Tag Archives: Dark Mountain

Why do we need to?

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Sarah Smout imbibing the silence (Italy 2016)

30th November is the international Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

Recently I was talking to a friend about an event in commemoration of species now extinct. She looked a bit puzzled. ‘Why?’ she asked. OK, that threw me. I’m not good at explaining stuff on the fly, and everyone else I’d spoken to had just ‘got it’, like a wake for lost species was a completely normal idea. I started talking about the importance of taking time to mourn, of the way society views extinction through the lens of science, but ignores the cultural importance of grief, and…  she interrupted me again, ‘Do we need to? I mean, they’re extinct, can’t we just move on?’

Do we need to? Earlier this year I saw Feral Theatre’s ‘Thylacine Tribute Cabaret‘ (Thylacine: Tasmanian Tiger; hunted to extinction by 1936). A phrase from that stuck in my mind like a tolling bell: ‘Nobody is alive now who knows what a Thylacine sounds like. The world will never hear its voice again.’ Do we really just shrug that off and keep going? We cannot change it, we cannot bring back species from extinction. Scientists are currently trying to clone the passenger pigeon, which was wiped out in 1914. They admit that even if they succeed, it will still only be a hybrid with a ‘normal’ pigeon, and DNA from one animal doesn’t make for sustainable genetic diversity. Surely a failure to acknowledge, or to mark the passing of such losses is just one more disconnect between ourselves and the world we inhabit? We are humans, we are animals. We berate our rich politicians for being out of touch with the lives of the majority, while we ourselves remain out of touch with the lives of the majority of animals on this planet.

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If my sister dies of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, would I be ‘normal’ to shrug and say ‘She’s dead, so what? There’s nothing I can do.’ Or would society understand if I asked for a leave of absence from work to grieve, to organise a funeral and write an obituary, or if I suddenly developed an interest in campaigning for cancer research, or restricting government lobbying by tobacco firms? If we can see ourselves as part of the incredible variety of life on this planet, we unlock a sense of connection that enables us to see something as huge as extinction on a much more immediate scale. To truly comprehend that a voice has been forever silenced, not just that a tick box on Wikipedia has gone from ‘Critically Endangered’ to ‘Extinct’.

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30th November is a chance to reconnect ourselves to the turning of this planet; to learn about lost species and tell their stories, and to renew commitments to those remaining. It is about art — music, dance, song, stories, all of it — setting its light to fill out the stories that science shows us the bones of. To make it real, immediate, and something that touches all of us. This year, one such event takes place a week later, on 7th December (venue logistics care nothing for your dramatic timing), featuring three amazing artists who each have a strong cause to be drawn to the theme of engagement with nature, environment, and loss. Tim Ralphs, storyteller and interfaith minister, says that when we are faced with something as shocking, hard and seemingly inevitable as climate change or mass extinction, we first need to pause and sit with our fears, our grief, and acknowledge how we feel; to talk, to sing, to find the stories that help make sense of the world. Sarah Smout, poet, cellist, and singer-songwriter, adds: ‘While I can’t berate humans for advancing, intellectually and technologically, I feel that the ensuing disconnection from nature is at the very heart of our destruction to the planet.’ This is one of the things that spurred her to embark upon her ‘Polar Line’ project; a travelling, collaborating, writing project to the Arctic and beyond, to ‘sit in quiet, remote lagoons of thought, to feel the pulse of the land.’ To grieve. Nancy Kerr, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, speaks of our collective need to sometimes just take the time to ‘have a good wallow’. Steeped in the folk tradition, she talks of how folk songs put a name and a human experience to the vast, complex and seemingly uncontrollable forces of war, death and loss.

Together they offer this evening as catharsis, as a connecting with hurt and grief to better understand and move through it. So that we can remain connected and still remain sane, so that we can engage instead of avoiding — and be left bigger by that engagement, not broken by its enormity.

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Tim Ralphs, setting the storytelling fire under The Telling

 

If you are based in the North of England, an evening of Remembrance for Lost Species is at the Moor Theatre Delicatessen, Sheffield, on Wednesday 7th December. Tickets £9/12 available here. There is also a Facebook page here.remembrance

If you are based elsewhere in the world, we encourage you to join another remembrance event nearby, or start your own — have a look at the online map of events for 30th November 2016:

For further reading, Remembrance Day for Lost Species made the international press with this Guardian article published earlier this month.

(With thanks to Nick Hunt, and the Dark Mountain network, where this blog post was first published)

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Unconditional love

I’ve just read a blog post about snow, which drops in the (widely held, according to this) forecast that unless climate change can be halted, there will be no snow in Utah by the end of this century. The author says “My memories [of thick, winter snowclouds] make it incredibly painful to imagine a Utah without snow, but this is the reality confronting us.”

