Bricolage: Psyche’s Eco-Healing Agent
by April Heaslip

crazy quilt Bricolage

Crazy Quilt, artist unknown. Photo by Carolyn Comitta. Published with permission.

 

This too is an experience of the soul
This dismembered world that was the whole god
Whose broken fragments now lie dead.
This passing of reality itself is real.

Beyond the looming dangerous end of night
Beneath the vaults of fear do his bones lie,
And does the maze of nightmare lead to the power within?
Do menacing nether waters cover the fish king?

I place the divine fragments into the mandala
Whose centre is the lost creative power.
The sun, the heart of God, the lotus, the electron
The pulse world upon world, ray upon ray
That he who lived on the first may rise on the last day.

From Isis Wanderer by Kathleen Raine
 

Bricolage is a sophisticated form of art that can be found across mediums and genres. Quilting, mosaics, collage, and jazz are all examples of this elegant, organic design, examples of how resurrection is possible through the art of re/membering.  In bricolage a whole is created from disparate parts; some form of glue—connective tissue—is required. Then something new emerges. Re/creation presupposes collapse, disintegration, disuse; something old has outworn its usefulness. This destruction produces the rich compost—gardener’s gold—out of which life emerges anew. Famously discussed by Claude Lévi–Strauss in The Savage Mind in the 1960’s, bricolage has since been applied to many disciplines and conversations. I suggest it offers an inherently sustainable tool for depth psychologists and mythologists exploring healing though individuation, especially how to navigate resurrection and what Joseph Campbell defined as the Return.

 Bricolage as Sacred Re/Membering

I have always loved the rhythm and complexity found in the genre of art I now know of as bricolage. The components of this type of creation—found, collaged, quilted, collaborated, cobbled and steampunked—are richly textured, fragments echoing a mature life. Such a life has been through s/hero’s journeys toward individuation, re/membered along the way. In such a life re/membered—in order to attain the elegance of bricolage—some assembly is required. If the energy of psyche is natural, synchronous and trustworthy, bricolage likewise proceeds in an organic, intuitive fashion. This connection between re/membering and bricolage offers a gift from psyche, a unique aid for our ecological crisis, an aid that also—miraculously—heals psyche itself. 

As Rumi would say: “The wound is the place where the Light comes in.” As artists, we begin with our cracks. When we allow disintegration, shattering to create shards—the materia prima so necessary to the bricoleur—we begin our descent as s/heroes, as artists, as co-creators with life. This regeneration from materials at hand is the gift of return, the elixir brought back to the community. Bricolage is alchemical re/membering that amplifies the beauty of regeneration. A bricoleur—someone engaging in bricolage, whether artist, poet, or soulmaker—is, first and foremost, a gatherer. Scraps become jewels; all is potentiality.

The bricoleur does not have a program, but always makes do with what is at hand. Naturally, his [or her] skill set builds over time, as does his [or her] stockpile of tools and materials. [S/]He gets a feel for what types of things may come in handy, and for what types of projects they may be used for, some day. And just as all drawings and poems grow out of previous drawings and poems, all of the bricoleur’s acts become the groundwork for new acts (Kerstetter).

Edward Edinger describes this psycho-logical act of gathering in The Mystery of the Coniunctio: Alchemical Image of Individuation. “Very gradually we will collect our scattered psyche from the outer world, as Isis gathered the dismembered body of Osiris, and in doing that we will be working on the coniunctio” (18). Isis was perhaps the first bricoleur.

As I was pulling in and rearranging fragments of my dis/membered self last year I came across an account of the amazing archaeological discovery of a six thousand year old Neolithic goddess figurine unearthed in the north of France along the banks of the Somme, an unusually northern location for such an “earth mother,” now dubbed the Lady of Villers-Carbonnel (Lichfield, 2011). This gal survived through her own dismemberment. She was found shattered within a fire-pit, having exploded during the firing. It was because of her dismemberment that she survived—strength through vulnerability. She is the ultimate symbol for a woman re/membering, not a lover as Isis did, but her own damn self.

The Lady of Villers-Carbonnel, Resurrected

 Bricolage is functional art, fulfilling a purpose. As the craft of creating beautiful functionality—for I subscribe to that eco-radical William Morris’s plea for the marriage of beauty and function being absolutely necessary for a psycho-logical and eco-logical life—by piecing together formerly shattered fragments, bricolage is also inherently magical. If magic is changing consciousness at will, re/creation becomes a ritual of sacred resurrection with curative properties for both psyche and Nature.

