Our research for Is this A Waste Land? has been continuing and has proved both fascinating and frustrating. It feels entirely possible to attach this title/this question to any space or place and the conversation is an interesting one. How do we decide what is a useful use of space or not? Who decides and by what criteria? When I was first envisaging this project, I imagined it for two quite specific sites – an urban industrial wasteland and an industrial forest. The main stumbling block so far has been gaining permission to access an urban site in London. Redevelopment is happening at an enormously rapid rate in London and every plot of land is allocated. This together with anxieties around security and the enormous health and safety red tape in the UK has led many interesting conversations with property developers and site owners to result in a refusal of permission for our request to access their site for 3 days. It is frustrating. These spaces are standing empty and we are asking to use them for 3 days. 3 DAYS!!! It feels a little like banging our heads against the wall. But hey, we are continuing to hunt and to talk and to ask questions.
The common notion still remains that wastelands are of no value until developed. Artistically I want to work in these places to acknowledge what thrives; to participate in conversation about how we might imagine and animate our future spaces. The questions and the subject feel important, so we aren’t giving up. We are looking for new ways to allow this project to continue living and breathing, and with that I feel excited and optimistic.
In the middle of June we were meant to be working on an industrial site for 3 days with all the creative team, preparing to share our work so far with an invited audience. The refusal of access to our desired sites meant we had to postpone. Instead Keren Kossow (my fantastic new producer!) and I joined an incredibly inspiring project, Refugee Tales – a pilgrimage from Dover to Crawley via Canterbury, that reflected on the long and dangerous journeys that many refugees make fleeing war and persecution, seeking a safe place to live. Organised by the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, hundreds of people joined the walk across 9 days in solidarity for and with all those detained in the UK whilst seeking asylum. With film-screenings, talks and performances, the whole event became a political carnival, a reclaiming of the landscape in the name of human solidarity. It was an artistic, political, activist, engaged project.
It was inspiring and challenging to be part of and made me reflect deeply on my own artistic work and the contribution it might make in political, social and ecological processes. This experience also highlighted to me the increasing relevance of land and space in the politics of migration and those who are landless. The very fact that a group of migrants were camping under the bridge of the North Circular less than 200m from the site in North London that we were trying to gain access to sits heavily with me. The first time I visited the site, they were there. The next time I went they had ‘disappeared’. Meanwhile a large space next door is left empty. And we are not granted access to that space for fear that we may be travellers or squatters. Most people would not choose to camp under the North circular. Probably most people would not choose to camp on the derelict concrete site that we were looking at. And still our country closes its borders and refuses entry. Is this a Waste Land? is also in part an ode to all those migrants seeking a safe place to call home.
Despite not being granted space on an urban site, we did manage to work for 3 days in the Kings Wood. A Forestry Commission site, where the wonderful Stour Valley Arts used to be based. We had hot hot sunny weather. We worked long days and shared the work so far with a willing testing audience on the final day. It was great to bring in some people from outside our process for the first time and gather their responses. I have the distinct feeling that we are moving on new territory and it is both un-nerving and delightful.
We have also started to explore possible sites in other cities in the UK and are interested to widen the conversation beyond the borders of the UK. I will keep you posted with our progress. I am exceptionally grateful to all of my collaborators for their wonderful generous thoughts and contributions: Tom Spencer, Petra Soor, Ben Ash, Kip Johnson, Kirsty Arnold, Jennifer-Lynn Crawford and Keren Kossow. It is wonderful embarking on this journey with you all.
all images by Pari Naderi