Walk About - Understory - by Estelle Hudson

Estelle Hudson is a narrative and family therapist.  She conducts dream workshops for professionals, Masters Students and interested people.  Her personal interests include feminist spirituality, drawing, painting and dream work.

She has been involved in Dream Work for the last 20 years and is fascinated with the symbols and images that appear in dreams.

Her approach in the walkabout is to explore these images and symbols and construct the narrative of the artists.

As well, Estelle is wife to Norman, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, herself a story-teller, a dreamer, an artist and our friend.

A highlight for us in preparation for an exhibition is to enjoy her company over an-depth interview and discussion in our studios where we talk about our work, where we exchange stories, and where we get to benefit from her insights.

Estelle has a skill many of us think we have, but few truly process. Estelle listens to understand rather than to reply.  This ability has not only been garnered and enhanced with her years offering therapy and counselling, but stems in essence from a most generous and kind spirit.


My brief this morning is to approach this event from the point of view of dreams, and the meaning of symbols encountered in our dreams.

So ... this huge body of art, 200 pieces to be exact, done over a period of two years, is about dreaming, about embodying the dreams, concretizing images, putting flesh on to thoughts, symbols, and the whole creative process. 

While we are using Joan and Lara's work to reflect on, using their symbols and images, and words from them when I interviewed them, I would also like to suggest that we, the viewers, will piggyback, identify with some of the symbols and the story that unfolds.

A simple formula on working on our dreams includes four points:

The Title

The Theme

The Feelings

And the questions asked in the dream


The Title of this Dream is Understory.  Let's de construct.....Under.....

It is about the Under developed part of the forest, the part of the forest that as yet has not reached its full potential, the part that is stunted because of lack of light, maybe even lack of space.  Joan describes it as relating to both of them going into the forest... 

What does this look like and feel like...?

Joseph Campbell says you enter the forest at the darkest part.... And the beginning of this journey is full of the unknowns, the path is hidden.

It is also described as a transitional period in their lives.....a crossing of transparent boundaries from one phase of life to another.

The title of this exhibition is fascinating...on analyzing it as if it were a dream and considering the word   Understory, we can use the knowledge we have about the understory of the forest and apply it to the psyche....

We can ask ourselves:

What part of me is the understory?

What part of me is waiting to emerge from hiddenness into light?

What part of me is now ready to enter that next phase of life, to cross the boundary of immaturity to places of wisdom and understanding and enlightenment?

Erikson talks about the sixth stage of life as Generativity vs Stagnation and Generativity is about generating new ways of being.  Both Artists have indicated a sense of transition, a crossing of boundaries.

Jung talks about the two halves of life..."one cannot live in the afternoon of life In the morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will, at evening, have become a lie".

As the word story implies there are events, moments in history, people and buildings, places ......All with a story to tell.  The Artists bring these to their canvases and by making them visible, by bringing them out of hiddenness reveal a story, not only of the image they use but also making it symbolic of their own journeys, their own dialogue, and their own history.

James Hollis in his book Swamplands of the Soul, describes the swamplands as a place of fecundity, microbes exist essential to life giving cycles of plant, animal and humans. This is true too of Understory, there can be no top story without the Understory.  The Understory is rich in compost, budding new life, when it emerges from the darkness there is a fresh green of new life.

The postcards form the backbone of the exhibition, the main support of this exhibition...it. Is about  conversations between two friends, conversations of ideas, reservations and seeds for creating.  This is where you have a full sense of their collaboration and a strong symbol from which creativity springs.

Then we look at Theme....one definition of theme is "an oft repeated and recurring note or chords in music found in a symphony".  The theme in this exhibition is demonstrated in the light that suffuses so many of the art pieces; another theme is a narrative and ongoing discourse.....intra psyche, Lara with Lara and Joan with Joan, and inter psyche, between Joan and Lara.

Let us look at the symbols...for Joan

There is the fig tree. This is a tree that takes hold of another tree until it finds its own roots; it becomes a home for all manner of insects, animals, birds. 

I couldn't help thinking of Joan's teaching and her statement that her students bleed into her life and she into theirs. The fig tree is full of life, taken from its original source and then finding and manufacturing its own life, giving root ...just as Joan and her students relationship with one another....; Joan's cat, Sam, which she says is a part of herself.... appears in much of Joan's work, her stamp if you like of consistency and presence.

I had an experience with Sam, when visiting Joan. He got up onto the couch where I was sitting. He considered me carefully and because I was otherwise occupied, I.e. Talking to Joan, he nudged me; the nudge became more assertive until I took notice of him. Touching Sam is a different experience, he is not furry but it is more like touching velvet. He demands attention, his presence is palpable, and he is affectionate and vulnerable at the same time.  When Joan says Sam is a part of herself she owns all these aspects of herself.

