Tag Archives: stories

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.


Stories build, and stories trample down.

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

[Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy]

Happy endings, and the weaving of reality

My seven-year old and I sat down yesterday and watched one of my favourite films, Princess Mononoke.  In case you don’t know, it’s a Japanese animation from Hayao Miyazaki, creator of Spirited Away (amongst others), and it’s, very roughly, about a boy, a girl, an iron foundry and some forest spirits.  The owner of the iron foundry wants to kill the forest spirits, or more specifically, THE Forest Spirit, so she can get on with ‘turning this wilderness into the richest land around’. The boy, the girl, and the spirits kinda disagree with her on this.

This is what "disagreeing" looks like

This is what “disagreeing” looks like

Towards the end (if you don’t want spoilers, turn away now – but I’ll keep it minimal, and it’s such a beautiful film that knowing the storyline doesn’t actually spoil it at all), when boy and girl watch the destruction caused by the murder of the Forest Spirit (yeah, this isn’t Disney, but more on that later), my son turned to me in some distress and said “I thought films like this were supposed to have a happy ending?”.

Wow. That made me think. Are they? Why? Says who? Happy for who?  And does Princess Mononoke even have an ending, or is it more 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.


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.

Working with a tale-teller

One of the very best parts of my working life is the chance to work/play alongside the inimitable Shonaleigh – described on her website as “a modern day Shaharazad”, she is a wonder weaver, a tale-teller, and a privilege to work with.

She got me running craft workshops in two primary schools in October, creating artworks to decorate Continue reading

Pause for thought. And life.

Blog all quiet; normal service will be resumed ater the summer holidays. Yeah, I was going to tell you all about the lovely and totally unexpected presents I got from the teachers I’ve been helping

and how wonderful and healing it was to spend a weekend at Festival at the Edge, listening to captivating stories and groovy music, and letting the kids run free.

Panic Circus and my daughter, doing their festival stuff

About my displeasure at Sheffield City Council for cancelling/refusing to fund PlayDay this year, despite its proven popularity. How much I loved The Illusionist. How a stay at Warwick Folk Festival was not only free (one of the many joys of being involved with a morris team), but full of great music, and better friends.

Bass Birds n Beats. Superb.

Kirsty Bromley, bringer of Pimms. We love you.

And I could have expounded at length some half-baked opinion on the recent riots, and subsequent political and judicial tub-thumping. I could have entertained you with tales of all the crazy songs (and actions) my kids are learning from their American cousins, and how much extra energy and laughter they’ve brought to a tired house.

What calm, sensible children

I could have talked about the ‘Squash and a Squeeze’ method of home expansion, and how cool it is to have my big brother and not-so-little nieces back in the country, and in my house.

But that’ll have to wait. Or indeed just dissipate into personal memory and unsorted photos. By the time I get back to my blog I’m sure there’ll be something completely different to bore you with. Have a great August, y’all!

Wooden ducks for sale in Warwick

The story of me, unpublished

This is quite a short story, and I don’t know how it ends yet. Probably in a whole heap of rejection letters, but they can be a kind of badge of honour too, can’t they? The ending I’d really like is “and her stories were published far and wide, with illustrations by Peter Firmin”, but that might be pushing it, even for a fairy story.

Continue reading