Across the globe the impacts of climate change are painfully uprooting people’s (possibly nostalgia-tinged) memories of what a place is like. Should be like, has always been like. We humans are very clever, and are more than capable of seeing the bigger picture, but somewhere deep inside, don’t we hold ‘what it was like when we were growing up’ as the yardstick to measure life by? Did you grow up with central heating, and shudder at the idea of life without it? Did you grow up with an outside toilet, and roll your eyes at people complaining their bathroom is too cold? When I look back at my childhood winters, they were filled (like, for weeks) with snow, sledging, days off school and failed attempts at igloo building – and this in Gloucestershire. So I remain perplexed when people in Yorkshire get wiggy about a couple of days of snow in January. But isn’t this normal? I ask. But ‘normal’ is what we grew up with. Nothing is ‘normal’ any more. Like it or not, believe the reasons or not, the climate is changing. Every year we see new weather records – hottest June, wettest December, highest monsoon, most ice lost, earliest melting.


So we are losing the things we love. This earth we live on is changing, and things are dying. People, species, hope. It’s easy to read the statistics and despair. And nothing I can say, no wishful thinking or positive affirmations, can change the facts. So maybe your childhood was filled with snow, and you have to face an adulthood without snow. Maybe the home where you grew up was filled with flocks of starlings, chattering and murmurating across the evening skies, and now there aren’t any. It hurts, it’s painful, I hear you; but I want to take your despair and kick its backside right out of the room. Let’s ask another question: maybe your partner is diagnosed with a degenerative disease, or maybe your parent succumbs to dementia. That person you love, you’ve know for so long, is changing, and there is nothing you can do. Do you despair? Or do you love them anyway? Do you love them as much when they cannot speak to you, as you did when they could? Will you love them when the chemo steals their hair? Will you love your home even when it loses its snow?

If we love this world, this earth, then we must love it unconditionally. If Utah loses its snow, it will not cease to be Utah, it will be a different Utah. And we can mourn the change, but we must continue to fight for its survival. I think this for me is the essence of climbing the Dark Mountain. Earth is still Earth, whatever state it is in. We must love it, and fight for it, and protect it, but we must never let change be perceived as failure, and an excuse to give up. Change is constant, and so must we be.  And yeah, I can see how this might be hard to hold in your head, the seeming dichotomy of ‘we must fight to prevent change’ and ‘we must accept change’, but come on. There are plenty of lessons out there from people who are doing this already; we’re clever. We can do this. We can love.

 

 

 


What has Art ever done for us?

[Disclaimer: this made a lot more sense in my head. If this post is coherent to you, please leave a comment with your thoughts, so I know I’m not just babbling!]

I was talking to a new acquaintance recently, and – as it ever does when people ask what I do – the question came up: “So what is Dark Mountain then?”. No matter how many times I attempt to answer that question, I can never really answer that question.  When I started to explain I said things like ‘Well, it’s a bunch of artists, musicians, writers, creative types…’ and about events, and books, and conversations, and music, and what happens if we can’t change the world, what if we have to change ourselves instead, and stuff like that.  And as I talked there was this little voice in my head saying ‘no matter how you paint this, it’s just a bunch of self-absorbed navel-gazers making pretty things – how on earth is “Art” changing *anything*?’. But I ploughed on, and when I started describing The Telling, something suddenly clicked. It can change *everything*.

Wide view of festival space with a marquee and a yurt. People standing, and sitting, but all in small groups talking to each other.

Uncivilisation (Dark Mountain festival) – it’s people, talking to each other. [Photo: Bridget McKenzie]

When we put on The Telling, we knew what was needed to run an event. We all had the rules inside us – we need budget, a venue, sound, lighting, funding, acts, ticketing…. We had none of these things, but instead of working our way around these problems (we can run a generator from X, we can hire out a hall from Y, we can book Z and price the tickets to cover their fee, etc) – we scrapped them. We ran a successful event, by doing it wrong.  Because guess what, maybe it isn’t “wrong” after all. And isn’t this the essence of Dark Mountain? The rules we live by, the ‘right’ way to get things done – they are not rules, they are stories.  And stories can be rewritten. Stories are always rewritten. Look at all the excitement (well, I’m excited anyway) around the new publishing of “Grimm’s” fairy tales, now that we find the Grimms cleaned them up and smoothed their harsh edges once they realised people were reading their books to their darling children. The stories were rewritten to ensure certain rules remained untouched. (Digression for background: the original tales had mothers doing horrendous things to their children, the Grimms were not about to have the sacred pedestal of motherhood sullied by such cruelty, so changed the wrongdoers into stepmothers.) Anyway, back to the point (I’m sure I had one somewhere).  Art doesn’t tell, it shows. If you tell people to change the rules, you’re just giving them another set of rules to follow, and perpetuating the myth, the story if you like, of ‘them and us’. They are the people who do things, we are the people who watch them being done. If something needs doing, we ask the people who do things to do it. Witness: petitions, writing to the council/the papers/your MP and so on. I’m not saying this doesn’t work, I’m saying it is not the only way of working.Promo flyer for The GIfting event in Doncaster We were a bunch of artists, writers, musicians, storytellers, dancers, and we put on an event that didn’t tell people ‘this is how to change things’, it showed them. We were told this wouldn’t work, that we were doing it the ‘wrong’ way. But it worked, so it wasn’t ‘wrong’. Through the skills we have as artists and creatives, we showed people a different way of doing, and we encouraged them to join in.  And hopefully, all those people – you – will be able to think huh, maybe I could do something too. Well, you’re not wrong.


