Guidance for Associate Artists
As I sat down to write some guidance for artists, to explain something of the concepts that underpin the Squilometres venture, I realised it all came down to a statement of intent. Squilometres is intended to potentiate social change. Not to dictate the nature of that change but to animate a community to a state whereby positive change can happen.
And it felt good to get that out because then the guidance became clear. I even have a text, my “bible” if you like. Lewis Hyde’s The Gift - How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (2012 Canongate) has profoundly influenced the development of the Squilometre concept.
So there we have it, Squilometres has a statement of intent - and at this point “I” becomes “we”, because I cannot do it alone. We aspire to potentiate social transformation. And we want to do this by developing relationships of all kinds. Particularly with artists, both individuals and small companies. So, it is time to be explicit in our intent and to provide some guidelines for current and prospective associate artists. The best way to do that is to return to our original Four Cornerstones of Community Commissioned Performance, and to explain them in Lewis’ terms:-
1) Be Authentic - know your art and bow into service to it
Your creativity is a gift. It’s important to know it, acknowledge it, clear the decks to “identify with the spirit of the gift, not with its particular embodiments …” (Hyde, 2012: 151). And your Gift may not have a name. In our society creativity is sidelined, compartmentalised and commodified. It took me three years to discover that my creative label is Animateur - “a practising artist, in any art form, who uses her / his skills, talents and personality to enable others to compose, design, devise, create perform or engage with works of art of any kind”. I couldn’t find the label because there are no jobs but the fact is, it is what I am. It is my Gift and having discovered it, I feel the real work can begin.
So take time to know your true nature as an artist
and when you join us, bring your authentic, creative self.
2 ) Be Mindful of the Earth - enhance, not deplete, the world around you
Hyde refers to the artist as an “enthusiast”. When one is a creative “enthusiast” in your relationship with the real, physical and spiritual world it is an act of reconnection, or, as Hyde calls it, reunion. “When the poet is in the gifted state, the world seems generous ….”, so, with Squilometres, when we celebrate places, in reunion, we’re offered a wonderful opportunity to be mindfully creative.
Instead of stage lighting, watch the skies and seasons to see what effects they offer; instead of constructed props, consider the trees, fallen leaves, forage the hedgerows. The very places that we celebrate are the canvas, the set and the subject. The people who dwell there are our community. We encourage artists to create beautiful, unique things from what the earth provides. There is a profound link between the arts and environment. Artists have the gift and privilege to reconnect the broken.
“Natural objects - living things in particular - are like a language we only faintly remember. It is as if creation had been dismembered sometime in the past and all things are limbs we have lost that will make us whole if only we can recall them.” (Hyde, 2012:177).
As a Squilometre artist, be ready to be an agent of reunion.
3) Gift It - Find a beautiful use for money
Being paid for your art is both a political and spiritual act. It’s important.
We are not advocates of artists working for free
However, we do believe that there is a better use for money than commercial transaction. Hyde explains that when a gift is freely given, the increase in its worth stays with the ‘object’ and increases as it is passed along. Gift bestowal can create an “empty space into which new energy may flow” (Hyde 2012:148). As it works its way around a community, it grows and grows, building relationships and enabling change. In contrast when a service is exchanged for an agreed price, the transaction nullifies the relationship and any further emotional connection. We believe that is harsh, jarring world in which to create art.
So we will not charge our audience a fixed price up front but will ask them to pay-it-forward for the next show, after they’ve seen the performance. And it will be some while before we can guarantee a fixed rate for artists. So, in the meantime, we’ll keep our productions and our casts small, minimising the individual commitment. And,
we will welcome you into a community in which gift flows
There will be remuneration in cash. There will also be unlooked for returns, taking many forms. If you’ll dwell for a while within our community, rather than closing the transaction down after the performance, then we believe you will be amazed at what an increase in worth means.
4) Connect - love and cherish all
This seems like a big ask but, in fact, becomes much simpler when seen in terms of community. Any performance happens at the centre of a community - all of the individuals that have contributed, in any way, to the happening. Whilst, holding the broader aim of loving all in your heart, the people of your community should be the focus of your attention and care. Be particularly grateful for those who arrive with fixed views, ulterior motives or challenged minds. They present the best opportunities for growth and change and “where we stumble, often treasure lies” (Bayo Akomolafe).
