Initial Thoughts on Art & Survival 2016
by Matthew Glassman, Co-Artistic Director of Double Edge Theatre
My initial feeling, after convening thirty-plus artists from around the country for a slightly less than two-day period, is wanting more. I want more time to delve more deeply, to learn more about the distinctiveness of people’s work, to wander around particular questions, to see more clearly the circuitous map of work, action, and movement. I want more specificity, more dramaturgy, and more action talk. I feel good about the diversity of work and artistry in attendance. These feelings make me ask: what is the best length of time for such a gathering? I think a little longer might be more fruitful. How better to develop the framing to go deeper, find focus, while leaving space for intuition and emotion to guide? I perceive a deeper preparation around the structure and questions might help. Would a gathering of this size benefit from having smaller breakouts that occur separately to allow for the a deeper dive? I can imagine taking one of these questions and providing a day or so to unpack in more intimate and focused conditions being pretty interesting.
Lens #1: Esoteric/Mysticism
Our weekend was based on a particular framework that desired a deeper seeing of connections, meaning, resources, and a greater understanding of our particular ecology. The design intentionally began with a focused conversation between five artists whose practice delves into esoteric thought, mysticism, contemplation, and spirituality.
We touched on the vulnerability which accompanies conversations about the irrational, the search for wisdom, the communion with the past, and the visceral observation that this subject is a territory least often explored yet most meaningful and undernourished. Alice Coltrane and Astral Jazz, the Kabbalistic parable of Pardes, the importance of silence, paradox and using the body, and the break from linear time appeared in the conversation among many other offerings. There was so much more to discuss, and one participant observed that it felt as if masters, ancestors, and seekers of different times and places had been called and were all present in the room.
Lens #2: Land Narratives
Our conversation about the relationship to land broke us into small groups and story circles. Nick Slie facilitated this section, incorporating Junebug Productions’ story circle process as taught to him by friend and mentor John O’Neal. These were intimate conversations about personal relationships to the land and their intersection with artist’s’ work. It was moving to learn in my small circle about the work of the artist Jetsonorama in the Navajo Nation and the abuse of land and peoples perpetuated by the human systems in which we live and the role of the artist to rescue and elevate the people / land narrative.
This session gave me the closest sense of a geography, of the rich diversity of places and practices and their relationship to their land/ story. From Kentucky to rural Louisiana across the map of the US, there was the feeling of traveling across and in and back as well to neglected history of the country’s first peoples. Time and again, we heard tales of what happens when we graft rigid human ideas onto dynamic natural systems. There was a call to be in greater harmony with the land and a reminder that we are nature, not a species outside of it.
Lens #3: Social Movements/Imagination
The third lens about the social imagination and social movements offered small groups very different approaches and narratives to thinking about imagination and radical change.
This was pre-empted by a revelatory talk given by David Bollier, an expert in the commons. David helped us see a rich tradition and history of human relationality through the marketplace, natural resources, and community. He exposed current practices that perpetuate problems and encouraged a total re-imagining of exchange. Succinctly, David illuminated the role of the artist to cultivate a society’s imagination, to elevate the notion of what is possible, and to expand the capacity for paradox. Participants were led by facilitators who spoke about their own work while holding space for discreet conversations about cultivating change of imagination. How do we understand a collective imagination where there is so much inequity and varying degrees of privilege to occupy a space of imaging social change?
Walking the Land…Weaving the threads…
Participants walked the land in silence or contemplated by a stream. We briefly examined the weaving of these conversations less as isolated subjects and more as a triad. Ebony Golden brought forth notion of “emancipation” as an act derived from a deep inner source, where relationship to the land plays an integral role, which affects not just a social change but spawns a reimagining of life for others. I look forward reading the transcription of her words. In his response, Matt Fluharty gave us the image of survival as the middle point between suffering and liberation.
Afew things different. A calibration of time management and length of discussions. Thinking about a longer arc of activity — as in several steps that allow conversations to continue and grow. More rigorous preparation with participants. Find more effective ways for people to learn about one another’s work.
To somehow nourish the cravings this gathering manifested. To circle back somehow to these conversations to deepen the examination and understanding. To track relationships and networks, seek possibilities for collaboration and action, and extend the invitation to participate outward. Continue to branch out to other disciplines, mediums, communities, geographies, and sectors.
Art and Survival is a series of gatherings focused on collective thinking and brings together a diverse array of interdisciplinary practitioners. Through careful examination of artistic and cultural practice through three distinct lenses or questions, it investigates live art’s influence on human evolution and movement building.
Double Edge Theatre in rural Ashfield, Massachusetts presents the gathering Art & Survival 2016 livestreaming on the…howlround.com
Art and Survival is supported by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, Alternate Roots, and The Ethics and Common Good Project, with additional support from Howlround.