On the Couch with Zsuzsi Soboslay

Zsuzsi Soboslay AAR On the CouchWho is Zsuzsi Soboslay?
I recently completed a PhD in care ethics but my preferred modus operandum is very left of field. I am an associative thinker, a synaesthete. This was still classified as a disease up to the 1980s, but it’s home-ground for artists! Every time we think, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” or “I’m feeling blue” we are engaging in synesthesia. Our body sensory systems are all interlinked. Who on earth first classified associative experience as a disease?

I am at my most healthy when I work in theater productions, with musicians, as a writer and reviewer, in galleries and museums as an educator/interpreter/animator/performer. Basically, I am an intelligent organism reaching out into the world, sensing how things combine and recombine. I love working with the potential of others, whether they be professional colleagues, or in community. These potentials are delicate, and can be crushed; however, there is usually at least a little flame to work with, the taste of hope. At very best, these flames can reshape the world.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
If I could step outside of our outcomes-oriented framework I would run a retreat center to which people can come and reassess their lives, reconnect to nature, have a chance to re-evaluate, rethink their priorities.

Who inspires you and why?
Recently, I listened to a talk by Dr Mary Graham (Kombu-merri and Wakka Wakka elder from SE Queensland] on Indigenous law/lore, identity, reciprocity and stewardship, and earth-based collaborative governance [part of the Women’s Climate Congress conversations]. It was an exceptional and clear-eyed statement of indigenous values that just might help us out of the social, political and ecological mess we are in.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I think I already do make a difference in what I offer as go-slow, re-thinking and re-evaluative processes; but I would also like to feel less like an alien for thinking this way. We live in a very outcomes-oriented world. I think it is brutal because of what this orientation neglects to give attention to. There is dew in the morning; snake in the grass; the resilience of waterways; the moment when the ocean just stops for three seconds and then again succumbs to its undertow. Have you ever heard this? Go live in a flat on a cliff-edge in Thirroul (on the coast, 1 hour south of Sydney) and you will know what I mean. These are miracles of existences all around us that do not fit into hard-edged outcomes, and each element might just be doing something of essential good in the world. Like fungi: talking to the underworld, communicating in ways we humans do not yet understand.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Holidays, eh? A bit abstract whilst we are in lockdown. I am watching our 3 camellia bushes bud and bloom at home. One of them produces flowers the size of my fist, but its stems are so spindly they cannot hold the weight of the flowers. A holiday is an hours’ walk in the bush and taking the time to watch the broccoli grow, and this is wonderful.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Canberra’s institutions are fantastic: the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), National Portrait Gallery (NPG), Questacon, New Parliament House (NPH). But if they were really close friends, I would take them with me to sit out on Lake George and listen to the hum of that broad basin; the way the call of a bird on the foreshore drops like the peal of a bell into the empty space right at the center of the lake. The Lake’s acoustics are extraordinary. Sheep, mud, broken fences, a long low horizon, ful of ancient time. Be quiet: listen.

What are you currently reading?
The Saturday Paper online, cereal packets, cookery books. Favourite visual art tomes. And because it fell off the bookshelf into my arms: the Czech writer Milan Kundera. Interesting to re-visit his combination of intimacy and cynicism. How do we make art of where we have been betrayed (as was his country, under post-war communism)?

What are you currently listening to?
I am listening to several of the Australian Chamber Orchestra ‘Studiocasts’. Do subscribe! Their recordings of Arvo Part, Shostakovich and Bach are superb. Some beautiful videography, too, by various artists: a reminder of how rich arts experiences can be, even online.

Happiness is?
Sometimes, it is the taste sensations in Thai cooking–such a fine art of stimulus and balance. Sometimes, it is being a part of something huge – like co-directing a concert of works by Yannis Xenakis. I have never felt so relaxed as when listening to this composers’ work, sitting within its incredible complexity. I find it very stressful thinking of ourselves as small.

Sometimes, it is more the buzz of wicked playfulness I experience whilst going for long walks with my daughter, riffing and laughing on anything that is happening. The opportunity to go deep and be light, be human [walking, body moving] within the more-than-human [everything buzzing, everything ‘standing up alive’]. She was unwell for many years, so it is such a joy to experience her as well-in-the-world.

What does the future hold for you?
Covid has upended projects and challenged presumptions. I am a flexible and adaptive person, but I am flummoxed. My only way forward is to remain true to my own first principles: responsiveness, reciprocation, equity, and to teach interconnected mind-body practices.

Zsuzsi’s arts practice spans writing, visual and performing arts (theatre, dance and music) and cultural development, including working with disadvantaged and displaced communities. In 1991, she established Body Ecology as a systemic practice designed to link body-mind processes. Her experience of illness and disability (in herself, and in others) has confirmed her belief that yes, we are shaped by the ‘body politic’ (the contexts in which we live) but can also live and work in hope and capability beyond these limits. Her cross-artform practice is accurate, intuitive, replenishing, and full of surprises. Zsuzsi is proficient in working across modalities, and with people of profound and complex needs.

Zsuzsi is the arts doula of Re-Storying: The Resilience Project – a flexible six-module program from The Street Theatre open to artists in the ACT region (and beyond) who identify that their livelihood and mental health have been affected and/or disrupted by the COVID19 crisis (no matter how big or small) and its repercussions.

Image: Zsuzsi Soboslay (supplied)