Never give up. When things get rough, can we face it whilst keeping faith with the slow flow of the river? Can we fight for what's needed whilst holding faith that truth comes out in time? And that conflict and injustice can find resolution? This river teaches on strength and surrender. Teaches on time. Teaches letting go and not clinging. Stirs up a remembrance that life moves in different phases. And that the creativity that runs through us is not our own: it’s just a small part of something greater moving. Never give up. May truth and peace find a way. The slow river’s flow ever opens to the bigger picture.
words written at Te Awa Tupua, the Whanganui River, Aotearoa New Zealand
Year Notes 2019
How can we creatively work together to support an embodied ecological knowledge of entanglement with the systems we are a part of? How can we support and resource our inter-being and imaginative nature?
2019 has been an enormous year of action and Climate protest. The work I undertook in 2019 was dedicated to bringing relational creative practices together with Art and Systems Change towards growing muscle for a wave of public protest and imaginging better futures.
For me it was a year that required a quieter kind of attention and exploration of Systems Change questions as facilitator at the Systems Change Hive and mentoring a group of excellent young artists. It was also a year that I felt deeply nourished by learnings across a journey to Aotearoa New Zealand to exhibit during the celebrations of Puanga at Parihaka in an exhibition curated by Maata Wharehoka and Ian Clothier of Intercreate.
Following the exhibition I spent some days by the Whanganui river - Te Awa Tupua - on the North Island. The life of this particular river is unique for it is granted a clear legal status. The local Māori tribe of Whanganui fought to have their river recognised as an ancestor for 140 years. In 2017 Aotearoa New Zealand awarded Te Awa Tupua all the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. There’s much more to come in the ongoing fight for recognition and reparations for the Māori communities and yet the 2017 victory is special as across the countries of the world the law pretends not to know of the life of nature. It is rare for the law of a country to remember the life of water or know the river systems as an indivisible whole, but Te Awa Tupua is legally recognised as “an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea, incorporating the Whanganui River and all of its physical and metaphysical elements.”
On a boat going down the river, I found myself thinking: "The river's alive! Pay special attention!" But - of course - all rivers are alive: each river has a song. The iwi of Whanganui never forgot their integral entanglement with their ancestral river and they fought for this remembrance in a culture of denial and forgetfulness. This demand for legal personhood is something that has been animating the Systems Change discussions at the Hive, the Stop Ecocide movement who fight for legal systems to value the rights of nature over finance & make systematic destruction of nature an international crime and also communities involved in climate protest. The Australian researcher Erin O'Donnell speaks to the power of this legal reorientation: "When we see rivers as living beings that are part of our community then that does profoundly change the way we speak about them, the way we make laws about them, the way we make decisions about them.”
These issues of personhood for the Land and multi-species imaginaries is one of the streams of research that has most inspired the community at the Hive and the creation of the Hidden Paths VR experience that was on show at ONCA Gallery and will tour in 2020.
Towards the Hidden Paths Exhibition
Working with the Systems Change Hive across the year was a real learning about how folk in a community grows knowledge together, unlearns ways of being, and supports each other in processing and creating. At the start of our collective journey, collaborating artist Molly Astley gave word to the intention to create a collaborative culture as a collective exercise of care: Systems Change Hive Care Commitment This focus on relational practices and tending relations with networks of collaborators continued as a vital emphasis as we responded together to the often devastating research about ecological and systemic breakdown.
Out of the shared effort came a beautiful collective exhibition from the Hive crew - Hidden Paths and a live events programme curated by Idil Bozkurt featuring a Water Ceremony with the Fellowship of the Spring, Warm Data Lab with the International Bateson Insitute, a Circling group inspired by Sam Hewitt - as well as a Virtual Reality installation that included audio recordings with activists who are imagining and working for better futures (documented by Elia Habib and myself at the Hidden Paths // Rising Voices VR site.)
We needed spaces to process the research around Systems Change from the excellent STEPS researchers and the energy growing and experiences of protest for Systems Change across the UK (and the world). Across Brighton, local Climate protest groups were also focusing in on how to help their communities stay in good connection and keep supportive amidst conflicts. My particular emphasis in the Systems Change Hive was on creating living relational spaces of learning and unlearning - imagining and remembering - through holding space for artists to share dreams and work together, interviewing activists for the VR piece on relational futures, welcoming in community groups working for systems change in Brighton and the beautiful work of creating Ceremony on Brighton beach with Molly Astley and Annie Elliot.
Synergetic co-creative work has phases, or tides perhaps, and seem to ever flow between united vision and different viewpoints. Carl Jung talks about growing the capacity of “holding the opposites” in creative maturation. Dispensing with ideals around seamless collaboration and instead welcoming in the vital learning that conflicts brings is a tough bottle neck that many groups faced this year as their communities grew. Creative practices as a kind of space for mediation and reflection, improvisation and experimentation were so useful towards unlearning habits around expectations of perfectionism, control and abstract ideals, characteristics highlighted in Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change as the very characteristics of White Supremacy.
