June 10, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

PerFarmance project performance today at 5 Acre Farm, 16:00 - 17:30.


June 07, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

At the Kenilworth Agricultural Show, we provided participants with an opportunity to walk barefoot through five different mixtures of soils while listening to Rob Lillywhite describe the microbial communities beneath our feet. At the end of the procession, participants were encouraged to write or draw their reflections on a sheet of paper. The reactions to being blindfolded and walking barefoot on soil ranged from childhood memories, new awarenesses of soil’s vitality, and the sensations experienced due to the diversity of temperature and texture. The reflections also included a range of bugs, trees, plants, soil, and abstract compositions that have yet to be fully understood. Below is a text that was inspired by the reflections of participants at the Kenilworth Agricultural Show. We will workshop this text, alongside movement, over the course of the next three days as we make preparations for the performance on Friday at Five Acre Farm.

Performance Text

(Walking in place, barefoot.)



So soft and cool.

It embraced my toes as I walked into each box.

My toes were so much more sensitive than my fingers.

There was something very refreshing about feeling my skin touch the soil.

My feet… my hands… meeting the soil.

Soil was foundation… my base…

(Start running in circles around the participants.)

I’m sorry that I never really thought about you before, but you always seemed to be busy with the trees and sun. I remember that we used to hang out a lot when I was a kid. Running barefoot on top and alongside you. Cool, soft, gritty, and smooth sensations that shape my childhood memories. You were so important to me, but I’ve lost touch with you over time.

(Sit down on the soil and begin tasting it.)

Flat, muddy, gritty, and textured… the weight of my feet pressing down on to you. You taste of earth and dust. You taste of rolling hills, towering trees, and radiant sunsets.You taste of creepy crawlers and tiny microbial beings.

(Lay down on the soil and put your ear against it.)

You breath.

You live.

You made me think of all the drastic subtleties of all that is living, including my very being. You made me aware of all the different textures of life. You made me realize how little I knew about all the richness of soil.

(As this progresses, begin performing CPR on the Earth.)

Where did our relationship go wrong? Is there any way for me to resuscitate what we once had, or is my only hope to sustain what’s left. Sustain. Sustaining. Sustainability. Or is it inability. Inability to acknowledge the fact that attempts to sustain life doesn’t necessarily mean living.

I apologize. My doom and gloom speech makes the situation seem quite sad. What might this space of the community farm provide us? How might this space informs our understanding of, and relationship to, the microbial communities beneath our feet?

June 06, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

A procession begins. People enter into the space.




Five small crates sit in the distance. What do they contain? What remnants are within? If it we can’t see the contents does it cease to exist?

Music can be heard in the distance. The reverberations echoing through the fields. Bouncing off the soil and resting in my ear.

One by one, those crossing, weaving, and seeking within this space walk to the edge of the field. They withdraw binoculars to see where this sound is coming from.

On the opposite end of the field they see two dancers. Moving. Shifting. Their bodies gliding above and alongside the soil. The weight of the body is working in concert with the microbial communities beneath their feet.

The music ends. A voice is heard. The voice of a figure who seeks to contain and control the dancers and the soil on which they stand. A figure who seeks to make knowledge only that which can be made visible. A figure who seeks to commodify and abstract for the purposes of economic circulation.

The figure enters the space. For the time being, we’ll label this figure Mr. Prospero. A fitting place-name for Shakespeare country. Mr. Prospero ascends a pile of compost. Having been banished from the United States, Mr. Prospero seeks a new island to form and transform as his own. He slams a flag pole into the compost and bellows, “Make Amerigo Great Again!”

The above text is an example of critical creativity, a mode of thinking that doesn’t see critical thinking and creative practice as two disparate forms of expression. I’m sharing these jottings from my journal with you to allow some insight into how we’ll be collectively, critically, and creatively engaging with the plethora of information that we’ve gathered over the past two weeks. Please consider joining us this week for an engagement with critical creativity on the grounds of Five Acre Farm. We will be facilitating participatory exercises to address the concerns over our impact on the conditions of the soil beneath our feet through two afternoons of workshops. We will then work together to generate a performance text and movement score that will culminate with a performance that is open to the West Midlands community. We’re really excited to get started and we hope that you’ll consider joining us!

June 03, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Brief Overview of the Past Week Pre-Kenilworth Agricultural Show

As we make final preparations for tomorrow’s Kenilworth Agricultural Show, here is a brief overview of our past week. We had an inspiring visit to Five Acre Farm on Tuesday and met with Becca, the lead grower. Becca and the team of volunteers are doing some really interesting work and we’re excited to make a return visit today. The PerFarmance Project creative team think that this may be a great site for the culminating performance piece, so we're following up with Becca to see if it might be possible to return next week to conduct a few workshops and present a performance there on Friday June 11th. We should know by the end of the day today where our performance will be next week.

On Wednesday we went to the Warwick Crop Centre, Wellesbourne campus to pick up our supplies for the Kenilworth Agricultural Show on Saturday. Sally Mann, the Horticultural Services Manager has been incredibly helpful and got us all set up for the event. Our five different soils/composts have been selected, we have beautiful wooden containers to put the matter in, and the procession that the participants will be led through is in place. We'll be returning to the Wellesbourne campus today to assist with loading the van and we’re eager to see how our participatory project is received by the spectators tomorrow.

