Field Notes.4 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Welcome to 2017. Here is the fourth and final set of notes from Gian Paolo Cottino during our Forest Residency in August 2016. These notes follow an early dawn walk and a remarkable time listening to the internal sounds of trees on the final day of our residency.

PART FOUR

Moving between sleep and wakefulness.
This morning we awake at four thirty and proceed to walk towards the east, towards dawn. We are experimenting with Petra’s proposition of moving between sleep and wakefulness and to witness one another in this place.

When we reach the open fields belonging to the estate (as does the plantation we have been camping in), our path is sided by a ditch or a trough, and a wall holds our path back and above this ditch in the earth. This is the Deer Leap that Charlotte had told us about. A system devised to keep the deer that would jump down into the estate’s grounds from ever being able to return to the surrounding common woods.

I stay back and watch the group descend a small distance into the open valley of the estate. There they settle in a sleepy and silent witnessing of dawn. They look east and watch the pink and orange glow of the sun rise as a ball into the sky.

I feel the desire not to join them in that silence and set about looking for a tree. I see an old oak towards the north with a small incline of earth to one side of it and I walk there to lie down on my poncho. As I move between sleep and wakefulness I watch below me a line of experiences looking into the sun.

I feel strongly aware of following my instincts, and I notice the judgement of my self as I separate from the main group.

Looking on from here, I see the awake sleepers as a pride of lions in the early light of a savannah.

To the heart through a tree.
After Petra’s Sweaties and Friskies exercise ( revolutionary fun), I walk toward a circle of ash trees. They are maybe six to eight metres tall, their circumference between 30 and 40 cm. There are perhaps eight of them and they are still young and supple enough to bend easily in the wind.

Placing my ear against it’s skin I listen to one of these trees and I become aware that I can hear it’s wood, it’s fibrous body, bending and stretching and creaking like a ship in a sea of earthly fluids. I hear it’s branches touching another’s. Then I hear my heart and I become aware that it is beating faster and faster, louder…and I sense also that the tree is aware of me. Extending Ben’s craniosacral exercise and practising it with a non human being, I touch the tree and move into the tree and then responsively allow the tree to move into me. The whole experience softens me and yet I simultaneously feel strengthened by the sensuous exchange . As the whole group embraces my proposition to repeat this exercise together, I see our experience of this time and place shift and go deeper still. And I am definitely thankful.

Field Notes.3 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the third set of field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino. The fourth and final one will be published in the new year.

PART THREE

The Water Hole.
I plunged into a pool of water whose surface was being strimmed by the wind. I was my father as a younger and leaner self. I watched him disappear under the water, agitated and concerned. Then, he re-emerged, calm, knowing and un-movable by the forces that had gripped the younger man to become dependent on drugs.

This morning, at first light, I walk to the water hole we had seen on our initial hike through the plantation. I want to look deeper within me, I want to find the stillness in these waters…and from this stillness to know.

I find my place under a pine tree on the southern edge of the body of water. Facing the north and in the midst of morning practice I see a man approaching on the track to my left. Ahead of him a Staffie dog is running, excited and bashful, seemingly led by a contortion of irrepressible muscle. I notice the man has removed his shirt to bathe in the sun’s light even though the morning is still crisp. His body is muscular and tattooed, and his head is shaved. I can see the dog’s curiosity is leading him towards the area I am in, and for a moment I consider the possibility of my presence surprising him and causing him alarm and agitation. For a moment I consider also that this man might equally be surprised by me and become irritated by the otherness between us and perhaps even question my purpose. But then I watch in stillness and I notice I am invisible to them. I notice also that it is the choice to be grounded and still that means I have been unnoticed.

The man sits down on the large boulder to my left and bathes in the light of the sun. Concerned of startling him I introduce my presence with a greeting.

His voice is soft, his being suddenly startled by another’s. We converse tentatively, about the water, the deer, the fox and the dragonflies and then he carries on with his journey, leaving me in the peace we’d both sought.

Woodpecker.
I see your strong neck vibrate and repeat your heart’s desires into the hard wood and I notice that it is with this beat that you make your home within the tree.

Rocks aren’t Lonely

by Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

A small meditation on a few questions that came up at the very start of this last phase of ITAWL research:
‘what are the things that make me ok’ and ‘things that make me feel I belong’

These two questions were given by Charlotte as part of the forest residency back in the summer, and after going to see George Monbiot’s Loneliness Project in Leeds a little while ago, they resurfaced and…

What is OK?

