A clown in search of sacred connections

This is the second feature article in our series, Mindful Members, in which you have the opportunity to find out who our members are, and why they have chosen to practice daily mindfulness through contemplating Art.

Artful Contemplation member, Klara Van Wyk observes that "In times of uncertainty, art undoubtedly makes us feel more alive and less frightened. Clowning more than anything demands sharing of failure, ‘a flop’, and through this establishes, what I believe to be a sacred connection."

Klara van Wyk is one of the youngest Doctorates that I know. She graduated with her PhD in Drama and Theatre Studies in March this year, in the midst of the first intensive Covid-19 lockdown measures in South Africa. The official graduation ceremony at Stellenbosch University was cancelled just two weeks before it was scheduled to happen. But that didn’t stop Klara’s family members from arranging an intimate gathering at their home where Klara was ‘robed and capped’.

Klara’s dissertation explored a theme close to Klara’s heart – the willingness of a clown to fail and to share that failure with an audience.

Clowning is serious. Laughter is a release and we can face things that we don’t usually face and don’t like to speak about in a different way when we are able to laugh.

Deep and sacred connections are very important for Klara. “In my work as theatre-maker and researcher I have been preoccupied with investigating and reflecting on a sense of connection, between reader and maker, artist and observer, performer and audience.”

Most clown practitioners agree that a clown’s job is to make us laugh. Victor Borge says that ‘the shortest distance between two people is laughter’.

This passion extends from Klara’s work into her private life. It was in her deep desire for connection that Klara struggled the most during the period of lockdown in South Africa. She experienced the need to stay informed and connected to the world through media channels without becoming overwhelmed by images and stories of the inequalities between people in South Africa and the daily struggle of so many to meet their basic needs. “I’ve felt the need to limit and become mindful of the media and content I consume. Instead of simply scrolling through my phone aimlessly, I visit specific platforms, accounts or articles that are either well researched and informative or uplifting.”

I’ve felt the need to become mindful of the media and content I consume. I am always excited to visit the daily prompts offered by Artful Contemplation.

Klara found solace and sanity in simple pleasures – spending time with family, making and eating a meal, daily exercise with friends online, and a yoga practice by Brave Recovery Warriors. As a theatre-maker, Klara also continued work on devising a new show in collaboration with prompts and feedback from a director. She took video clips of herself improvising and then sent these back to her director for comments. She felt convinced that this would be a productive use of her creative energy during lockdown. But after several days of anxiety, Klara realized that “it was these grand hopes, the pressure to feel okay, to be productive, to go on with normality that was causing a feeling of overwhelm”.

In the excerpt below, Klara shares some of her insights during this time.

Diary entry of a lockdowner

I watched the video footage of myself trying to create something alone in my room. What struck me was the sense of someone trying desperately to be playful, creative and funny. The trying and failing was resulting in something almost tragic. 

A word that kept surfacing, as I watched the footage, was ‘disconnection’. I was creating footage that was devised in a room where I was unable to experience the receiver watching, observing, smiling, frowning or laughing in real time. In clowning workshops, we are trained to rely on this feedback; and with each new idea we present to ask the audience: is this working? do you like it? shall I try it again? A clown’s reflection lies in the audience’s eyes and they become a window through which you are able to watch yourself and co-create.

Sacred connections are very important to Klara van Wyk in her life and work, and as a member of Artful Contemplation

But now, in my attempts to close the distance between two people through laughter, I only looked sad, lonely and worried. I feel like a tourist wearing a ‘BEEN THERE DONE THAT’ t-shirt, urged to ‘collect’ and ‘classify’ my goals, my activity lists, my creative outputs – perhaps even a collection of recipes tucked away neatly in my Insta-stories titled #lockdown. 

And instead of gaining control over the situation in this way, I find myself wandering around the house with two looming questions: “How did we get here?” and “Where to from here?” I imagine that most of us will not emerge from lockdown having written a new book, or perfectly arranged our pantry, but instead find ourselves responding to the world’s plea for us to become still, reflect and listen.

Deep and sacred connections are important to theatre-maker, writer, clown and Artful Contemplation member Dr Klara van Wyk: "I find myself responding to the world's plea for us to become still, reflect and listen."
“I find myself responding to the world’s plea for us to become still, reflect and listen.” (Theatre-maker, writer, clown and Artful Contemplation member Dr Klara van Wyk)

In times of uncertainty, art undoubtedly makes us feel more alive and less frightened. Clowning more than anything demands sharing of failure, ‘a flop’, and through this establishes, what I believe to be a sacred connection.

I asked Klara what color best captures this feeling of deep connection that is so important to her. “Purple” was her response. This is a color that she works with actively in her preparation time as a clown before a theatre performance. She spends time talking to an imagined audience in the auditorium as a way of ‘warming up the space’. “I walk along the rows of seats and imagine I’m filling it with purple light.”

From the archive of contemplative artworks by Lanon Prigge that are the basis for the daily Artful Contemplation mindfulness prompts , I selected this one, The Fount of Tenderness, to capture the essence of Klara’s artistic spirit.

Read more about Klara, the Artist, in an interview with Sarafina Magazine (2018). Or watch the video below for an introduction to Pretina de Jager, Klara’s clown character born through improvisation and play.

The members of our Artful Contemplation group are unique individuals with diverse interests - but they share one thing. A daily practice of mindfulness through contemplating Art and its principles of paradox, presence, empathy, sensitivity and collective individuation. We would love to welcome you into our group. 
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Samantha Prigge
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We are each on a unique unfolding path called Life. Art, improvisation and mindfulness are ways of keeping connected to our creative source and available to impulses for flourishing.

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