Mindful Maker Interview: Loren Crabbe

Loren Crabbe is a Mixed Media/Performance Artist and Wellness Coach. In this Interview, Loren discusses the concepts behind her work and their relationship to the body. She also explains how her passion for wellness changed her life and allowed her to continue making art.

Missy Graff Ballone: Please tell me about your background. How did you become interested in health and wellness?

Loren Crabbe: My childhood and adolescence were centered around art and athletics. In my mind, whether performing martial arts or sculpting steel structures, they were always one and the same. Growing up on 50 acres of land on the outskirts of a small upstate New York home fostered my creativity. Each day was filled with organized athletics, manual labor, and unrestrained creative freedom.

At 18 years old I was in a life-altering car accident that resulted in permanent nerve damage and structural issues. This put such a halt to my active lifestyle that I became paralyzed with depression, neuropathy and pain medication addiction. The inability to move, perform, and create left me feeling as though the person I had always been, the person I saw myself as, had died. I found myself at a crossroads – succumb to this injury or overcome and start a new healthy life.

I clearly remember the day I decided to reclaim my life. I stopped taking prescription medications and began practicing mind-body techniques to start to regain feeling in my body again. The withdrawal and pain was nothing compared to how I felt during months of paralyzation. I dedicated every day to learning how to walk, function, and sense my own body again. After seeing dozens of therapists of various specialties, I recovered enough to start training and make work again. It was during this time that I became fixated on helping others achieve what I had accomplished so far.

I started my wellness education while also studying to obtain my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from SUNY New Paltz. My experiences with both athletics and injury became essential tools for helping others and understanding their pain. After obtaining my certifications as a personal and group fitness instructor, with an emphasis on Pilates techniques and mind body connection, my passions merged. I continued my fine art studies, eventually interweaving artistic concepts and wellness values to create live performances.

Do you find that your practices as an artist and Wellness Coach inform each other? If so, how?

Loren Crabbe: My practices in both art and wellness are physically and mentally taxing, creating a strong correlation between the two. While their interconnectivity formed organically as a result of injury, I bind them further in concept and daily practice. As an artist and wellness professional, I explore emotional and physiological responses within performance, injury, and physical fitness. Performance requires me to transform and train my body, analyzing each reaction and utilizing myself as the ultimate tool for creating each sculpture. The training and nutritional programs I develop for myself would not be possible without my knowledge and experience as a wellness coach. Art-making and physical wellness, as I approach them, are both forms of sculpture and performance. Neither functions the same without the other.

Can you discuss some of your concepts and their relationship to the body?

Loren Crabbe: Improving and developing both the body and mind are concepts explored in my work as well as my daily practices. The concepts serve to study the human condition while the performances are used as a tool to communicate with the audience. Challenging myself to seemingly impossible acts that require intense training regimens, each performance tests my strength and endurance. They are a means to push myself to grow beyond my fears and hardships in a vulnerable and exposed setting. Using visual metaphors to create self-dialog within the viewer, I challenge them to face their own obstacles, mental or physical, and push towards improvement of self.

What is your process like?

Loren Crabbe: My process involves in-depth studies of the human body and how it can interact with the materials involved in each performance. A combination of sculpture, material studies, engineering, and wellness training, it is thorough and obsessive. I evaluate mental and physical aspects of my life and create a regimented 3-6 month program in preparation for performing for extended periods of time. The mechanics, variability, and science of my physiological response is then carefully scaled for larger execution. Each experiment of material explores variables such as temperature, time and space in order to understand and evaluate how it can lend to the theme at hand.