 Applied Foundational Bricolage: Bodies, Money & Buildings

When I recently returned to a friend’s Facebook page in search of photos I had seen of breast cancer survivors I could not find them. After extensively searching the Internet, thinking they were from a book, I finally came across an article about how Facebook expunges such photos under their pornography policy (Huffington Post). Like our manufactured cultural fear of public breastfeeding—perhaps the most primal of all actions—public breast cancer reminds us too much of our mortality and disconnection from Nature. While the images I sought—post-surgery tattoos and scars entwining new bricolaged patterns on women’s bodies—were being hidden, airbrushed out of site, other images[1] of plastic, Disneyfied fantasy women were readily available. Rather than these cyborgs—a mechanized corruption of life—we could have life supported through alchemical transformation, healing through grief and re/membering. I could not help but pray that those young women, unconsciously posing in skimpy clothes to sell some commodity—perhaps at the expense of their own health—were not to become future breast cancer survivors.

Bricolage is part art, part alchemy. In The Ecocritical Psyche Susan Rowland relates the potentialities inherent in alchemy as eco-healing agent. “Alchemy is important for ecocriticism because it contains two central tasks of Ecocritical work. Ecocriticism researches and critiques our disastrous treatments of nature. It also, optimistically, seeks the means of rebuilding ourselves as ecologically integrated beings” (34). How we rebuild ourselves is key. The breast cancer example is ripe with ecological implications, especially considering the evidence we now have of environmental causes of mammary cancer including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) commonly found in pesticides, carcinogens and radiation (UK Working Group).[2]

As an example of how we might reimagine healing, The Scar Project amplifies two elements of breast cancer which have gone missing from the pink ribbon consumer-based campaign: the power and necessity of grief (life in the Underworld and the essential act of telling our stories) and a bricolaged, honest re/membering (embodied in the Return). By accentuating their fault lines—lines literally written on their bodies—survivors re/member and heal.

breast cancer, The Scar Project

The Scar Project, photographed by David Jay. Published with permission.

Author and educator Charles Eisenstein describes how the dis/ease that is capitalism, and its false quest for endless growth, drives environmental devastation.  “Basically economic growth means that you have to find something that was once Nature and make it into a ‘good,’ or was once a gift relationship and make it into a ‘service.’ You have to find something that people once got for free, or did for themselves or for each other and then take it away and sell it back to them somehow” (MacKenzie). According to Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics we are suffering from an acute illusion of separateness. In describing how we feel “dispirited,” impoverished without monetary wealth, Eisenstein is asking us to make our transactions sacred again.

We do not realize that our concept of the divine has attracted to it a god that fits that concept, and given it sovereignty over the earth. By divorcing soul from flesh, spirit from matter, and God from nature, we have installed a ruling power that is soulless, alienating, ungodly, and unnatural. So when I speak of making money sacred, I am not invoking a supernatural agency to infuse sacredness into the inert, mundane objects of nature. I am rather reaching back to an earlier time, a time before the divorce of matter and spirit, when sacredness was endemic to all things  (Eisenstein xv).

I suggest we attend to this wound of separateness through courageous acts of bricolage. This communal psychological wound, this relic from patriarchal capitalism, this phallacy of separateness needs bricoleurs: mythologists, artists, and alchemists willing to co-create the extraordinary!

New economic models are emerging. Part of global conversations on collaborative consumption, gift economies, timebanks, sacred economics and locavesting, these post-postmodern tools are blossoming and quickly ripening. Based on inclusive, co-creative and egalitarian principles—allowing for mass participation and lower investments of personal energy—these models are born out of eco-logical systems theory thinking. In her book What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, Rachael Botsman describes the trust mechanics inherent in new emerging economics possible via online sharing networks. Reclaiming the worldwide web as peer-to-peer tool—where a middle man (or woman) is no longer required—Botsman suggests we can bricolage together a world where technology can still serve Nature. Websites such as swap.com and Zipcars provide easy ways to share. Botsman’s own website, collaborativeconsumption.com, offers marvelous interactive graphics illuminating the potential impact of collaborative consumption. Based on trust between strangers—and how our reputation is the new “credit”—these trust-building acts of practiced generosity support a depth psychological prescription for psycho- and eco-logical healing. Emerging trends in eco-consumption, including “upcycling” and “trashion” (trash+fashion=it is now hip and valued to reuse and redesign what we have) challenge capitalist models because consumers transform into creators and collaborators, emotionally and consciously investing in the reduction of consumer goods and sustainability. Perhaps a comprehensive systems theory approach—a bricolage if you will—toward these emerging trends could amplify a healthy intersection between crowd mania and appropriate technology, yielding fresh perspectives necessary for attending to the eco-healing of our planet.

