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Playing for Time

Last month I embarked on a collaborative arts project called Playing for Time. It’s the vision of Lucy Neal of Transition Town Tooting and has been recently awarded an Arts Council grant. My role in the work is to help shape and distil a vast store of community arts practices into a book, and during the next year I will be writing regular posts on this blog to report on our experiences.

The book will be written by a group of practicioners, several of whom are in Transition initiatives and so resonate with Norwich’s own past and present creative enterprises, including Abundance, Magdalen Street Celebration and of course This Low Carbon Life!

Here Lucy Neal, creator and producer of Playing for Time introduces the theme:

Does art have a purpose? Can it change our sense of what is possible in the world? Artist and cultivator, Eva Bakkeslett thinks so. She works with yoghurt, yeast and fungi and is fascinated by micro-organisms. She tapes the sound of bread rising and tells stories of emigrating Finns who carried their "culture" to a new country by dipping their handkerchiefs in yoghurt to re-activate on arrival.

Eva"s house is full of jars, some with cultures over a 100 years old. She loves everything to do with fermentation and the remarkable resilience of micro-organisms. She makes a soft "click-clocking" noise in her mouth. "That's the sound of bread rising" she says.

Eva is on to something: her art explores 'the subtle and invisible wonders of life' and re-energises people's engagement. An encounter with her work brings an awareness of the earth and environmental change to the fore.

This year I was a writer-artist in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and have been gathering up ideas about "transitional arts practices" like Eva's for a book called Playing For Time. It's a handbook that will join the dots between the philosophies of art and the creative skills that are emerging in response to the planetary challenges we face.

The book considers the role the arts play in re-imagining a world in which life on earth and its "cultures" are sustained. These range from traditional "arts" projects to transition approaches to foodgrowing, visioning processes, eco builds, education, inner transition events, group facilitation or local development plans.

What stories are we living by?

Much of "transitional arts practice" could be said to come down to narrative: the "live storymaking" of the experiences we are living through at this moment in our planetary history. Working with the playwright Sarah Woods from Transition Bro-ddyfi, Wales we found four different kinds of narrative emerged:

PERSONAL NARRATIVE: How we experience who and how we are. Our inner life of spirit and emotions balanced with outward actions and how we connect to the world.

COMMUNAL NARRATIVE: The shared narrative - co-created, collaborative and co-operative. The focus of Transition Towns and a natural one for the arts building bridges, empathy and understanding, creating space where inspiration and change can be explored.

GRAND NARRATIVE: A galvanising idea that in combination, globally our actions, plans, imaginings, projects and campaigns can create the shift to a more ecological age. Impossible to undertake alone, it's the narrative of "Occupy", "We are the 99%", "The Great Turning."

SUPER NARRATIVE: A narrative of all time and all dimensions of life on earth. The shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene Age, means our planet may no longer provide a comfortable place for us to live. It is a narrative of home and wonder and of fear and loss.

Playing for Time is seeking to hear about activities that engage with these narratives and  help everyone imagine a different future. From foodgrowing, to walking, rites of passage, plays, craft, public art, community celebration, engaged optimism, direct activism, sharing food, land use, play, psychogeography and map making, reports about any of these events or projects that have fostered shifts of perspective would be very welcome.

Maybe its something like Transition Heathrow's "Kaleidoscope" artist residency in June that mixed activism and permaculture, or "Tooting Transition Shop" with Encounters Arts in May, a place of exchange, that helps reclaim our high streets.

In the future we could see a return to more rooted, cyclical patterns in our art and culture. Our descendants may be dipping their handkerchiefs in yoghurt to preserve precious resilient cultures. What other tales of creative acts and art-making might there be? With your participation and input, Playing For Time hopes to draw these in! Thank you!

Lucy Neal was the founder co-chair of Transition Town Tooting  and the co-founding Director of the London International Festival of Theatre (1981-2005).  Playing for Time is supported by Transition Network, the Battersea Arts Centre, Artsadmin, New Economcs Forum and CAT.

Article originally written for the preview edition of Transition Free Press.

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