Creative practices that brought life to communal situations were the ones that opened up hidden paths - the exhibition name Idil had chosen - not simply hidden imaginaries, but hidden possibilities for relating and being together which emphasised generous attention and appreciationg the unique texture and differences living in and across our various relationships.
Collective Excersises in Care
At the opening session of the Systems Change Hive in January the group committed to embracing mistakes and supporting a warm environment of encouragement. Bringing a healthy realism at the inception of a shared creative venture that failures will occur feels a healthy step for communal wellbeing so different from University culture - a grounded acceptance that we inevitably get it wrong and creativity grows just as much through the painful learnings on discordance, as successes. I wonder how many people’s experience through the climate protests of this year has been equal parts experiences of unity and strife? In London enormous numbers of people left the comfort of their homes to camp out on the bridges of London and submit to a rough collective process of creating a fortitude greater than the individual.
Creative practices have a key role in bringing forth fresh rituals and ways of working as groups to support our enlivened capacity to turn up for the work, to balance the opposites and change ourselves as we work to change our systems. As 2019 unfolded it felt like the protest movement itself was becoming more and more aware how radical imagination and resilience could be fed, resourced and strengthened by contemplative and embodiment practices, radical listening and grounded ceremony with the land. There is a long way to go, and there is so much work to do around addressing racism, bias and colonialism within Systems Change and Climate protest movements.
The effort for Systems Change is continual, communal and creative at heart. Hard learning is a part of that creative turn, and this enormous year of relationships has been full of it. Across the year I've witnessed first-hand how relational practices resource and support communities to build the patience and tenacity to stick with demanding public work and different understandings. So many thanks to the tireless work of the artists at the Hive and the energy expended by all, as well as the folk who came in and engaged and turned up at ONCA for the exhibition and to explore the relational sessions. Through participating in these spaces we got to support each other in the work, and perhaps we got better at noticing when the group relaxed, when tightness and falseness fell away, and imaginative space opened up to be present to what was in the room, and we got better at noticing what needed ongoing attention.
The journey goes on into 2020. My thanks to all those who have kept the fire burning for informed dreaming and co-creation amidst the general strife and struggle of everyday life. I’m also celebrating the groups that are supporting strong ways of tending real creative community and work together, from Going Horizontal, The Hum, Gesturing Towards Decolonial Practices, HOME, Invisible Dust, Schumacher College and the School of Myth in Devon. * With thanks to Phoebe Tickell for pointing out recently that the roots of much of this co-creative Systems Change energy reach back to the work of the Enspiral collective too.
George Por, one of the great supporters of the Systems Change Hive in Brighton and a valued elder to the group, invited me to share some thoughts on synergy and the year long experiment in co-creating towards Systems Change on Medium:
“To live real synergy in co-creation perhaps we have to surrender our die-hard attachment to our own particular way of speaking, branding, owning the change? I’ve found at the Systems Change Hive in Brighton that embracing an openness that really is inclusive to multiple different perspectives and welcomes diversity involves some chaos and confusion, periods of unknowing and extreme effort, and requires everyone to make difficult shifts out of ego, defence and personal attachment to “knowing what’s what”.
Finding creative balance between blazing purpose and genuine receptivity is a life-long journey. There is always something inherently partial in operating in the world with a limited perspective, we are always opening up to a bigger picture perspective.
What helps me here is a sense that true synergy is run by the earth - synergy is run by the earth - not by my efforts to "make change" or control outcomes. Our role in a creative group of people may have more about aligning with a deeper creative force that comes through us all, than any notion of individual genius. Holding faith in the creative flows of life and the people I work with on a foundational level makes it more possible to work inside and across differences of perspectives and patterns of communication and terminology.
Conflicts always lead to learning and one thing I learn more and more is to trust that each group holds the wisdom that is needed and also that groups can include more people without breaking. And I celebrate Nora Bateson’s Warm Data training for really bringing this home to me.
I find that “thinking” the shift from competition to synergy is relatively simple, but to live it out in the world and meet the challenges of working across differences demands a kind of steadfast determination, patience and honouring and also continuous practice at relational skills. And accepting that we often get it wrong. I have found synergetic work is ever flowing between united vision and (often extreme) divergence. Whether divergences are reconcilable or not depends on the individuals involved and the practices and dedication they have for keeping in connection and tending healthy working relationships. I don’t think that synergy can work without disagreements, mistakes and forgiveness. Perhaps, inevitably, synergy is always a work in process?"
Please see Oneiroglyph for the collective dream recording throughout the Hive and the Climate Protests, and the Events page for the meetings, tour dates and gallery shows.
Very sadly the 2020 Hidden Paths touring exhibition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Solidarity to all suffering in these disrupted and difficult times ♥
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