OK is a great metric. I like that it expresses a general satisfaction – a kind of resting state between not-good and good. Just sort of regular. Not exceptional in either a positive or negative direction. I feel much of life is happening in this in-between place – that much of life looks for this quality of OK. It’s pretty stable.

I also appreciate that this was linked to ‘belonging’ in the task. I struggled with this association, as I’m sure many might and also many might not. On the basement level of my being, I notice a profound OK-ness when I am not contemplating belonging… a little like the refrigerator hum, or other sensory events you don’t notice yourself as noticing until they cease, I don’t normally notice the sensation of belonging unless I am not. This shows up on the surface level of me as a kind of anxious murmuring and muttering over the gap where belonging isn’t part of my assumption about the world.

I don’t always know that the gap is in the belonging area – I just know that something isn’t ‘OK’ and as is my wont when not-OK, I put on one of my favourite costumes: that of a single, solitary rock in a wide empty space. Of course, that tends to make the not-OK-ness bloom in the most vibrant colours not-OK-ness comes in.

It’s funny-ironic that I’ve never quite been able to grasp that that gap is relational. That I turn in on myself to examine something that can only be seen in the light that other people carry with them… I’ve always thought it was something I was needing to do in myself, and all the time, it turns out, I just needed to remember that I’m not a rock, but part of a tribe called people.

I mean, sometimes the rock is a wonderfully functional costume – particularly when joining/being joined by other rock-types. Sometimes the tribe I need to remember I’m part of is bigger than people, or needs to be other life that isn’t people. Whichever way I play with the wording, the sensation of belonging, rather than having a gap somewhere (where belonging should be) is a bit like having a home. The sensation of I-am-where-I-should-be is physical, a deep satisfaction that doesn’t beg questions. It doesn’t demand anything of you, and in fact, it allows you to just get on with whatever it is you were up to (which probably involves ‘other’ in some way).

I find it interesting that I have an idea that it’s possible to exist by ‘myself’ – that when I think of ‘self’ I tend not to think of how that self is a palimpsest of all the other selves, the other people and lives, it has ever encountered… I mean, it’s not as if I got here alone. But when faced with a question about belonging, I tend to answer as if all the others who I’ve lived alongside – my family, my friends, the various and changing communities I arrive in, live in, and depart from, in short, all the lives to whom I belong – are somehow not part of my OK-ness. I tend to answer as if only I, alone on the me-raft, circling the island of self, am responsible for my own OK-ness.

The Me-Raft

A lecture given by Sandra Noeth prompted the following:
“…one body is no body – spectating is a kind of co-habitation – I live in you for a bit, or at least, with you… ‘just’ a body does not exist – it’s totally abstract – we’ve simply adopted it in the same way that we separate everything from everything else and then think we’ve got a ‘thing’ (because we’ve removed it from its context and set it out by itself) – we are of the same material”

If anybody did ever exist solely by themselves, ‘we’, all the others, would probably never know about it. One body = NoBody.

I can’t imagine what that life would be like. Except for….

This me-raft is a received idea – it’s one you learn through experience. Rebecca Solnit, in her very on-point piece The Ideology of Isolation discusses the disconnection that epitomises right wing ideology: ‘yourself for yourself on your own’ I can trace the reception of this idea in myself to my 1 family and a particular sort of privacy insisted upon by my father. This wasn’t something ever questioned because there was also a very clear and fixed hierarchy that existed between us. My father was a firm supporter of the euphemism that children should be seen and not heard.

He was also an extremist in some ways and had no qualms about making a point (his point). If I moved too far from my position in the family-tree, he tended to refer to larger hierarchical structures outside the family-tribe such as the police, the medical system and the educational system in a very direct and practical way. This served a dual purpose – I had the impression of his authority being upheld, and also, that the only ‘others’ outside the family tribe were generally much taller hierarchies which loomed with much larger shadows over my lowly position.

So, I discovered the me-raft at a very young and impressionable age and I also discovered through the very private family-tribe that there wasn’t anyone ‘else’ around. Or at least, no-body who was going to intervene in the hierarchy and the sanctity of parent-child relationships. It left me in a bit of a quandary – I clearly didn’t feel OK in the hierarchy, but any moves to change it left me outside of it, in a land where I had even less resource as a minor. A minor who doesn’t have ready access to ‘others’ in the guise of extended family or family friends gets ‘systematised’ scarily fast… testing the waters there had me re-tracing my steps fairly rapidly.