Economically teetering Greece is tending its wounds by re/turning to local forms of economic innovations, including timebanks and local bartering at growers’ markets through grassroots activism. From the foothills of Mount Olympus, the Pieria Prefecture Voluntary Action Group catalyzed “the potato movement” with an attitude of service and solidarity, encouraging producers to sell directly within their communities. The action has now spread to “other basic durable goods such as olive oil, flour, rice, and honey,” helping Mediterranean dwellers re/member Nature’s bounty growing all around them (Aljazeera). The primacy of attending to our basic food needs has become a co-creative action.  Farmers’ markets and cooperatives hold potential inherent in the blessing of Demeter during what I hope is the erosion of the phallic façade of capitalism (the phallacy of endless growth) in deference to essential components of true wealth: healthy local food, and fertile soil.

How we build our homes says so much about how we live our lives. The global movement of natural and sustainable building has exploded. Cobbling/Cobbing together a home from reclaimed materials is an art form. Natural building trends tend to incorporate salvaged materials as an eco-friendly practice reducing production and consumption. Phoenix Commotion is an radical local building initiative dedicated to constructing homes out of recycled building materials while relying solely on apprentice labor, teaching building skills to anyone interested. Founder Dan Phillips is now being recognized for his innovative artistry and shrewd resourcefulness. His TED Talk shows how he co-creates with homeowners—folks who might otherwise never own a home—while teaching them to build their own affordable housing through a dynamic homesteading initiative, Brigid’s Paradigm (Ted.com). Using reclaimed and salvaged materials in innovative and beautiful ways—such as floors constructed from donated bottle corks laid out in undulating patterns—Phillips is a modern William Morris. His processes mirror natural, organic building forms and ways of being in the world while keeping literally tons and tons of “waste” out of “landfills.” Using materials at hand and creative problem solving skills he builds with the sacred; with small carbon footprints, these new building owners learn to tread lightly on the land. Certainly Brigid—goddess of poetry, forge and craft—does guide this work. Phillips is a philosopher-artist whose ideas are embedded in the classics and psychology; in his discussion on housing he discusses Plato, Sartre and Maslow. Quoting a particular tension of opposites described by Nietzsche in Birth of Tragedy, Phillips differentiates consumer home construction predicated on economic gain (Apollonian) from his own Dionysian approach (Ted.com). Tapping into the archetypal patterns beneath helps us best attend to sacred building models.

Bricolage-house

Brigid’s Place, Dan Phillips, ©Phoenix Commotion. Published with permission

My own experience building a straw bale home relied heavily on found and reclaimed materials.[3] After having bought land in Vermont, and while still living in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, I collected discarded architectural features from Victorian homes under renovation. I had glorious French doors, wrought iron air grates, and various windows. For low cost at salvage and thrift stores I purchased antique lighting fixtures, a soapstone sink, and stained glass windows. Held within the container of my “limitations” of found objects, I was forced into the alchemical heat of transformation. My home was a true act of bricolage and courage. Continually I have been drawn to the imaginative, imperfect ways in which people solve problems effectively and with beauty. For me there is nothing more charming than—more cozy than—a home built with such warmth and consideration for the health of the planet, the builders, and the homeowners.

Our bodies, financial systems and buildings are all calling for our attention; shards from broken landscapes are emerging, wanting to fall into place in a new, emerging mosaic. I suggest we start gathering these tools and techniques at hand—depth psychology, mythology, communication building, appropriate technology, trust—and add some glue.

Pulling it Together: Steam & Glue

Steampunk was originally a fiction sub-genre embedded in the areas of fantasy and science fiction. It later escaped off the page to also become a design style and subculture (with some taking it as far as a lifestyle) based on the primacy and possibility of alternative culture grown from steam power. The word “alternative” holds a lot of charge because it engages us in the imaginal what if; steampunk inhabits the borderlands of possibility attracting edgewalkers and inventors, demanding creativity. Interesting possibilities of sustainable and eco-psycho-logical bricolage emerge, taking only what works from the early industrial revolution era and allowing imaginal expansion with the best parts of modern technology. Perhaps steampunk captures our psychic imagination because at its core is the power of steam itself, the interaction between water (emotions, the unconscious) and fire (passion, agency). This alchemical bricolage creates a wonderful foil for depth psychology because its essence is timeless—simultaneously vintage and futuristic with creativity and exploration at its heart.  Through its imaginal and expansive nature, it supports eco-consciousness.

