questions such as this, posed by Chicago based art collective, Lucky Pierre.

How can artists respond to and work against despair amid evidence of ongoing economic, environmental, and social fragility? Are we the relief workers of the new collapse? 

A call-out via Arts Admin DIY workshop goes live, inviting us to research, share, argue and collaborate on-line. In the same year, British dance artist Hamish McPherson runs a series of events called ‘All The Things We Can Do‘ – an invitation to an attempt at an exploration. Six art/ life events for artists, philosophers and other citizens, using choreographic strategies to engage with politics and citizenship through the body.

Both activities involve active participation, creative citizenship and promote methods of making, together. One is live, the other virtual. Both suggest together,


I participate in both, gathering and contributing my own resources, trying to find ways to co-create frameworks for understanding our present ‘economic, environmental, and social fragility through historical study, systemic and collective analysis, and artistic/creative expression’ (L.P.F.U).

In response to Prompt 2, by L.P.F.U asking, where is it safe? What is austerity? Is there hope? What is progress? here is my response.

Subsequently presented at Propellor Fund Space, Chicago.



The map is not the territory


From an artwork by Lucy Cash at Dance and Somatic Practices Conference, Coventry 2015

Linnankatu, 9 – Eurohostel – Room 629

After a relatively sleepless night I arrived in Helsinki airport at 3pm. I caught the city service bus to the centre and wandered about the old, railway station looking for tourist information. It was nowhere to be found. I asked a few people if they knew Linnankatu. I told them in advance that I probably wasn’t pronouncing it right however, I’d written it down in my diary and I showed them the address. No one had heard of it. Mistakenly it seems, I had thought from the reviews online that Eurohostel was a mere 10 feet from the station. “Perhaps it doesn’t exist” said one man. This is one of the worst things one human being could say to another, especially when that other has a backpack on her shoulders, a large suitcase attached and has been travelling since 5am. However that very man turned from foe to friend when he magicked a city map from nowhere, and stayed close, as we searched together for Linnankatu, which he eventually sourced. He patiently explained me how to get there what tram to take.

He: It’s the four or the fourtee

Me: Four or the fourteen?

He: Not fourteen, fourtee!

Me: Oh, forty.

He: NO. Not fourteen, not forty but fourtee!!

Me: (helpessly) what is fourtee?

He: FOURTEE!! You know t!! (he makes the sign for the letter t with his body) Like, t for …. terrorist!

Me: Oh, the 4T.

We had a good laugh at t-for-terrorist. Especially when he tried to back track by saying “I meant t for terminal”.

I was amazed at the amount of time he gave me, a man on his way from A to B, just stopping to help a stranger. Different city = different speed. T for traveller. T for today. T for thank-you.

I followed his directions and his map and found myself waiting for tram no: 4 or 4T. I had to remind myself several times that they drive on the other side of the road here. I boarded the tram. I had a ticket in my purse from the bus I’d caught from the airport. I wasn’t entirely sure it was valid, but I did think I could effectively plead a case of not knowing if a t-for-ticket-inspector arrived in our midst.

The day was cloudy and a little humid. I had reduced my things to a suitcase I could actually carry – it wasn’t exactly light, but it also wasn’t the suitcase I’d left Melbourne with a little over a week ago. Yesterday, in London, I gave away two bags of clothes. Lesson #49: there is nothing to match the art of travelling light.

The tram trotted down the street with great speed, along a road it knew. I was following the map in my hand and the street names. After approximately 1 minute they no longer connected. Very soon, roadworks and suburban houses, magnificent churches and the Port of Helsinki. Even before I could read the names fully they flashed by, not that it mattered the names were unreadable, much less pronounceable: Uudenmaaskatu for example. At one stop, two women with suitcases left the tram. Should I follow them? Are they going to the Eurohostel? I looked at a sign: Skatuddskajen. I looked at the map. No correlation. The tram sped off. A family with backpacks. Them? There? Katajanokka. More and more into the the suburbs. Surely, not as far as this? At the end of the tram stop it was just me and the sea. The driver opened the doors and looked at me from the rear view mirror. I shook my head. The doors closed. The tram, the driver nor I moved. When I finally went to him to ask directions, he spoke very good english. Why this surprised me I am not sure. “I wait here for 5 minutes” he said “but you could walk there in two. Down the hill, to your left. Eurohostel? Right?”