I grew up a bit scared of mostly everything, convinced that anytime I didn’t make good of my bottom feeder role in supporting the top of the tree, I would be cast off into the cold cold world.

Tribes

So why, apart from common human interest, would I be writing this in relation to this project?

I guess, in many ways, family is both the first environment and the first tribe we have. I’m not sharing my story here because I’m seeking acknowledgement for it in and of itself, but as an example of how simple it can be to pass on and hold on to a sense of disconnection or isolation borne of fear. Of course, it’s obvious that our first sense of connection or disconnection, our first sense of belonging, of the world as safe, scary and totally new, comes from the familyenvironment-tribe. Equally, the obvious is often the realm where the barriers arise. The family-tribe either helps us find the world as an already-there-with-me place or a-place-we-keep-at-a-distance.

My experience of the world through most of my early years and adolescence was fear-based – even if fun and interesting stuff happened, it happened in spite of a threatening, disconnected world that I was forever in danger of getting cast off into. I went through a period of depression when I was 12. The world already seemed sad and burdensome and I was still in grade school. Writing that seems hilarious, but… it sucked to be me at that time. I’m sure it also sucked to be my teachers and grade school friends and my parents, wondering what the problem was.

And if this is my fairly tame white, middle-class suburban childhood version of the kind of gap an isolationist, fear-based and hierarchical power structure creates… what else can happen in that gap if it were to be heightened by circumstances that have nothing to do with much apart from geography and genetics? It isn’t even a ‘what makes me belong’ question at a particular threshold – there is a point where the notion of belonging is such a distant glimmer that the question itself becomes a fantasy. Belonging becomes a species of experiences that applies to ‘others’. I imagine many children right now who are entitled-to but prevented-from joining relatives in the UK/other countries with increasingly obstacle-strewn borders as suffering a gap in belonging that is so big it might be broken.

George Monbiot’s Loneliness Project

George Monbiot is a dose of sanity every few weeks in the Guardian. I appreciate how his ecological approach, the accessibility and openness of his writing and his surety about our okness, our mutual belonging as humans, generates hope in me.

The construction of the evening is simple, but it works. George speaks mostly of content that he’s addressed through his online writings, but I’m still happy to hear it again, Ewan McLennan plays (very beautifully), and at the end, they ask us all to sing together. Along the way, I’m finding that I’m moved, the images and characters of the songs and stories finding their mark in my own life. Before they finish for the night, they invite us to turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves. I meet someone who works for the Campaign to End Loneliness. We chat for a bit, he has very sparkly socks, fabulous shoes and shares a bottle of prosecco with his date…. and then… I need to go. I’m not at the event with anyone else, and the resonance of loneliness and old age through the songs is a bit of a soft squishy underbelly for me at the moment and I’m feeling overwhelmed. Ironic response to Monbiot’s intent I think.

It’s interesting to witness a direct approach – Monbiot is literally making a project of dispelling loneliness – and to see that it seems to work for many people. He’s pointing at it, naming it, and then doing something about it and inviting us in to that. It’s great. I wonder what the legacy will be? I’m hopeful that for some people, they just needed a little nudge, a little wave and sign-posting to find a way towards greater belonging and greater inclusivity.

“Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together, or we fall apart.”

I like the image of the vertical – that we can find our strength together there, in our stance – and the dissembling of our selves and the iconic ‘fall’ as the other term of the dualism. It is clever and a nice turn of phrase. And I’m reminded of another favourite writer, Jeffrey Maitland, from the land of Rolfing, Zen and philosophy:

“In the end, there is nothing unique about being unique. The power lies in what is common.”

Although I like Monbiot’s phrase, I get just a little bit stuck on the ‘or’ – it’s a classic tool and one we’ve been saddled with as a culture for far too long. The binary opposition pattern is part of the 2 Guardian 3 p xvi, Embodied Being winners v. losers structure that has us believing in the island of self and constructing me-rafts. Plus, I think we fall apart anyway, it’s part of what we do from time to time – the bigger question is whether we have enough between us to help each other regardless of where we are in the standing/falling cycle.

Of course we do… We’ve got a whole tribe called ‘life’ in common.