Also on Wednesday, we met with Alice Midmer at LEAF to learn more about the organisation and to get a different perspective on farming in the West Midlands. Alice had a plethora of information to share with us and we highly recommend visiting their web-site. Midmer recommended visiting farms on Open Farm Sunday, an event that LEAF organises, and she noted that we should go to farms that provide tours (these farms are identified on the Open Farm Sunday web-site). We also really appreciated the visit to LEAF because it’s located on the hallowed grounds of Stoneleigh Park.

Thursday was dedicated to creative time, we rehearsed the ritualistic components for the event on June 4th (setting up the crates and the soil, leading people through the soils, etc.). We also spent part of the day making preparations for the workshops next week. Overall, the week has been rich with information and creative energy.

June 02, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

Between Soil and Human

The past two weeks have been leading us towards an understanding of soil’s vibrancy, throwing focus on the microbial communities beneath our feet that come to bear on human and non-human life. Today we will be rehearsing for this weekend’s Kenilworth Agricultural Show, an event where PerFarmance Project - West Midlands will be featuring the relationship between humans and soil. The participatory project that we’ll be presenting this weekend will involve five different crates of soils, composts, sands, and grit that spectators will have the opportunity to step into, feel the movement of their bodies on the soil mixtures, experience the different textures, and then reflect upon what they learned. The procession through the five crates of soil will be done while wearing a blindfold, so the participants will be guided by a PerFarmance Project member. We suspect that the deprivation of vision may heighten other senses (hearing, touch, smell) which makes meaning that emerges from this encounter very intriguing.

In Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘New Materialism’ through the Arts, Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt note that “art is a material practice and that materiality of matter lies at the core of creative practice” (5). Barrett and Bolt are referring to matter such as the paint of the painter and the silver of the chalice maker, but what meanings emerge when soil is the core of the creative practice? Rather than placing the creation of a performance solely in the human experience, Barrett and Bolt position the experience as that which emerges in the “between”. This weekend we’ll be placing the focus on the relationship between humans and soil. As spectators walk on the soil mixtures and then reflect upon the imprint that is left behind, what meanings might emerge between human and soil? The footprint left will be an interesting point of departure for discussing the meaning making that occurs "between" human and non-human, a conversation that will segue us into next week’s preparations for the culminating performance.

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

Allotting Space to Rethink Food Production
Reflections on Community Gardens as a Movement

Capital, in short, is not only unsustainable, it is a culture of death - indeed, suicidal. The ecosocialist alternative, by contrast, seeks to replace capitalist accumulation through a social transformation whose ground is ecological integrity. Thus it achieves sustainability through the affirmation of life.
Joel Kovel, “What is Ecosocialism?”

In the past several days we’ve visited many community gardens, allotments, and food project. Three of them; University of Warwick Allotment (Coventry), St. Mary’s Allotments (Leamington Spa), and Five Acre Farm (Ryton); were quite evocative in the way that they are producing food. Rather than understanding the relationship between humans and the environment as one shaped by a linear drive towards economic progress, these sites resonate with the ecosocialist idea of shifting towards a relationship between human and nonhuman that is formed through collectively reworking ideas of sustainability. I agree with Kovel and the ecosocialist call to shift individual and collective understandings of the human relationship to the environment, and I think that the concept of sustainability raises some interesting questions that these sites might help us work through.

What exactly is being sustained through sustainable acts? And, more specifically to PerFarmance Project, how does a sustainable way of living require humans to rethink their relationship with soil through the act of producing food? As we progress with PerFarmance Project - West Midlands, I’m curious to see how these allotments and community gardens, as well as performance, might serve as an intervention for rethinking soil and the daily human habits that either degrade or maintain the matter beneath our feet. What might performance intervention learn from the space of the allotment or community garden? And how might these spaces of intervention highlight an urgency to understand the relationship between human behavior and soil?

As we make preparations for our performance intervention, I think that it will be interesting to see how performance might gesture towards a system of production within which the degradation of soil is occurring. In observations of the allotments and community gardens, one must take into account for how these sites organize the growth of food, and also the organization of laboring bodies that operates quite differently as an alternative space for food production. If capital as a field is organizing the production, and distribution, of life, the ecosocialist call for systemic change and rethinking the organization of human and nonhuman life apropos.

As we tinker with this project over the next couple of weeks, I’m curious to see what PerFarmance Project might learn from the allotments and community gardens that might inform our own social practice and contribute to a movement towards a field of sustainability that organizes the production, and distribution, of resources and life. Rather than thinking of sustainability as an act of living within the field of capital, perhaps we might rethink sustainability as a field within which the relationship between humans and non-humans enact a mode of living that is constantly moving towards a new state of being.

June 01, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

Why Performance? Why Soil?