For the benefit of those Joan teaches, I quote from The Swordsman and the Cat ...".After a rat catching session the grand old cat was asked to take the seat of honour. They made profound bows before her and asked her to divulge all her secrets for their benefit.  The grand old cat answered: Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own."

The Vasco da Gama art work is symbolic of a history we share but what fascinates me is the shadow it casts in the hanging and how often history has a shadow part which we can either learn from or repeat....the elements found here are about transformation, birth, death and rebirth the latter in the snake skin interwoven and forming part of the pillars that anchor it to the earth.

Lara's symbols...consists of figures of different shapes and sizes, symbolic of people who play different roles but essentially are who they are, a reminder that we each play different roles, take on different personas but have to find our own authenticity. Notice the Assemblage, the Arc with the people walking across the horizon of the earth and then notice too the shadows cast on the wall behind....it is a way of saying "we are more than what you first see...."

Lara's encountering the people along the road may be brief but in her ongoing use of the figures she gives them significance.  The encountering of Lara is always more than.  Conversation with Lara is always deep and often deep expressions of gratitude and awe are experienced for the world she lives.

The four dark paintings struck me as powerful symbols of the Understory Dark, hidden, even brutal until the light hits it.....when I first saw them I only saw the Iight until a closer look took me into the darkness from which the light had emerged.

Another powerful symbol of a truth of life...you can only see light when you know darkness.

Her Pilgrim figure is another symbol which, like Joan's cat, repeats itself and speaks of her own sense of searching, journeying......

Both have used the detritus of life, nails, wood, bottle tops, the skeleton of a bird found in the car park, wire, string, and given them life, recognition and acknowledgement, and an honouring of their past usefulness. Some of these articles have waited patiently in their studios to find a place of meaning on their palettes and in a work of art.

Another important symbol are The Shadow Boxes and bowls, symbolic of containers, Containers of memories; containers of mementoes; containers of Values. Being boxed gives value to the contents.

If Containers are a symbol of Self, with a capital S, we are reminded of ALL that has contributed to who we are.

According to some accounts of naval history and tradition, when a sailor retires and is departing ship for the last time, it is considered bad luck for the sailor's shadow to touch land before he or she does.  In other words the sun, the light has to be in front, lead the way.....and I am reminded that Shadow is one of the Archetypes Jung talks about, that part of ourselves which we don't like, we maybe are not aware of, which is hidden.  The journey to Wholeness (Carl Jung calls it Individuation), is to integrate the Shadow, to engage with the Shadow, to embrace the Shadow....  Is it possible that within these Shadow boxes of memories and mementos, that they contain parts of our lives which we have engaged with, learnt from, and like the sailors are presented with as accomplishments and of victories won?

I quote again Joseph Campbell:  "We enter the forest at the darkest place"

This journey of life is an intentional act; it is also a transitional place as we make our way through the forest.  The two assemblages entitled Falling Upward reinforce this idea.  It is the same title of a book by Richard Rohr and in his context he uses it to talk about the second half of life.

"A journey into the second half of life awaits us all.  Not everybody goes there, even though all of us get older, some of us get older than others.  A further journey is a well-kept secret for some reason ...  He says, the first half-of-life task is no more than finding the starting gate.  It is merely the warm up act, not the full journey.  It is the raft but not the shore. "

The language of art is by necessity metaphor and symbol.  The light, he says, comes from elsewhere it is necessarily reflected through those of us, AND through this body of work, I might add, on the journey we have been taken here.

Richard tells of an encounter with Bishop Tutu in which the latter says, "We are only the light bulbs, Richard. And our job is just to remain screwed in..." Joan and Lara are indeed “screwed in" with their willingness to enter the forest, and make visible the hidden.

Lara speaks of a sense of purpose and clarity in doing this work, a sense of purpose, a sense of freedom and being true to the subject matter. Some pieces she tackled with a deep sense of knowing, and with some pieces, extended times of concentration and even struggle but to arrive at a place of resolution.

For Joan

The place of transition has been seeing it as a steppingstone into the next phase of life.  Creative thinking and birthing new ideas is not new for her as she employs this on a daily basis in her classroom, but this exhibition is about direction and purpose.

BOTH talk about their different ness...Joan is a city girl and being confined and contained is, like Sam, comfortable and secure.  Lara is a country girl and expresses herself in vastness and big landscapes and both emphasize connectedness to earth, people, to one another in their collaboration.

In Dream work we ask ourselves: what are the feelings in your Dream?

My feelings as I have entered into this Dream of Lara and Joan's exhibition are: 

Awe of the numinous ... the Sacred ...in creating;  a feeling of Inspiration by the work, the techniques, and the uniqueness of the use of materials.  I also have a deep sense of grateful ness and privilege to be given a window into Lara and Joan’s reflections and process of this body of work.