In room 629, lying on my bed watching the seagulls swoop and swirl into the cloudy sky I remembered the young man on the airport shuttle bus who said to his friends “this is the furtherest east I’ve ever been.”

“The furtherest east?!” queried his female friend, wearing a lovely bright pink lipstick and a very low cut t-shirt that said wan-der-lust. “Yes” replied the man “one can almost smell the communism”. His group fell about laughing. “Ok, comment no: 1” said his friend with the beard. Come to think of it they all had beards.

In the K Market earlier this evening, I was looking at yoghurts and found one which had a picture of a woman in a red headscarf with long brown plaits, smiling. It looked like a yoghurt from another era and was called Bulgarian Yoghurt. Later, I ate it with a very fine pear.

treading water

high low colour 001

new research project: ‘treading water’. Photo by Simon Green.

So I took this workshop in the library organised by the SGR – School of Graduate Research – called ‘Finding the Authority of your Academic Voice’ or something like that and it was very good. Very useful, I mean. And it got me thinking about authority and voice and choreography and cartography and the position one takes irregardless of the speculative nature of being and making art. And, I’ve joined this philosophy reading group – otherwise I never will read philosophy – and we’re reading 20 pages of ‘Phenomenology of Perception’ by Maurice Merleu-Ponty every week, gathering together in Dr. Mammad Aidani’s tiny office in the old quadrangle of Melbourne University and discussing  existence of being every week, often to the bells which toll upon the hour. I feel transported to Italy, as it was in E.M Forster’s ‘Room with a View’ i.e. the classical civilisation.

Tip to finding authority i: avoid using too many ands in a paragraph.

Last night on the train I was reading ‘100 Artists Manifestos’ and I was shocked, delighted and energised by the authority in the writing. Instructions, lists, manifestos – I’m wondering if my entire PhD could just consist of one long list. Last night on TV, Jamie Oliver was cooking his 15 minute meal – kedigree – and I noticed his casual authority. Clearly this man knows how to use a knife. But he’s so carefree with it. Is this his success?

Tip to finding authority ii: know when to be speculative and ask questions – it covers your academic back and makes you sound less pompous.

Coming into relation with authority is a process. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by colleagues and supervisors who don’t pull rank and wave their doctorates around like magic wands. But I do remember when I graduated – the ritual of graduation – the ceremony began with a procession of academics, and I saw my supervisors/lecturers/friends/colleagues walk up in various academic robes, medals and hats and I was taken aback by the authority of costume as well as overwhelmed that I was surrounded by people, mainly women, who had achieved so much. The weight of their learning and teaching and embodied knowledge knocked me for a six.

Tip to finding authority iii: use more nouns than verbs.

Reading Tim Ingold (why is academia obsessed with this man?) writing about wayfaring I was very aware of authority. He writes with great charge and ascendancy about being lost.

I have to say I’m not entirely convinced by notions of authority. I understand that authority makes people comfortable – ‘oh she knows what she’s doing’ – and when you’re claiming new knowledge what else can you be? And, on the other hand I’ve heard people (at conferences) speak with great authority and it only takes a few scratches of the surface to think – ‘well you do have a great vocabulary but what the hell are you a talking about?’

The Emperor’s new clothes comes to mind.

What a beautiful story that is.

Did you know it was originally Danish and it’s been translated to over a hundred languages?

In the old tarot deck there the card 0 is The Fool. Otherwise known as “the jester”, “the beggar”, “the madman”, “the vagabond”. He is barefoot, he carries a stick to which is attached a bundle, filled with his worldly belongings. He whistles a merry tune. He is a wayfarer.

The Fool is the highest trump. He is the Ace. The jester’s trick can beat The King. He is an excuse. A wild card i.e. he fills the missing gap.

He represents unlimited potential. The reason he is 0 in the deck is because he lives only in the present and therefore needs no number. enters the mysteries of life. He makes mistakes. He trusts and is deceived but trusts again. He is without fear.

Tip to finding authority iv: Convince your readers by leading them through the most convincing ordering of your ideas.

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