BECOMING EARTHLY, A REFLECTION. A SERIES OF EVENTS LED BY A SERIES OF WORDS
Becoming Earthly is an experimental online learning space, run by the Barn arts organisation in Banchory, Aberdeenshire. In 2022 it brought together 9 practices (including two duos), which broadly engage with concerns surrounding the environment and ecology.
Each session of Becoming Earthly was led by a different contributor (1) with varying areas of expertise and backgrounds, and shaped by the potential meaning of a pairing of words. Gravity and Movement, Pleasure and Doubt, Lament and Improvisation, Shame and Play: these pairings acted as markers, proposing directions for each session and the programme as a whole. They acted as hooks into and out of politics, history, storytelling and artistic practices, offering starting points for conversation. The words invited each participant to reflect on their individual practices, how their work might be linked to these concepts and in turn to one another's practices. They managed to extract ‘buried’ ideas and understanding when shared and discussed and demanded a slowing down, a thorough mulching.
To slow down.
These modes of observation showed their importance time and time again, and the structure of the program facilitated this. Every two weeks, the group managed to form an inclusive and generous space to share knowledge, experience and ideas. Time to talk, time to listen, time for silence and time to distill. Even though there is obvious distance and bodily disconnection when communicating through video conference, the conversations created a closeness and openness that developed as the group came together week after week. Through dialogue the pairings of words were given life and momentum, leading down paths which spanned time, perspectives and approaches.
CARING FOR LANGUAGE
Reflecting on Becoming Earthly I think about the relevance not only of words, but of language itself. The way communication framed this series of seminars, how we position ourselves in the language we use and how language moves from a form of spoken communication to a bodily gesture, continuously shifting between the two. This fluidity was echoed in the activities and dialogue throughout the sessions. The thinking and conversation moved effortlessly from practical to theoretical, from body to surroundings, from internal to external, emotional to physical. This included somatic movement, imagined histories, discussion and written text. Each practice fed into and out of the next, enriching the other. There is something to acknowledge in this format which speaks to what it might be to ‘become earthly’, valuing each mode of being, learning and thinking on a more even ground, understanding how they support each other. To utilise them all to try to understand the body’s relative place within the space it inhabits, noticing the micro, incremental shifts and changes as well as the bigger picture.
The practice of understanding when to talk and when to listen becomes ever more acute on a video conference. It can be strange to navigate as subtle expressions are lost. The format requires people to hone listening skills, to anticipate when is the right time to speak, to determine pauses and ends which might be more easily interpreted in real life. The occasional faulty connection creates stuttering video streams which in turn can make any visual cues irrelevant. This set up brought forward questions around notions of voice, equality and volume. These same questions fed back into the topics we covered, in various guises.
When are voices heard and how can they become blurred with those of the earth? When can animate and inanimate resonate together?
A PRACTICE OF REPOSITIONING - An excerpt from a letter to you, the sea.
I will write to you in my language.
When I give you the words, you will dissolve them in to your self.
You will drink them up and they will take on your form.
The sighs and lulls, the slurring and rumbling. The thunderous bursts of energy.
You take the words.
Forming yourself around them.
I passed you today and saw you from a distance.
You glinted at me.
You shimmered like glass - I would have said, but here you are oil, λἀδι, lathi.
Smooth and slick, scored only by a few brush marks cutting across your surface.
This is an extract from a letter and is part of a daily practice in which I am writing to the sea. I started this as a direct response to conversations during Becoming Earthly and a suggested reading - ‘Learning the grammar of animacy’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer, in which she discusses the Native American, Potawatomi language and how, through language we understand the natural world differently (2). The author explains the many ‘things’ that the English language labels as inanimate, are animate within the Potawatomi language. This sense of ‘being’ breathes life into the world. In referring to a rock or tree not as that, but who, sites the speaker in a different relationship with that subject (Kimmerer, 2013 p.57). I had this in the back of my mind whilst I sat in front of my screen. The group reached a discussion about the impact of ‘shouting’ political concerns; drawing a possible conclusion that quieter actions might hold more weight and reach deeper than big headlines. The dialogue of the group and words in the text sat with me and I felt compelled to write. I started to write to the sea as ‘you’, a small personal act to create a dialogue, feeling that if I made this shift in my attitude it might reveal something about my relationship to the sea and my surroundings. It has since become a space for me to reflect on things such as daily changes in my locality, the changing characteristics of the sea and my connection to the water, as well as its place in my practice.
As the weeks passed a plethora of references were shared between the group and the different backgrounds of the participants cultivated a broad spectrum of resources. Throughout the programme these were documented by a dedicated bibliographer. It was fascinating to see the different links made and a web spun, reaching much further than it would by one individual. This catalogue has become a wonderful archive and is something I treasure. Sharing and collaboration was an integral part of the programme and has left a feeling that at the end of Becoming Earthly wasn’t an end but a beginning.
1 Jan Zalasiewicz, Dr Paolo Maccagno, Dr Amanda Thomson, Dr Sophie Hope
2 Kimmerer, R W 2013, Braiding sweet grass, Milkwood Editions, Canada