Early on in our first week of the PerFarmance Project residency, we met with Rob Lillywhite at the University of Warwick – Wellesbourne Campus. Rob led off his conversation with us by referencing a Franklin D. Roosevelt quote, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.” In other words, soil is the foundation for the growth of living beings, both human and nonhuman. Acts of degradation on the soil effectively disrupts trillions of microbial communities, exhausting the soil, and depriving plants of the nutrients they need to thrive. There is an urgency to address the matter below our feet because it has a vital role in the food chain that is often forgotten.

In order to better understand soil, we’ve made several site visits over the course of the past week to learn about the educational, historic, and economic side of the organic movement in England. Each site visited addressed the human relationship to the soil in different ways and using different methods. For instance, Garden Organic has a very clear educational component with a variety of outreach programs to connect with an audience. As a historical site, Mary Arden’s Farm provides a history of organic farming pre-organic movement. And I say pre-organic movement because, although organic methods have been around for ages, it isn’t until a practice emerges that is counter to organic that a movement takes shape. Finally, there’s the economic side and the added value of producing organically that needs to be taken into consideration. Who has access to organically produced foods? Who doesn’t have access?

So why performance? What does performance offer to the conversation on the human relationship to soil as it pertains to food production and consumption? Performance offers an intervention to take place by disrupting a specific time and space to give focus to the matter of soil. As we prepare this week for our presentation at the Kenilworth Agricultural Show, we’ll be offering participants a space to experience soil through movement. Each participant will be given the opportunity to step on four different substances (various soils, compost, and fertilizers) and to reflect on how their body is interacting with each in different and nuanced ways. The intervention that performance makes offers a space to rethink soil through an embodied mode of knowing, a way of knowing that doesn’t rely solely on scientific knowledge. We’ve been finding soil to be an exciting journey to the microbial level and we hope that you’ll join us at the Kenilworth Agricultural Show on June 4th to join the conversation!

May 26, 2016

PerFarmance Project

Writing about web page https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/foodsecurity/events/perfarmance

A PerFarmance Project is in the West Midlands of England from May 20 to June 12. PerFarmance is here to partner with the University of Warwick’s interdisciplinary members in the Food Global Research Priorities programme. Over the course of the next three weeks we’ll be conducting interviews with farmers, educators, and growers to better understand the small-scale, low-input food projects in the area. Of specific interest to us is the element of soil and how this living matter fits into food production processes.

Week 1 - We’ll be exploring the theme of soil through a set of site visits and interviews.
Week 2 - Will involve making connections with the information that we’re gathering through a series of performance workshops.
Week 3 - We will take our mobile performance piece into the community to engage the local population in a conversation about the biodynamic activity and oral histories inside of soil.

Week 1
Thus far, we’ve been keeping busy with our week one explorations. On Tuesday we met with Rosemary Collier (Warwick Crop Centre Director) and Claire Barratt at the University of Warwick’s, School of Life Sciences (SLS), Wellesbourne campus. They arranged for us to have a space to plan and present a participatory activity on soil as part of the presentation being arranged by Kevin Moffat(SLS) at the Kenilworth Agricultural Show on Saturday June 4, 2016. The display is going to feature soil, with exhibits being planned by Gary Bending(SLS) ("Roots of Decline"), Rob Lillywhite (SLS) (rhizotron showing cabbage root development), and others. We’ll have a sneak peek for you of what we’re planning to contribute to the exhibit in the next blog post!

After meeting with Rosemary, we met with Rob Lillywhite who shared his knowledge and passion about soil and will be connecting us with small-scale, low-input farmers in the West Midlands. He is also providing us with nutrient rich soil that he has been collecting from various parts of England, which we will be using as part of our exhibit at the Kenilworth Agricultural Show on June 4th. In addition to the show, he has directed us toward the Open Farm Sunday event coming up on June 5, 2016, which involves farmers opening their doors to the public. We’re planning to visit several farms and hoping that you do as well. Make a day of it and learn more about local food production in the West Midlands.

On Wednesday we made a visit to Garden Organic to learn about one of Europe’s leading organisations in the organic movement. We found the educational components to Garden Organic to be quite impressive. One of the most interesting parts of the grounds was the BioDynamic Garden, a holistic way of engaging with the soil and gardening that is becoming more popular in England. After Garden Organic, we went to Mary Arden's Farm and met with manager Abi Moore. Abi Moore had a wealth of information for us about the living history museum, which she referred to as a space to step back in time to a more holistic way of living. She also discussed the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Mary Arden's Farm membership in the Soil Association, and the educational component. We then watched the Tudor dinner reenactment, which was followed by a conversation with Mistress Sara, one of the performers in the reenactment. We'll be making a return visit to meet with the Farm Manager to discuss his work at the intersection of farming and history.

Today is going to be another busy day of exploration with a return visit to the University of Warwick’s, Wellesbourne campus to gather supplies for our presentation on June 4, as well as a trip to gather information and stories at the Kenilworth Farmer’s Market. Through the early stages of our explorations, we have seen the complexity of soil as a microbial community that regulates and ensures biological diversity. Over the course of the next two and half weeks, we’ll be connecting the knowledge and stories that we’re gathering about soil and linking it to communicative power of performance. It’s already been very exciting in the Midlands and we look forward to sharing more updates with you as the project develops.

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