RESTRICTION: Construction & Deconstruction is a prime example of the multifaceted training programs I have developed for myself- each containing physical, mental, nutritional and emotional components. Due to the extremely physical nature of the performance — breaking through heavy roofing aluminum and the labor intensive process of building this box from scratch — it required months of strength training. This program involved practicing hammering without breaks for long increments and building up the muscles in my arm and extensors in my wrist to prevent injury to be able to eventually overcome the box. The nutritional component attached to this project was also essential for completion. The 2.5ft x 2.5ft box was so constricted and hot, I estimated that I was going to lose a lot of water through sweating and exertion. I also knew that for the duration of the piece, whatever time that would span, I would not be able to use the restroom. This meant that I had to find the perfect amount of salt to h2o ratio in order to stay hydrated without cramping in such a confined space. The mental training process for these performances is usually the toughest and requires the most dedicated time to study. Spending hours meditating in uncomfortable positions and situations in preparation for overcoming the fear I would face inside the box proved to be the biggest challenge. I had to hone in on my own fears and weaknesses, knowing I would eventually force myself to face them in front of a live audience. Though I had mentally trained, the performance ultimately exposed my claustrophobia and fear of audiences, which created a vulnerability that allowed me to connect with the viewers.

This process is vital in studying the mental and physical stamina necessary to withstand and complete a conceptual idea. The ultimate goal of each performance is to personally move beyond my own weaknesses and guide the audience to introspectively reflect on their current state. My vulnerability provides a moment of support and encouragement, motivating with strength and endurance.

Why is it important for artists to exercise? In your opinion, how could an artist benefit from working with a personal trainer?

Loren Crabbe: Wellness coaching can be beneficial for anyone. Artists, however, are complex and have so much to gain from creating a healthy lifestyle. As working artists, our physical, emotional, and mental state can become very stressed. We think differently, approaching feelings, conceptual ideas, and physical realities in ways that other people may not explore. Managing these sections of our lives is our most important tool for success; without you, there is no production and no art.

For example, as a painter it's essential to take care of your hands’ flexibility and to massage them in order to reduce repeated stress on the knuckles and tendons. Further care would also address the muscles that control the stroke of the brush; the forearm, bicep tendon, elbow and shoulder joints are all essential for refined movement and need to be cared for as well. Similar to myself, performance artists that utilize dance and movement would not only benefit from a training program leading up to the exhibition, but also a rejuvenating and restorative post performance routine.

Each craft or process of making utilizes a specific set of muscles that, over time, wear down from use. It's only natural that something done repeatedly over an entire lifetime can ultimately result in a breakdown of the muscles associated with those movements. Wellness coaching provides avenues to prevent this from occurring and to manage or reduce pain by using strength and flexibility programs that protect your physical structure.

Can you suggest any simple exercises that would be beneficial for an artist to add to his or her studio routine?

Loren Crabbe: The two most important things to remember in studio practice are flexibility and posture. In most art forms we are stuck in one position for hours, hunched over a bench or looking over a computer screen, which changes the natural curve of our spines over time. This forward bend of the thoracic spine can be crippling (literally cause shrinking) in the future and result in daily pain and discomfort while making. To practice proper posture while working will in turn build up your core strength and help keep your spinal column aligned and stable. Overuse, in my experience, is a silent killer; without allowing the muscles to recover properly with stretching and rejuvenation, you can cause long term injury and pain.

Flexibility is not something that can be immediately achieved or granted, yet is a reward for practice of habitual and regimented behavior patterns. Introducing a flexibility program to your daily routine will, over time, loosen the body and aid in recovery of your overworked muscles. Adding in a new stretch pertaining to your craft and daily practices each week can help with your progress. When working with clientele that have extreme hours and stressors, I try to integrate flexibility with already existing habits such as brushing your teeth or cleaning your studio at the end of the day. Just adding a few minutes of stretching each day can dramatically improve your overall health and well being. Integration of these schedule changes and additions can feel overwhelming at first, but my techniques aid in their assimilation into your life.

Do you have an resources to share with our readers?

Loren Crabbe: For mind body and meditation information:
The Mindbody Prescription, John E. Sarno
Healing back pain, John E. Sarno

For paleolithic nutrition and physical programming:
Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson

For training and flexibility tips:
Perform better

SMARTer bodies