The Japanese, while mending their broken wares, stir in a bit of gold dust—those alchemists!—with their epoxy, creating a gilded fault line. Reporting on an exhibit entitled Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, Washington Post reporter Blake Gopnik hits on the transformative properties of this process, known as kintsugi. “Because the repairs are done with such immaculate craft, and in precious metal, it’s hard to read them as a record of violence and damage. Instead, they take on the look of a deliberate incursion of radically free abstraction into an object that was made according to an utterly different system. It’s like a tiny moment of free jazz played during a fugue by Bach” (Gopnik). This amplifies the evidence of wounding, re/minding us that we have been places and have histories. Yes, we have been broken, and yes, these scars are beautiful.

Kintsugi, Japanese joinery technique

Kintsugi, Japanese joinery technique. Image credit: tschörda on Flickr. Image in the public domain.

Bricolage brings such grace to our wounds; this incredible beauty would not be possible without the original shattering. Psyche is offering us so much, so many things at hand with which to re/member our lives and reconnection with Nature.  We can walk a path toward healing our planet and our own wounds; perhaps they are one and the same and bricolage can heal the split. By keeping our shards out of the landfills, reassessing their value, and using our tools at hand to create new life we mature, heal and create new beauty. As psyche re/members Gaia benefits and vice versa.

 

Works Cited

Aljazeera. (2012, June 11). Greece’s ‘Potato Movement’ Grows in Power. Retrieved July 2, 2012, from Aljazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/06/2012611102126662269.html

Botsman, R., & Rogers, R. (2010). What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. New York: Harper Business.

Eisenstein, C. (2011). Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, & Society in the Age of Transition. Berkeley: Evolver.

Gopnik, Blake. (2009). “‘Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics’ at Freer.” The Washington Post, March 3, sec. Arts & Living. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/02/AR2009030202723.html.

Horsey, D. (2012, July 12). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012, from http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-breastfeeding-moms-20120705,0,5857963.story

Jay, D. (2011). The Scar Project: Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from http://www.thescarproject.org/

Lichfield, J. (2011, December 10). The Earth Mother of All Neolithic Discoveries. Retrieved December 11, 2011, from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-earth-mother-of-all-neolithic-discoveries-6275062.html

Kerstetter, Mark. (2010). “The Bricoleur: Bricolage, Bricoleur: What Is It?” The Bricoleur. http://markerstetter.blogspot.com/2010/11/bricolage-bricoleur-what-is-it.html.

MacKenzie, Ian (2012). Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein, A Short Film.  http://vimeo.com/36843721.

Rowland, S. (2011). The Ecocritical Psyche: Literature, Evolutionary Complexity and Jung. New York: Routledge.

Ted.com. TEDTalks Dan Phillips: Creative Houses from Reclaimed Stuff. October 2012. 30 June 2012, http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/dan_phillips_creative_houses_from_reclaimed_stuff.html.

UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer (2005). Breast Cancer: An Environmental Disease. Hants: UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer. Retrieved February 28, 2013. http://www.nomorebreastcancer.org.uk/assets/main_v1.pdf.

“U.S. Report Urges Deeper Look into Breast Cancer’s Environmental Links.” (2013). The Center for Public Integrity. http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/02/12/12179/us-report-urges-deeper-look-breast-cancers-environmental-links.

Endnotes

 


[1]  LA Times artist and writer David Horsey must have heard my keystrokes.  This provacative image was literally published as I was typing these words on 12 July 2012.  His accompanying article is also powerful.

[2]  See Breast Cancer: An Environmental Disease published by the UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer; the No More Breast Cancer Campaign (nomorebreastcancer.org.uk) was born out of this study.  Also see The Silent Spring Institute (SilentSpring.org) founded by members of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition to investigate elevated rates of breast cancer on Cape Cod.  They maintain epidemiology and mammary carcinogens review databases as well as publications (http://sciencereview.silentspring.org/pub_index.cfm).  Recent findings from congressionally mandated Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee also determined environmental factors “must play a major role in the etiology of the disease” (Center for Public Integrity).

[3]  See Lacinski and Bergeron’s Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates.

 

As a doctoral scholar in Mythological Studies, educator in the fields of Gender Studies and Human Ecology, and founder of The Inside-Out-Stitute, April Heaslip welcomes the returning Divine Feminine. She is a writer, ritualist and activist, co-creating with chaos and an open heart.

 

 

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