Partly each of these labs is about urban space, politics, ecology, art, activism and the future.
Partly each of them is about a group of almost-strangers from different parts of Europe and beyond negotiating how they are able to be together in a room. Negotiating how they can listen to each other, understand each other, compromise, collaborate, find common ground without erasing difference, and balance their disparate hopes, desires and fiercely held beliefs.
Contained in these intangible negotiations - in the invisible gestures by which we make space for people, the decisions of when to speak and where to sit and who to sit with, in the moments of shared eye contact and shared understanding - is a politics every bit as important as the subject we are supposed to be discussing.
We gather in the shade away from the unrelenting sun. Sonya pulls out a copy of Florian Malzacher’s book The Truth Is Concrete and reads us a quotation which concludes by asking us how we can make art politically rather than reduce art to a political message. She tells us how, other than herself and her friend (and fellow Urban Heat artist) Marian, the only other black faces she had seen at the festival are the workers in the kitchen who sit slumped on sofas in the corner while we engage in long and dense discussions on art’s role in making a better world from our eco-cabin on the other side of the festival site.
We are all complicit in helping to perpetuate the conditions of inequality that mark the societies in which we live. I say this not as a gesture of despair or self-flagellation, but as an opportunity. We can choose to try and remake these conditions, even if in small ways, through the making of art, through the acts of gathering that art initiates, through the kind of world that art creates within and around itself. There is a fluxus score that I have loved since I first encountered it. It goes like this:
Imagine a Life
(Ken Friedman, 2003)
Art for me is the thrilling space between these two instructions. It is where the imaginary meets the real, and where our wildest political dreams and desires can be realised in the relationships between real people in real spaces, even if only for a brief moment.
How then do we better understand and begin to change not only the politics embedded in the work we make as artists, but the politics embedded in how that work is made, and even in how it is presented? Does making art politically mean occasionally undermining and re-imagining the institutions and hierarchies that are supposedly there to support us? When is the right time to take the gallery, the theatre or the festival’s money, and when is the right time to take a wrecking ball to everything they represent?
In its curious amalgam of artists, activists and artistic directors and producers from a whole range of very different festivals and institutions, this project feels like an ideal space for this kind of political thinking - for this attempt to make a new and better way to work together. It is an attempt that manifests itself both in difficult conversations about power, agency and control, and in our more unspoken attempts to create a space we are all happy to be in. In which we can all learn to listen better to each other and start to notice things about ourselves we might not have noticed before.
In another of today's discussions Marko tells us how he liked the care we took over each other when we went on yesterday's hike, like friends or family keeping an eye out for each other on a picnic or a walk in the woods. We are beginning to find a way to care for and care about each other, and in the context of this whole complex and difficult project, it feels like the start of something exciting.