Performing an Aesthetics of Interconnectedness
Since my childhood in South Africa and later in Germany, I have been
privileged to work with many visionary teachers who ‘performed’ their
values. Amongst these were Joseph Beuys and Nisreyasanda. But the people
in the backyards with whom I secretly exchanged dreams, my meetings with
traditional women healers, the land itself and the multitude of creatures – they,
too, were my teachers.
Now in the UK as a Reader at Oxford Brookes University, I coordinate
the Social Sculpture Research Unit and the new Masters programme in Social
Sculpture, alongside my involvement in a range of social sculpture projects,
including the Sustaining Life Project. Recent works focus on civil society
processes, interdisciplinary pedagogies and methodologies of engagement.
All these works are instruments that involve ‘trans-actions’ between
people, issues and places. They are arenas for negotiation,
creating shared currency and new forms of dialogue. They all create spaces
where the functional and symbolic coincide.
Redefining the ‘aesthetic’ as ‘enlivened being’ reveals
the aesthetic as an ecological life process, and ‘art’ to
be an expanded practice that includes non-material processes and relates
to all spheres of activity. Such works are, therefore, as much to do
with consciousness work, soul-making and personal transformative work
as they are to do with social process and natural environmental concerns.
The works offer model processes for re-immersing ourselves
in the living being of the world. Centring around the idea that ‘responsibility’ actually
arises from an ability to respond, these works offer approaches
to becoming internally active and in turn, to active citizenship:
an ethical space where love and imagination of ‘the other’ as
oneself are at the heart of experience. This is social sculpture as both
process and goal, as projects which are moments in an enormous spiritual,
political, creative formative-process towards an ecologically sustainable
Works exploring Aesthetics of Interconnectedness
Remembering, Rethinking, Re-Envisioning
A parallel- process lecture/action emphasising the need to
listen to the ‘world soul’ calling and develop new organs
of perception to ‘hear’ the suffering of trees. The action
included written text, strips of bacon, potentised water, tree cuttings,
vowel sounds and a lecture about disconnectedness and reconstructive
Thought Bank 2: A Social Healing Arena
In this social healing arena, local water from a river, lake
or spring provides the medium for the remembering, rethinking and renewal
processes that enable us to access our perceptions about the world and
transmute and re-enliven what is difficult and contaminated.
Thought Bank 2 is installed in three small, dark cellars
under city streets. In the room of remembering,
each person is invited to work with an image that insists itself and ‘live
into it’ and explore it. Participants are asked to place a bandage
on the wall at the end of this process. In the room of rethinking,
participants formulate, either on their own or in discussion with others,
how things might be different. These thoughts and images are then transmitted
into water in a large flask by means of copper head pads. Ancient knowledge
and recent discoveries have found that water can carry non-material information.
This potent water, filled with images and thoughts is then decanted into
smaller flasks that are hung on racks in the third room of
renewing. Each flask has a copper capillary extending out
of it, allowing the transformed thoughts to be released into the atmosphere.
The small flasks in this room create the thought bank.
Working with our thoughts is a necessary form of contemporary alchemy,
in which we become conscious of the power of our thought to shape things
Developed in collaboration with banana
growers of the Windward Islands and representative organisations, the
project works with an 'expanded concept of art' exploring the relationship
of imagination to transformative social process.
The installation consists of 20 stitched sheets of skin from 20 randomly
selected boxes of Windward Island bananas. Each sheet of skin is accompanied
by a voice recording of the person or family that grew that particular
box of bananas. Consumers listen to the voice of a producer whilst standing
face to face with his or her sheet of ‘skin’. In contrast
to these skins, there are thousands of unknown and unnumbered dried skins
on the floor.
A social sculptural ‘model process,’ this project integrates
the aesthetic and the political, and has brought together activists,
farmers, economists, government ministers, officials, ecological campaigners,
artists, psychotherapists, engineers, cultural geographers, writers and
of course, consumers.
In 2002, Exchange Values was presented at the World Summit for Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg.
Landing Strip for Souls
A parallel-process lecture/performance on 'social sculpture
this event links questions about steps toward a sustainable and democratic
future with an expanded view of the senses. It highlights the need for every
human being to understand the sense in which they are an artist, and the need
to become a contemporary shaman.
On entering the space, which is framed by the remains of the five stretched
deerskins from which the ‘landing strip’ has been created,
each person receives a hand-size potato and stone. From behind the skins,
I intone very low sounds, connecting with the earth’s suffering.
Coming out in front of the skins, and slowly returning to the 'world
of the rational', I welcome everyone to 'the place of questions', outlining
some of the choices we are faced with and the need to choose.
What follows is a lecture/action moving between rational discourse and
the intuitive. After retelling a dream in which Joseph Beuys describes
this 'landing strip for souls' and its use as an instrument that will
help us discover when to say 'yes' or 'no', I attempt to locate the 'space
opening sound' indicated in the dream, whilst four people support the
Mirroring the blueness above us, the landing strip is used to welcome
souls into the 'imaginative space' of the gathered participants. After
a period of silence I open the space for discussion, which is part of
the process of reconnecting with the world.
websites under development :
e : ssacks at brookes.ac.uk
sustaining-life at yahoo.com
Remembering, Rethinking, Re-Envisioning 1996
for the conference ‘Public Art, Public Needs’, University
of the West of England.
Thought Bank 2
1994, commissioned by Richard Demarco for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
1995, installed underground in the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens
Commissioned in 1996, for the NOW Festival, Nottingham
1998 – Exhibited in London as part of the UK Presidency Project.
2000 – Presented as part of the conference – Globalisation and
Gender, Warwick University
2002, presented at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
April-May 2004 - presented for the eleventh time in Birmingham, UK
IPS Bournville, University of Central England, with Public Symposium
Landing Strip for Souls
2000, for 'Between Nature: explorations in ecology and performance' conference/event,
Lancaster University, UK
The Landing Strip has since been used in several other contexts: as
part of the Civil Arts Inquiry in Dublin, with the Jupiter Trust in Oxford
and alongside the first UK exhibition of Rudolf Steiner’s blackboards.
Photographs provided by and copyright of Shelley Sacks