Sometimes it’s hard to point at this, name it, if you’ve been given a specific kind of costume by circumstances in early life or if you’ve had to row the me-raft hard for a long time. Maybe making a project, like Monbiot, is a help. Joining a meaningful art-process, like the one this blog is written around. Making a practice of OK-ness through the varied events of everything. Charting your palimpsest for all the other selves to whom you belong and remembering that one body is no body. That in watching or noticing each other, we co-habit: I live in you for a bit, and you live in me. I think that last can be called empathy. And that although it takes effort to do this in a politics and economy that would still have us believing in one-or-the-other, it is possible for us to engage in what Rick Dolphijn refers to as the ‘relational nature of difference’.

Post Script: Obviously, everyone’s childhood memories are extremely personal and contingent. My parents were two people doing what they felt they could around my mother’s ongoing ill-health and my father’s desire to inject some normalcy into the land of illness (which is entirely abnormal and unpredictable).They each had their own personal contexts that contributed to family structure and politics in ways I’ll never know about.


¹ p1 The ideology of isolation
² Guardian
³ p xvi, Embodied Being

Written

Dolphijn, R. & van der Tuin, I. (2012) New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Open Humanities Press.
Maitland, J. (2016) Embodied Being. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books
Monbiot, G. (2016) Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart. Guardian, [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/12/ neoliberalism-creating-loneliness-wrenching-society-apart [accessed on 7.11.2016]
Solnit, R. (2016) The Ideology of Isolation. Harper’s, [online] Available at: http://harpers.org/ archive/2016/07/the-ideology-of-isolation/1/ [accessed on 7.11.2016] Verhaeghe, P. (2012). Capitalism and Psychology – Identity and Angst: on Civilisation’s New Discontent. Vermeersch, W. (ed.), Belgian Society and Politics 2012. Available at: http:// paulverhaeghe.psychoanalysis.be/artikels/Identity%20and%20Angst.pdf [accessed on 7.11.2016]
Verhaeghe, P. (2014) Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.Guardian, [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/neoliberalism-economic-system-ethicspersonality-psychopathicsthic [accessed on 7.11.2016]

Other

Childhood and other life-changing experiences
Monbiot, G. and McLennan, E. (2016) The Loneliness Project [Performance] All Hallows Church, Leeds [21.10]
Noethe, S. (2015) Symposium 2015: Dispositives of the Body [Lecture] Haus der Kunst,Tanzwerkstatt Europa, Munich [02.08]

Living right now, a personal manifesto

In the face of uncertain times and an increasingly fragile planet, how do we live right now? How can we live right now?

  • What supports us?
  • What do we actually do?
  • What do we feel?
  • What do we think about?
  • How do we respond?

How do I live right now?

I try and make going for walks a priority
I try to create beautiful things that have purpose
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed
Then I feel small.
I ignore and continue with life.
I try to live in ways that have a feeling of rightness
I put energy into creating artwork that encourages people to spend more time with their body, with nature.
I think about embodiment.
I wonder about direct action.
I try to gather people around me
I look for more simplicity in my life – it doesn’t always work
I look for ways to enjoy all that we have
I try to be present with what is happening now.
I hope to take care and nourish the small things.
I ride my bike, I don’t ride planes
I don’t eat animals, and I hate wasting stuff.

Waste

At the end of February I spent some time with Tom. We cycled to Newhaven and tried to see if someone would show us around the new incinerator. They wouldn’t. We recorded the continuous stream of lorries and skips bringing all our waste. The scrap metal yard, the aggregate heaps, the mountains of car and tyres and random junk. The road was littered with debris. It felt like another part of the world. I collected a dismembered arm from a doll. I wondered what the rest of the doll looked like and whose doll it had been and why it was thrown away – who no longer wanted it?

P1050168P1050169

I keep coming back to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Particularly the fragment, Continuous Cities about waste. He conjures such a vivid world of these spreading, sprawling, spilling metropolis’ surrounded by bands of waste. Piling higher and higher, meeting the mountain ranges of other cities. Awaiting landslide and catastrophe. The more we have, the more we discard. What if we get interested in all that forgotten, unwanted stuff? What are the speculative stories of all the discarded stuff? We live on a geology of waste. What if this is a fascinating place?! 

It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday’s existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia’s talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of the indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.

This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday’s sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.

Leonia’s rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves. Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia’s boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.”