It is particularly important to identify your community and by that we mean know them as people, not contact details. Know their views and interests so that you can facilitate the passing on of the gift. For gift to grow in worth and potentiate change it must be passed on and those in receipt of the gift must be in a position to do so. The mechanisms for this need to be clear.
This is why we operate within one square kilometre (Squilometre) of landscape
So that the members of that community can see for themselves the benefits of passing the gift between them.
As an Associate Artist you are invited to join that community too
I wrote this some time ago as a reflection of how much we have lost in not being in sync with seasonal life:-
" I started wandering down to the pond after I'd been into the hospital. The garden and the pond were becoming a real refuge. I could just sit there quietly on the bench by the willow and watch the frogs in the pond and just try to get a handle on my jagged emotions.
I strolled down there early one morning and the garden was covered with delicate lace doilies, daintily scattered all over the shrubs; dewy cobwebs, all twinkly and moist in the frosty light. It was then that I realised that the season was turning. I've always loved the changing of the seasons - you can feel it in the air. The temperature drops, I suppose, but it feels more profound than that, doesn't it? - like a planetary shift or something.
I went in to tell mum about it. It's funny, I felt sure that she'd know what I was talking about. This time though I couldn't tell whether she really did. She always tried to respond, always tried to give something back but this time she just gave me a little crinkling of the brow, a slightly raised eyebrow. I went on chatting about it anyway, how the moon seemed to be bigger and how odd it was to feel a chill. It was so blazingly hot when mum was taken into hospital and now the season was changing, it was getting cold and she was still there.
I didn't tell her about the willow. The willow was dying. It had hardly any leaves at all this year. We were going to have to take it down this winter or it might fall. It was a big tree and it was already losing withies all over the neighbours' gardens. It seemed really odd in the garden now. Everything else was so lush and green and there it was, just dying, in the middle of it all. How can there be death in the middle of life? I didn't really know what to do with that. Looking at it made me feel like there was a barren wasteland inside me. Not sad exactly but empty and grey.
Between visits to the hospital, I'd taken to sitting down there thinking all sorts of things. I thought about Autumn and the small death of the deciduous trees. I remembered, from my prehistoric studies that something like 95% of the British landscape was completely covered in mixed-oak deciduous forest. The wildwood. Every season the world of our ancestors was completely and totally changed. According to the season the overhead canopy was either so dense that the bigger world would completely disappear or it would fall from the sky making a huge orange blanket on the floor.
How do you live with such profound seasonal changes, not only in the practical aspects of survival but in the aesthetic and spiritual world? Every season your entire world would visibly, dramatically and completely change aspect. What must an entire deciduous landscape look like in Autumn, when the whole world turns red, gold and orange?
Wow, it's no wonder we feel a thrill when we sense those first signs of season change. It's part of our prehistoric selves to feel in touch with the seasons, to react to them. It didn’t occur to me then, when I was sat down on the bench but I’ve begun to believe now that this closeness to the concepts of life and death must have prepared us for loss and grief. We've not only lost touch with the seasons but with some of the mechanisms to cope with loss. There's nothing in our modern lives that prepares us for the fact that our loved ones will die, just as each season changes. We know it on an intellectual level but we suffer such a confusion of emotions with our grief.
To our hunter-gatherer forebears everything would have been about a state of change not of loss. It would be much easier to have a sense of ease and continuity, even in the face of personal grief, when you lived in the midst of a panoramic exhibition of the cycle of life. No wonder we feel so lost now, so isolated in our grief and trapped into internal introspection rather than sharing. We don't get a chance to practice and rehearse how death will feel, how to adapt our lives to the loss and to know that life always follows death. We're so disconnected from our Land, from its rhythms and meanings, that grief and loneliness are two of the heaviest burdens of the modern world."
Mum died in October 2003. I still miss her very, very much.
JoJo Spinks is a Westcountry writer deeply in love with her landscape and her life!
"Thank you very much for joining me here. Please read on to explore more about Working in the Gift and my joint passions of participatory arts and the Devonian landscape." JoJo :)