The Dark Mountaineers

I find I have been included in a most wondrous collective, and so felt it my duty to share it with you.  Take a peek at this collection of the fascinating. I hope you meet some new friends, or at least follow a new stranger down their winding path.


How very uncivilised

Uncivilisation. A weekend of exploring “cultural engagement which is rooted in place, time and nature”. A weekend of people, music, story, song, fire and playfulness. A weekend where I learned so damn much about the world around me, and about myself. And apart from the bit about “I can’t use Google-maps on my phone to navigate my way out of a paper bag” (sorry Jon – it was an adventure!), I liked what I learned!

I was there primarily to share my experiences of The Telling, and encourage others to make a new home for Uncivilisation in the places and communities where they are. And also to build a tree for a midnight Dark Mountain ritual – where a woven willow tree, decorated with dreams and thoughts from whoever wanted to contribute, would be ceremonially burned, to symbolise, I dunno… something. Something unsettling (would you set fire to a tree?), to shake people from their comfort, and release the wild, and the dreams.

[Photo: Bridget McKenzie]

[Photo: Bridget McKenzie]

In honesty though, I can’t really tell you much about what Uncivilisation 2013 was like, because I missed most of it, but I can tell you that “missing most of it” didn’t really matter. Continue reading


“Thank you for letting me join in” – How I’ve done a really rubbish job of explaining The Telling

stagheadAs you may or may not know (possibly not, given how lax I’ve been at blogging lately), since, ooh, sometime last year, I’ve been involved in the most awesome, inspiring, wonderful and fun project, called the Telling. Or possibly, For The Telling. Whatever. Whenever people have asked me “So, what’s The Telling then?” I’ve been completely at a loss to explain. I’d say, Well, it’s a kind of post-apocalyptic storytelling event, and we’ve got some music too, and some other stuff. What do you mean? Well, er, some people wanted to get involved, so we’ve got some poetry, some other stuff – it’ll be in the old arts college! What, inside? Well, no, in the courtyard actually. It’s derelict, so we painted it, or rather, Phlegm did, that’s not his real name, and we’re having dancing foxes and making it all firelit. So who’s funding this? Um, no-one, we’re doing it for free. It’s kind of linked to the Dark Mountain project. What’s Dark Mountain? Um… And so on.

I’ve explained The Telling to people as an event, as a mini-festival, as a way of sharing stories (that one really confused people), as a way of Continue reading


The Telling – another shiny, post-apocalyptic reason I never want a ‘proper’ job

I could tell you all about this, “The Telling”, but to be honest I’m not entirely sure myself yet. It sounds fun though. The main thing is that I’ve volunteered for another exciting project, because grabbing exciting projects that may or may not pay the bills is much like being one of those bat-eating kestrel things (Kestrel? Hawk?) that have to snatch their survival as it flies past, as opposed to how having a steady 9-5 with a desk and a phone is like being a domestic guinea fowl in a pen. Living, not always in comfort, but never in boredom. Sometimes trying to find the right analogy is like, like…. oh never mind.

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Artwork for Basaglio Centre, Italy, by Run

I’ve thrown my lot in with writer and artist Warren Draper, storyteller and occasional steampunk-evil-circus-ringmaster Tim Ralphs, Dark Mountaineer Iona Hine, Rachel Horne from Doncaster Fringe and, kind of (they’ll be painting the venue up, but it’s unlikely anyone other than Warren and Rachel will actually work *with* them), the amazing artists Run and Phlegm. Guess what? Phlegm isn’t the name on his birth certificate, and he’s also a sculptor. Now you know (although you may have suspected the first bit).

So, what on God’s Green Earth is this thing? Well, The Telling is the brainchild of the aforementioned Warren Draper, a writer, artist and photographer based in Doncaster, who wanted to pull together a series of self created/directed events linking with, and drawing from, the ideas and themes of the Dark Mountain movement. Fairytales for a modern age. The title is I suppose similar to the saying ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’. The truth of the story, is in the telling…

The first event will be held in November, in the wonderfully post-apocalyptic setting of the former Church View art college in Doncaster. Phlegm and Run will be painting up the space this month, and then I guess we’ll have a working party to clear out all the rubble so we don’t end up supplying Doncaster A&E with their broken ankle quota for the whole of 2012.

Imagine this at night, with bonfires and huge murals… Discussing Church View’s post-apocalyptic potential


Tim Ralphs has agreed to perform his “urban fairytale” The Queen of Claywood Flats at the launch event on 10th November. This will involve fire (hurrah!). A larger event in February 2013 will pull in more storytellers from both within and without the Dark Mountain ouvre, musicians, artists, poets, and maybe even a performance chef. Yes, we questioned it too, but it’s true. Performance Patisserie – I bet *your* event doesn’t have that, huh?

More (in a fairly loose sense of the word) details can be found on the Phrase Arts website, and finished publicity for the event will be up there as soon as we’ve, er, finished it.