Katy Richardson is a Plymouth based artist working across installation, moving image, sound and performance. Her current research explores mental health practices through a feminist lens, drawing on lived experience and archival material, with the aim of externalising the internal experience so that it may shift into something that can be encountered openly.
For Richardson, re-evaluating and adapting during lockdown has meant a period of locating and tapping into the freedom that can be found within. For several months pre-lockdown, she had been undergoing psychotherapy to address the long-standing effects of trauma. Lockdown has made face to face therapy impossible which means that much of the work has been put on hold, and instead she has worked on techniques to retain the progress that has been achieved so far. One of the key tools in this is a technique termed Soothing Rhythm Breathing (SRB), which is essential in the processing of trauma.
For the State of Emergency Commissions, Richardson has created a video that teaches SRB’s simple pattern of inhale-for-4, hold-for-4, exhale-for-6, so that others may learn to locate this freedom. The film introduces the idea that SRB may also be seen as a musical time signature, and demonstrates the use of voice, body and breath as sound-makers, using layered sound recordings to develop an initial voice, body and breath SRB ‘concert’, an audible and visible rhythm that viewers may use to facilitate and accompany their SRB practice.
The technique allows the reptilian ‘fight-or-flight’ part of the brain (which can be triggered unnecessarily when trauma has triggered it previously) to be calmed, which then allows the neo-cortex or ‘thinking brain’ to activate, which it cannot do in fight-or-flight mode. Given that the reptilian part of the brain pre-dates language, and can therefore not be reasoned with verbally, successful treatment of those whose reptilian brain activates unnecessarily depends upon this ability to physiologically tell the reptilian centre that we are not in danger, which it understands because this controlled breathing is not possible when an actual threat is present. Here, then, is freedom – freedom from unwanted memories, from anxiety, from external stressors.