Iris Curtis, Ph.D.
I am a social artist, writer and academic, but I am first and foremost a storyteller. I inherited this oral-aural tradition from my Grandmother, who learned the art of telling from her mother and eight older sisters and passed the skill, along with the tales she’d received, to me. Grandmother planted words, like seeds, into my soul, she spun story-threads, she knitted their gossamer into jumpers, crochet them into lace-shawls. Her tales edged curtains, hemmed handkerchiefs, slipped through the eye-of-the-needle and grew into flowers on plump pillows and tablecloths. She wound them around my fingers as I struggled to master knitting needles, and, as the years passed, she spooned them into my coffee and stirred them round and round. I learned there is nothing life can throw at us that cannot be answered with a story. Storytelling empowers our imagination and creative thinking and supports us to gently explore our life through metaphors and images, recognise ourselves in the framework of a story, and appreciate our life as a work of art.
As a social artist, I’m passionate about creativity, how it can change the way we think about our lives and how this can build our capacity to shape more humane communities and support transformational change. It is important to me to not only theorise about creativity but to demonstrate the efficacy of art and to use creative arts practice as a methodology. I’m drawn to Joseph Beuys and his thinking that art and only art can ‘dismantle the repressive effects of a senile social system’while still promoting and supporting ‘autonomous individual creative potency’that engages everyone in a process of ‘direct democracy’. His performance art was highly personalised and ritualistic to offer an experience of how art and creativity could be tools of evolution and revolution capable of changing social structures. This is Beuys social sculpture, a process in which every individual can contribute to the creative shaping of a social organism – a socialwork of art created and owned by all.
In my work as an academic, my research focuses on how storytelling creates ‘liminal space’, which is the space created when mundane reality and the reality of the story intersect or overlap. Within this space, the story listener experiences a state of liminality that is vital for the integration of knowledge acquired through intuition, perception or reason, as a liminal state of mind orders chaos, and integrates stored memories as well as accommodating and assimilate these into scripts (Schank), which are the inner conversations we hold with ourselves that guide our social interactions and emotional responses and form the basis of metaphor and simile in our thinking. Stories are also a way of knowing, understanding and re-membering information and experiences into shapes or patterns. As my focus is on community building, the most important aspect is that liminality provided through storytelling ‘provides a charter for individual behaviour, and by extension, for communal social behaviour’ (Masuyama).
To my inherited oral storytelling skills I added formal studies in visual art, storytelling, speech formation and dramatic art (Europe), a B.A. and B.A. hon. in creative writing and a Ph.D. on storytelling and community building (Australia).
My spiritual background is Anthroposophy; I encountered Steiner’s body of work as an 18 year-old in Germany and became a member of the Society in 1982. I joined the School of Spiritual Science in 1988 and have served as a Class Holder since 2005.
Research: Storytelling and the liminal space and how this builds community, social justice and resilience
Research: Indigenous Storytelling as Lore/Law
Research: Seven Sisters; Pleiades; Daughters of the Night, Matariki, The Seven Hathors, et al: following the stars and their stories in their dance across the hemispheres
Research: Crossing Threshold, Liminal Space as Threshold Experience; Storytelling; a way to consciously cross into the Spiritual World
Freelance Work and Projects:
2004 – ongoing Founder and Coordinator of the Dorrigo Writers Group
2012 Coordinator World Storytelling Day Celebration, Coffs Harbour
2013 – ongoing Founder and Coordinator of the Inaugural Grassroots Writers Weekend, in conjunction with the NRWC and Regional Writers Groups
2013 Coordinator Inaugural Café Readings Fringe Event, Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival
2014 – ongoing Wise Women Story Circle
2016 – ongoing Heartwood, Site for Transformative Arts, Culture, Science
2017 – ongoing Founder of Abundance, A Celebration of Generosity 2017
2018 – ongoing External Associate, George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, Glamorgan, Wales
Curteis, I. ‘The Voice in Which it is Told: The Importance of the Human Voice in Life Stories and Folktales’ in International Journal of the Arts in Society, Eds. Bill Cope, Mary Kalantziz, Vol. 5, Issue 5, University of Illinois Research Park, Champaign, Illinois, 2011, pp. 237–252.
Curteis, I. ‘The Hindrance of Holding a Raw Egg: Storytelling and the Liminal Space’ in Local-Global, ReGenerating Community, Eds. Martin Mulligan, Kim Dunphy, Vol. 7, RMIT, Melbourne, 2010, pp. 150–164.
2009 Legacies ’09, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, presentation
2009 ReGenerating Community, RMIT, Melbourne, workshop
2010 International Arts in Society Conference, SCA, Sydney University, Sydney, workshop
2012 Heaven and Earth Writers Festival, Randwick, Sydney, workshop