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arts Rewilding the arts by Dougie Strang

In 2012 at the ‘Kandinsky in Govan’ conference, organiser Alastair McIntosh cited Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God as an example of the excess to be found in the contemporary art scene. The piece, a cast of a human skull require a large supply of electricity encrusted with 8000 diamonds, to ‘light up the night’. These kinds of empty spectacle cost £14 million to produce and dominate the mainstream cultural presents a stark contrast to underlandscape. They also prompt the funded community arts projects in question: what kind of art might places like Govan. McIntosh called instead for “art as service” that “can speak in places of poverty.” “What kind of art might Meanwhile The Star of Caledonia, which is to be built in Dumfriesshire best suit this era of will cost around £5 million and will transition? What kind is be twice the size of Gateshead’s Angel of the North. Supporters insist necessary – serving the this will be money well spent – with needs of the community increased tourism and revenue from international image rights. It’s – and sustainable?” also claimed that ‘the Star’ will help promote the region as a centre for best suit this era of transition? environmental art, despite the fact What kind is necessary – serving that it will be built using vast quan- the needs of the community – and tities of concrete and steel and will sustainable?

Thankfully there are now many artists asking this question, and creating work that demonstrates a clear sense of social and ecological awareness. A growing number of artists and collectives are also engaging in ideas that explore wildness and the numinous, belonging and place, and a regenerative relationship between humans and animals. One is Scottish artist MacGillivray who walked in a straight line with a dead wolf on her shoulders through Vegas into the Nevada desert. Another is Nic Green, whose performance Slowlo recounts a year living in the Scottish wilds in words, dance, song and the cleaning of bones. This work seems timely. Our culture has been pushed to such an extreme of materialism and alienation, perhaps it was inevitable that the pendulum would begin the long swing back. Perhaps, instead of the ‘shock and awe’ of the contemporary scene, we’ll begin to value art that celebrates community and connectedness, that seeks to enchant rather than impress. I’m involved with the Dark Mountain Project, a group of writers and artists who, in our different ways, work and debate from this perspective. This spring we’ll be hosting an event called ‘Carrying the Fire’ at Wiston Lodge in the Scottish Borders (May 16th-18th). The focus will be on the notion of ‘rewilding’ – rewilding the land, the self and the arts. Speakers will include Alistair McIntosh, Lesley Riddoch, and Alan Watson Featherstone of Trees for Life. There will be music, poetry and performance, and a chance to gather round a fire in the woods, to share our stories, to listen and be listened to. If you’d like to join us, please visit our website www.carryingthefire.co.uk

Upsetting the apple cart Theatre company fanSHEN are collaborating with Transition Town Tooting to create an event called The Apple Cart at their May Day celebration on Monday 5th May. The day also includes a story walk, Sir Owain and the Lady of the Well, organised by Story Stream and Tap Arts. Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe explain the workings behind their new show. fanSHEN work through theatre to help people imagine what they haven’t thought of yet. We create projects which raise awareness of social and environmental justice; we combine big ideas with fun, accessible formats; invite audiences to be part of the action, reflection and gestation of their projects – and believe that no space should be ‘safe’ from theatre. In the fourth of his Reith Lectures, artist Grayson Perry t a l k e d a b o u t a pr o j e c t i n Whitechapel where the children taking part were asked: “What do artists do?”. “They notice things,” was the reply. This struck a chord with us. Perhaps by inviting audiences to take a more active role within a piece of art, artists can create spaces where people can also notice things. The way we see it, awareness is the foundation on which everything can be built. If you aren’t aware of the choices you make, then you won’t be aware that there are other options. If you don’t realise that your house leaks lots of heat through its noninsulated roof, you won’t take action to stop that happening. If you don’t notice that your apples are imported from South Africa in October, you won’t ask yourself why you aren’t eating apples from down the road. We feel that if art has any role to play in the transition to living differently, it’s about creating gentle

interventions and subversions that help people see things sideways, or give them the time to notice something they’d have otherwise missed: to imagine something different and take action to create it. In the process of creating The Apple Cart, we considered how the experience of the show could model behaviour. In traditional theatres, you’re asked to sit passively, in the dark, and then to leave, equally quietly, without any opportunity to engage in dialogue about what you have just seen. fanSHEN’s aim with The Apple Cart is that the form of the show will create spaces for people to notice things and to have agency over what happens next – and for this to be an enjoyable, rather than terrifying, thing. It will be a theatre/game hybrid, a compendium of interactive experiences, themed around apples, with the aim that each experience will be fun, surprising and, in some small way, make things better. The Apple Cart will have its first outing at the Transition Town Tooting May Day event on 5th May, before venturing further afield… For details about Transition Town Tooting’s Story Walk and workshops www.sproutarts.com Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe are the co-founders of fanSHEN theatre www. fanshen.org.uk @fanshentheatre

Beryl offers an apple, but is it magic or poisoned?’ from The Apple Cart

Class 4 windmill cross, 2013 by Thomas Keyes – one of a “series of pictish style pieces, based on Class 2 stones when the new faith of Christianity was taking over but the older traditions were still holding on. Status, faith and continuity, the same propaganda as today.” The Highlandsbased artist creates striking images from locally foraged materials, here with oak gall ink, birch smoke and roe deer parchment. Thomas Keyes is a member of Transition Black Isle and his work can be found in the current Dark Mountain journal. www.thomaskeyes.co.uk

Photo by Rachel Briscoe

Dougie Stranglives by the River Ae in SW Scotland and makes artwork and performances, mostly outside and often collaborative. He is one of the core contributors to the book about Transitional arts practice, Playing for Time – Making Art as if the World Matters. www.dougiestrang.wordpress.org

Transition Free Press (TFP5)  

Transition Free Press Issue 5 Spring 2014

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