Today’s sweepings on top of yesterday’s and all of the previous yesterdays and days and days. A new geology of rotting, stinking history. Increasingly indestructible, squashed together the stories of all that we no longer want. The old, the broken, the soiled, unsexy, spoilt.

As I watched Kip and Kirsty and Petra working to build structures during our week in early March at Laughton Lodge near Lewes in Sussex, it occurred to me that through this project we’re building our own city. We have been looking at ways of constructing things, moving through, over and under. Pulling them down and traversing the debris. Clearing new space and rebuilding. Building, destroying, re-organising, building again. It’s an incredibly powerful and tense sensation to pull down something you’ve just built.

Despite a relatively small space and small timescale, it was palpable how quickly we could gather a feeling of accumulation of things growing and spreading. We started to build reflections of the spill of the city and how it keeps on expanding, reaching, and leaning. Homes. places to meet, drink coffee, eat, sweat, purchase. 

P1050209 P1050227

And so I find myself left considering, what might have happened here 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What did it look like? Trees exchanged for concrete, wild activity replaced by human activity. Productivity. Futures. Making, busying. Now gone. abandoned. If we leave it long enough where will the trees grow? How long will they take? How many people will pass over?

fragments, traces, foot prints, memories.

How many people have loved? Died? Endured? Where is our resilience?

We’re building
living
occupying
protesting
watching
wondering
enduring
destroying
clambering
clearing
cleansing
listening
being here today with you
Imagining
Re-imagining
will you imagine with us?

We need visionaries.

Breaking the silence – big, empty, noisy, cluttered

I have been very slack about writing. For those of you who follow this blog, my apologies. Every week for about the past two months, ‘write blog post’ has been on my ‘to do today/this week’ list. And that blog post has remained rather invisible…however, we have been working! ‘Is this a Waste Land?’ (ITAWL) seems to have gathered a remarkable collection of people towards it. Nearly two weeks ago 8 of us came together for a few days to explore some the ideas that have come up so far and bounce them around.

We talked, moved our bodies, played with rope, built things, climbed on them, fell through them and pulled them down. The crashing sounds still ringing in my empathetic body. We walked and ran and walked and held hands and realised how fun it was. We were reminded that working with the body is pretty profound.

We looked at abandoned sites and wondered about all the stuff that’s happened, all the people and their stories of those places. We watched the birds and the foxes and noticed what thrives in these left behind places. We thought about waiting for low tide to sneak onto the site of Convoy’s Wharf. According to the security guard, that’s the easiest way to get in. And then we spent a day in the forest (The woods where Stour Valley Arts will sadly soon cease to exist). We were silent a lot. Sometimes we closed our eyes and listened. It was the day of the Spring Equinox and although it was overcast, the birds knew that something was up, they were silent too. The space overwhelmed us and drew us together. We wondered why we are allowed on a tree farm but not any other kind of industrial site without permission?

Petra and Stephen and Kirsty built a little sitting room in the woods. It was all comfy and cosy and we didn’t want to pull it down. Kip and Tom and Bruno made some thing big and bold and boyish. Ben worked in the in between places. We didn’t want to leave. The emptiness and scale of Convoy’s Wharf felt similar to the clearings in the woods. It was like entering a void. A no man’s land.

 IMG_5277 IMG_5284

There is much much more to say. It has been hard to process and articulate, but there is more coming, from me and from some of the others. ITAWL seeks to embed it’s audience in the midst of the work and draw those people into close proximity with the space, themselves and everyone else who comes. As we start to mark out the terrain of ideas, activity and spaces that this venture might exist in, we are immediately considering how ‘audience’ is weaved through as an essential component, not an afterthought. It is a complex and inter-related but highly fascinating web of relationships.

The back bone is a quiet but persistent voice from within me asking, ‘yes, but where is the body in all of this?’, ‘what about embodiment?’, ‘what about the importance of touch?’, ‘what about the simple joys of running and feeling connected to others in your running?’

On which note, I am soon off for some cycling up and down the mountain roads of the pyrenees. Cycle Stories still ringing in my ears and urging me away from the computer to take up a life more lived outdoors.

Building stuff: Is this a Waste Land?

Starting to bring the creative team together.
Starting to play with building things.
Is this A Waste Land? ITAWL beginning it’s physical journey.
What are all the treasured things you’ve lost?
What are the precious things you’ve reclaimed/found?
What have you had forever…