I honed my craft as a participatory artist & facilitator on Iona, as part of a community that practiced it’s beliefs in small local changes having global impacts in its choices; from cleaning products to meal routines, banking provider to corporate boycotts.
As a working class high school dropout I had an embedded notion of the limits of my agency. But through managing an accessible crafts room & being part of the programming team I saw first hand the impact & agency of working alongside people to change the notion of who they were and what they were capable of.
Despite the blundering arrogance of youth I was supported to develop my own agency within the community, given access to platforms for showcasing made artefacts & objects and saw first hand the impact of small gestures in changing the tone of a space and on enabling people to engage differently.
Prior to Iona, my voice artistically and personally had been always linked to exceptional-ism, only relevant or heard because I was the best at drawing, the best at performing the persona expected of an artist or the ‘most theologically engaged Christian’.
Yes those things (well, some of them!) are handy to have and reflect my underlying skillset but the embedded rational of years of Tory rule had disabled me from understanding my lived experience as having any worth beyond a meritocracy. The awkward combination of being raised in a Christian household alongside a conservative political climate meant my primary association with personal agency was guilt. My sins had caused the ills of the world & my poverty meant the only way to get on was to compete in a meritocracy which was externally adjudicated.
In a conservative meritocracy you cannot have an off day, an illness, a show of weakness. You are liable for the fallibility of your actions despite the systematic limitations on the decisions available to you. Accountable for your own lack of wealth despite being born into it.
The Iona community gave me an insight onto systematic inequality and some approaches for direct action. Through that it demonstrated that systems of power were nested and had dependencies, that individual actions within a system had agency and that small gestures had wider impacts.
Finding my artistic and personal voice in a community of compassionate activism trained me to look for opportunities for intervening that took advantage of the characteristics of the spaces and systems as they were not as I wanted them to be, creating a visual or physical presence or affect that didn’t need the tamed down mediation of a white cube gallery and a sense of collective agency and action that gave me confidence in not needing to be ‘the author’ of every output I dedicated my skills and efforts too.